New synergy by interconnecting processes

Written by: Aucotec Ltd | Published:

Every engineer is familiar with the problem: Often a lot of information from neighboring areas is required for executing the next step. Especially in projecting, maintenance or planning a remodeling of machinery and plants it becomes ever more important to include data from different disciplines or different points of view.

For example a drive used in a plant nowadays contains much more data than just a few years ago, keeps references to other objects or information and may leave traces in a large variety of documents. It is no longer displayed only in a circuit diagram but also occurs in a cable assignment list or a terminal diagram, in a plant overview as single-line diagram or in a parts list. It maintains relations with the control software that governs it, and if it contains intelligence of its own it may also have a bus address. Should it drive a pump, this may entail references to the hydraulic system with its corresponding documents.

In addition to these data tracks an object leaves behind just due to the automation technology, there are mechanical tracks such as the representation in a 3-D model or the desire to have access to data sheets or descriptions of the device manufacturer. For an existing plant there is also the management of the drive as part of the plant or the corresponding maintenance plans. Depending on the application this list can be continued on and on.

Whereas people concerned with planning processes want to selectively use or edit information from this data volume, those who have to administer this data are concerned with the question how to safely manage, archive, provide and store it.

Data management and authoring systems
Because the authoring systems used to create data or documents for a long time covered only one of the many disciplines, so-called EDM, PDM or PLM systems have evolved with the aim to standardise and provide the data.

They are the common environment for all authoring systems by accommodating and cataloging the generated data and making it if required available for editing in the original format but also for viewing it in a neutral format (TIFF, PDF). These systems must restrict themselves to the lowest common denominator, i.e. the data of the individual authoring systems are kept in capsules (containers).

However, the objects in the containers thus lose their network connections. Therefore the exemplary drive unit is located in the circuit diagram in the E-CAD system (and thus in its container), in the hydraulic diagram in another system and so on. With a lot of luck one can find out which are the documents containing the drive, but direct navigation between the documents of the individual disciplines is as a rule possible only with much data processing effort.

If as often happens the electrical engineering documents are checked into the PDM as single PDF or TIFF pages, even there the high degree of interconnection of the data (wiring, references, multiple representations etc.) can neither be found nor can it be used for intelligent navigation. In other words: The data is safely stored, documents can be found via their catalogization, but when it comes to content they are 'stultified'.

Combination of authoring systems with an intelligent data stock
The way out of this dilemma today comes from the authoring systems. Basically one used to consider the disciplines according to whether their fields of work are interconnected tightly or loosely. This does not necessarily mean that the machines or departments concerned cooperated in the past – what counts is the potential for cooperation.

A high affinity exists e.g. if the same real object of a plant appears in different logical contexts in the documentation or the engineering process. This becomes particularly interesting if cross-references between the documents are also needed and later users of the data, e.g. in plant maintenance, can use it for navigation.

Aucotec AG, whose planning software package was up to now aimed at electrical documentation, was the first company to realize the chance and to create a system with a new solution category: an authoring system for a logical plant description with database-driven client/server architecture that can also manage the data from other systems involved (3-D mechanical system, control software etc.). A highly efficient approach since logical data has the highest degree of interconnection, such as that between hydraulic and circuit diagrams and that between the pages of the circuit diagram.

The still unique platform is however not restricted to graphic documents but models the plant objects themselves. Although the user of the electrical authoring system is accustomed to work with the circuit diagram, Engineering Base (EB) system not only stores all objects as symbols but also describes them completely alphanumerically. This makes it possible to keep much more information than that required for mere interconnection planning – e.g. material data, specifications and the like.

One focus when developing this system was to offer simple solutions with the highest possible degree of clarity and safety even for highly complex demands. According to the system house with its headquarters in Hanover, customers confirm again and again that this has been achieved.

Cooperation platform for plant designers, constructors and supervisors
The same or another user can edit the same object also purely alphanumerically in a browser view or via adjustable dialogs. The necessary consistency is ensured by the common data stock. Thus several disciplines such as the hydraulic and electrical systems and the parts list editing are integrated in an authoring system with integrated data storage.

Additional candidates for this close coupling are all disciplines with strong logical connections such as single-line diagrams, mechanical 2-D layout diagrams (cabinets), hall designs with cable laying etc. Moreover the tool offers the possibility to create links to documents from other systems. This networking can be achieved both with external data and within the database (embedding of external data); the latter makes sense particularly if the data is project-specific and therefore is e.g. communicated to the end customer together with the project.

If an interconnection to other disciplines is intended, then their data can be directly incorporated. If it is stored in neutral form (e.g. appropriate manufacturer data in Sharepoint, the intra-, extra- or Internet), it can also be connected via hyperlink.

This new category of engineering software thus combines two lucrative properties: On the one hand the advantages of intelligent authoring systems with their optimum engineering support by closely knitted data and on the other hand the advantages of central data storage as in PDM systems: EB is highly networked, multidisciplinary and with its client-server architecture set up for simultaneous access by many users. The tool tremendously facilitates orientation in a complex data environment, a fact that is particularly important in the electrical and control technique areas.

It is a strategic goal of Aucotec to use the navigation capability of external authoring systems also for their data; for the drive mentioned above as an example this means to not only know in which 3-D model it is located but to directly navigate there, and then in a further step to replicate the common data (e.g. descriptive attributes) directly from the engineering database into the 3-D system.

In cooperation with Unitec Informationssysteme GmbH, this possibility has already been realized for process engineering. It can be extended also to mechanical engineering. The path to fully integrated engineering has thus been entered, thus already creating a new kind of synergy.

Aucotec AG develops engineering software for the complete life cycle of machines, plants and mobile systems–with over 25 years of experience. The solutions range from flow diagrams via process control and electrical engineering for large-scale plants to modular harness design in the automotive industry.

AUCOTEC software packages are used over 35,000-fold worldwide. Aucotec AG, with headquarters in Hanover, also comprises two additional German development centers in Frankfurt and Constance, four regional distribution and support subsidiaries as well as a global network of subsidiaries and partners.

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