Asset Management

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

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.

But existing information was in small, individual databases and drawing files. "We had no central documentation storage, and we wanted to secure our wide-ranging expertise," explains Josef Jakob, project manager, Central Engineering Department, Südzucker. The company standardized on Engineering Base from Aucotec and imported all its documents.

For more on how another major European sugar producer implemented document management software, see the sidebar, "Saving old documents is sweet."

See also: Improve access to plant information

"Impediments exist because of the age of many facilities," says Rick Standish, solution strategy manager, Aveva. "Some predate the CAD revolution and the variety of IT systems used over the years. As a result, many owner operators have large quantities of unverified, uncontrolled and often incomplete documents, drawings and other information. Paper documents in particular are notorious for not being up-to-date, having numerous uncontrolled copies in circulation and, in many instances, for having been lost or damaged over time."

Fortunately, the technology to scan and store documents has improved over the years. "The scan-to-text process is excellent," says Lyter. "This is particularly helpful for very large documents, as it allows content searches. The utilities to create text-searchable PDF documents, such as Adobe Pro, are very helpful. For bulk scanning, some firms have server-based routines to make PDFs text-searchable, as the routines can be time-consuming on workstation-class computers. For scanning drawings, creating a hybrid vector/raster CAD file works quite well with software such as AutoCAD Raster Design."

Standish explains, "Aveva's information management technologies enable its customers to create and control standards and to apply them to existing information sources, documents and drawings. The technology also enables comparison and contextualization of multiple information sources to identify gaps and inconsistencies for rectification, and to enable the consolidated information to be easily navigated."

It helps if a company has software in place that can be upgraded. For example, both Kospo (Figure 1) and Daewoo in Korea had been using Aveva software, which made it easy to upgrade to Aveva Net to import older documents and set up new systems. The sidebar, "Visualizing digital assets," describes how North China Power Engineering upgraded its Aveva software to input and organize its documents.

It's getting easier to scan and import data, and the next step is to organize the data in the document management system.

Organize those files

Each document management vendor has its own method for creating a database and organizing documents according to subject, title and content. For example, Southern Company uses the Bentley's Data Quality Server to organize its documents (see sidebar, "From asset-related to data-centric" for more details).

Management can create asset types specific to Southern Company and make modifications to them as needed. "We could take an object, for example, a motor, and define it and decide what kinds of attributes should go with it," said Tedd Weitzman, project manager, Southern. "Using these attributes, we could create and quickly search for interdependencies within the system between objects, for instance, to show that the motor is related to a pump, a cable, a process line, a switch and more."

With Bentley Data Quality Server, Southern Company's design and asset-related data is organized, centralized, linked and consistent with design procedures, standards and guidelines across all of its engineering disciplines and outsourcing partners.

Lyter sees two basic types of organization: purchased document management systems and home-grown solutions using networked drive storage. "Enterprise-wide document management systems provide a robust environment to control drawings and documents," he explains. "Features allow good control of the revision process, ability to see current, past and work-in-progress revisions, and are clearly distinguished to the end users. Systems allow company-wide access tailored to the needs of the specific groups of users and document types."

As for network drive storage of drawings and documents, Lyter says, "An organized implementation requires some form of centralized control similar to enterprise systems, but implemented in a more manual manner. Organizing disorganized content after the fact can be a daunting task.

"Ideally, the organization of drawings and documents should be established prior to the creation of the content. If this is not done, substantial challenges can include merging of multiple ‘master' documents, determining latest revisions, comparing ‘nearly' identical documents and agreeing on the organization for future documents."

Patrick Talty, applications architect, Brookhaven National Laboratory, says that they had a "semi-homegrown solution" but replaced it. "It relied upon MS Excel tables with hyperlinks to TIFF and PDF drawings," says Talty. "It was a crude system with weaknesses in document control and workflow management."

Brookhaven uses InduSoft Web Studio software for its HMI/SCADA development system, and it standardized on PTC's Windchill for documentation management (Figure 2). Because the two systems are connected, "Engineering staff can visualize our processes using InduSoft in one browser tab and see a P&ID from Windchill in another," says Talty.

Bob Lenich, global Syncade business director, Emerson Process Management, says that Emerson has a long history of providing process plant documentation control through Syncade Suite's document management capability. "Our largest application is for 25 manufacturing sites supporting 10,000 users and 400,000 documents," he notes. "All key operating documents such as standard operating procedures are available and managed through this system. The system supports coordination and centralized management of documents so that documents are aligned across multiple sites."

Once documents have been entered and organized, the third step is to access the data.

Access as needed

"In my opinion, enterprise systems with ‘Google-like' access to the content are the gold standard to strive for," says Lyter. "Systems are in place that achieve this for selected content, and there is a desire to continue the process improvement while minimizing costs of implementation."

"Intuitive browser-based user interfaces make it easy to rapidly access data and drawings of any type or source without needing multiple costly software licenses or the specialist skills to use them," says Aveva's Rick Standish. "Contextualized tag-based data enables a user to navigate through the Digital Asset and to collate information in meaningful ways."

Brookhaven can access documents through its document management system, and also through its HMIs. "When a problem arises, we use InduSoft Web Studio to determine current status through real-time process data and alarms, historical trends, and to reconstruct the sequence of events leading up to a problem," says Talty. "For example, when viewing a screen representing the health of a PLC and its I/O cards, mousing over a card such as a processor makes an image visible that contains additional documentation from the manufacturer to assist the technician with troubleshooting. Having this information literally ‘at your fingertips' saves time and helps avoids errors."

"We don't provide access to drawings, because, from the outset, we put a great deal of effort into building the necessary details into our process screens," he adds. "Furthermore, our screens are designed so that they can be positioned next to one another on multiple monitors to provide a complete picture of the plant process."

The purpose of document access is to provide information to engineers, operators and maintenance people when they need it without requiring too much searching. Whether homegrown, vendor-supplied, or a combination thereof—the ability to access the right information in a timely manner will determine the success of a document management system


Implementing a document management system in a process plant isn't easy. "The IT department typically provides the overall corporate document management solution," notes Lenich. "Customizing the system or installing a separate system for a process plant for operating documents or maintenance drawings usually is a low priority." It seems that some IT and company leaders think "paper is acceptable" for operations and maintenance.

Once management is convinced of the need for document management, it's necessary to import, scan and input documents into a database. Depending on the age and source, this can be the hardest part of the project. Deciding on how to store and organize the documents is another problem, as there are many options.

"We have multiple categories of systems in place, including enterprise systems, organized network systems, less-than-organized network systems and paper-based systems," says Lyter. "The systems are in constant use by personnel with an ongoing effort to improve access to data."

Whatever approach you take, it won't be easy. But getting quick access to the right documents when you need them is a huge benefit for any process plant.