Canadian Consulting Engineer

Managing engineering documents at Annacis

June 1, 2000
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

SOFTWAREThe $500 million upgrade to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) Annacis Island wastewater treatment plant led to new levels of complexity for the organization in managing its engine...


The $500 million upgrade to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) Annacis Island wastewater treatment plant led to new levels of complexity for the organization in managing its engineering paper trail — specifically, the creation and management of a library to contain the 15,000 new engineering and operations management CAD drawings for this enormous plant.

Completed in October 1998, Annacis Island was at one point the most ambitious engineering project in the country. Today, the plant discharges about 440 million litres of treated wastewater into the Fraser River every day.

One key project aspect was making the engineering drawings more accessible to GVRD plant employees. This meant planning ahead to make these plant documents accessible — online — for operations and maintenance staff on the floor.

Although the GVRD has been using engineering document management software (EDMS) systems for a number of years to manage its in-house CAD drawing library, the launch of one of Canada’s largest engineering projects became the catalyst for modernizing the system.

To start the process off, the GVRD brought in external software architecture consultants to work with their in-house project manager. The first step was to conduct a detailed technical audit of their current software architecture and in-house staff requirements. The challenge was devising a system that delivered online, secure access to the employees. The FileNET system of EDMS programs was selected.

A major part of the preparation phase was determining the system’s index setup and security privileges. Most organizations use five to 15 index subjects (such as author name, document creation date, project name, drawing number, etc.) to mark the document for easy retrieval later, but some implement as many as 20 or 30. However, these longer lists increase the time required to catalogue drawings; most organizations ultimately scale back their index listings after working with the new system for a few months.

By planning in advance, the actual installation of the FileNET software took little time. An important architectural issue was the process of “migrating” thousands of CAD documents into the new system from the outside consulting engineers who created them. To speed this process, the GVRD issued a set of standards for the consultants to follow to ensure the flow of new drawings they produced was easily transferable in the correct format and in Microsoft Access. The drawings were then loaded onto a CD and a custom utility was developed by the software architects to allow the GVRD to import these drawings, up to 1,000 at a time, into the new system using a standard CD-ROM port.

Once the system was set up, employee training and residual consulting completed the process. Training sessions were conducted in-house from a module. Engineers received a full-day session, while support staff with limited access received a half-day seminar.

Today, the GVRD uses its FileNET system to keep track of all its CAD drawings for the electrical, instrumentation, civil, mechanical, architectural, structural, process, plumbing and HVAC systems at Annacis Island. Among the many benefits, GVRD staff can track redlines and latest versions, and keep track of the “one true version” of a document, always a thorny problem for engineering administrators.

“It’s a revolution,” notes Mike Kennett, control system supervisor, operations and maintenance department at the GVRD headquarters in Burnaby. “People do not understand the cost savings and benefits of these systems and how they can save money by eliminating unnecessary paper-pushing.”

As an example, according to Kennett, the new system streamlines the work involved in handling the thousands of inquiries to the document library that are made over the course of a year. Typically, it would take 30 minutes to send someone out to bring back a printed version from the library. Now, notes, Kennett, “We can pull up the required document on a computer screen in a minute. The savings are tremendous.”

For many public projects, Kennett believes the EDMS should be in place before commissioning, and that the consulting engineer’s systems should be compatible. “I’m sure this is the way all future projects will go,” he says.

By Adam Wilkins, Yaletown Technology Group of Vancouver, software architecture consultants for the GVRD EDMS project.


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