Manage plant paperwork for efficiency, knowledge transfer and profit

New tools are available to help mine the vast quantities of useful plant information that have accumulated over the years

By Dan Hebert, PE

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It takes a lot of drawings and documents to run a process plant. Unfortunately, much of this information is stored in different and seemingly incompatible ways, such as on paper, in photographs, in proprietary CAD and other databases, and in legacy systems. Furthermore, the documentation is not always up-to-date, organized or complete. Getting it into usable shape can be a daunting job, and in most process plants, nobody has the time to do it anyway. But companies that master the art of document management find themselves ahead of the game in terms of efficiency and productivity.

The first step in building a solid document management system is getting good data into the document itself.

Scan and import documents

Importing documents can be a daunting problem. Many companies have widely varying documentation with diverse formats and quality, amassed over decades in various production locations.

"I was recently involved with a retrofit of an obsolete process control system, says David Adler, senior engineering consultant at systems integrator Brillig Systems. "While the company had excellent systems and tools for documenting the process and P&I drawings, they had not been kept current. This required a major effort to validate and update drawings and process documentation before starting the upgrade project."

Frank Lyter, senior control systems engineer at a major U.S. power generation company, says, "The problem can include a wide gamut of scenarios ranging from complete chaos of folders and files with no organization, security or control of information, to a controlled folder and file structure with security and ongoing organization measures implemented."

For example, in 1926, five individual companies joined forces to form Südzucker AG in Mannheim, Germany, Europe's leading provider of sugar products. In 2011, Südzucker wanted a system to document its engineering processes and maintenance. The company required a system that would consolidate disciplines from 2-D representation of process engineering via piping lists and measurement and control technology overview plans, up to electrical detail engineering.