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Plotting down the highway

David Banasiak / December 28, 2000

Efficiently competing in the increasingly competitive road and bridge construction
market requires a broad knowledge of current technology. This means having
the foresight to sift truly indispensable engineering tools from a myriad
of product choices. While computer-aided design (CAD) technology has proven
itself an invaluable tool for the architecture/engineering/construction
industry, many companies still grapple with the day-to-day challenges inherent
in managing a combination of digital originals, hard copy output and archived
documents.


Many engineering organizations face conflicting demands as they adopt CAD-based
document man- agement and production environments, while maintaining archives
in other formats (for example, hard copy, microfilm, microfiche). Success-ful
transitions require blending realistic ex-pectations, measured and attainable
goals, and an informed and receptive organization.


The experience of the Missouri Highway and Transporation Department (MHTD)
exemplifies many of the best logistical and technological elements needed
to manage a transitional, multi-format environment. MHTD teamed with Océ-USA
and IBM, companies experienced in integrating hybrid environments to facilitate
the transition process and to provide valuable consulting resources.


The Missouri state highway system contains more than 32,300 miles and is
the sixth largest system in the U.S., according to the Federal Highway Administration.
In addition, there are approximately 23,200 bridges in Missouri, 9,700 of
which are on the state highway system.


George Kopp, computer-aided drafting and design systems engineer at MHTD,
is responsible for CAD support statewide, which includes the central support
center in Jefferson City and 10 additional district offices across the state.



"You didn't have to be Nostradamus to realize in 1988 that CAD was
the future of this business," Kopp said. "The key was integrating
a customized system that worked throughout our organization to manage the
hybrid digital/hard copy environment we maintain."


MHTD considered incorporating a networked CAD multifunction system to address
four business goals: increase communications efficiencies by sharing drawings
statewide to save time and money; developing a faster time-to-market as
CAD allows faster drawing development/revisions; achieving higher print
quality because hard copy continues as the underlying medium for field use;
and successfully manage a hybrid environment, with hundreds of new digital
documents created each month and thousands of archived documents efficient
document management posed a serious challenge.


MHTD's move into the digital world began in 1988 with the incorporation
of CADAM from IBM for drafting and CEAL (civil engineering automation library)
from CLM Systems for design. By 1991, the department, which employs approximately
450 CAD-related users, installed IBM RS6000 workstations for drafting purposes
and gradually moved CEAL to an Intel-based PC environment.


For networking, the department chose an IBM token ring to establish a wide
area network (WAN) with IBM servers for OS/2 to manage the local area network
(LAN).


"We went on quite a tour, traveling from district to district to set
up the WAN," Kopp said. "Some of our locations are pretty far
away from everything, and that is why a WAN is such a significant element.
Now that we are connected, we are able to provide timely, quality support
in remote places like Willow Springs, Mo."


Kopp also noted a marked decrease in travel and time expense that can be
attributed to the new networked environment.


"We share files from a PC or workstation statewide," Kopp said.
"We routinely pass files back and forth, or move drawings independently
to update and improve them."


Instituting a networked CAD system allowed MHTD to increase the number and
size of projects for which it was awarding. Contracts awarded totaled approximately
$300 million in 1988-89 and by 1995 the number reached $478 million.


Concurrent with a funding increase, MHTD sought to increase productivity
to better manage its subsequently larger workload. As the number of new
projects increased, so did the need to maintain, upgrade and improve existing
roads and bridges.


Although most every element of the networked CAD system was yielding productivity
enhancements, the hard copy input and output system lagged behind. Initially,
MHTD used a series of electrostatic plotters to manage its output load.
However, the department faced persistent quality and cost issues.


"With the changes in humidity-which affects electrostatic output-it
was difficult to keep the quality of our output up," Kopp said. "In
addition, the cost of the media was quite high, and, with only one plotting
device in some remote locations, we needed the output devices to be real
workhorses."


In 1994, after an extensive vendor bidding process based on a combination
of cost and technical specifications, MHTD chose the Océ 9500-S Series-an
electrophotographic/LED multifunction (plotte/r scanner/copier) system.
These multifunction systems were installed in MHTD offices statewide and
connected to the WAN.


Moving from a plotter to a multifunction system enabled MHTD to produce
check and final plots on the spot, without waiting. Department offices also
could produce full sets of hard copies for distribution from sets that included
both paper-based and CAD originals.


In 1995, building on the success of the multifunction systems, the department
added the Océ 9800 high-volume multifunction system to manage the
multitude of jobs at MHTD central support center reprographic department.


The savings directly attributable to the change in plotting technology surprised
Kopp. "We calculated that with the old electrostatic technology, we
spent 33 cents per D-size plot versus just 13 cents per D-size plot with
the Océ 9800," Kopp said. "The time savings is hard to
quantify, but we know from the volume of prints we produce that the number
is significant."


Today, MHTD continues to improve its response time and increase its productivity.
One savings area is expected to be the high-volume central reprographic
department, where a simple enhancement-the Océ 9800's four media
rolls-should produce significant labor savings.


"Because of the nonstandard size of our typical drawings, not having
to trim the plots is a huge benefit," Kopp said. "Previously,
we had to spend two minutes per print to manually cut them to size. That
may not sound like much, but at our volumes it is a major time expenditure."
In 1996, the department expects to plot 1.6 million sq ft through its Océ
9800 or 266,000 D-size drawings.


"We're always looking for ways to improve the process," Kopp said.
"When budgets are tied to taxpayer funding, every penny is accounted
for and every penny counts."

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