NOAA distributes all ship specifications via the Web

NOAA distributes all ship specifications via the Web




Drawings for repairs to NOAA's research fleet eventually could beam down to the crews via satellite.


Contractors now retrieve and print drawings, and online bid packages are next on agency's agenda

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began posting online more than 10,000 engineering drawings of its research fleet, PC users and contractors could browse the 20- or 30-foot blueprints just fine. But the hard copies from low-end desktop printers came out as black blobs.

'The printers were not up to the job,' said George Ringstad, NOAA supervisory general engineer in Seattle. 'We needed to match up the hardware' to the capabilities of the Intranet Docs software from Xerox Engineering Systems of Stamford, Conn.


He said the total cost of the document management software plus some Xerox 8830 printers for agency use was about $100,000. Drawings for older ships in the fleet had to be scanned in; newer computer-aided design drawings were already in digital form.

Ringstad said budget cuts and age have reduced NOAA's fleet from 28 to 15 ships and have dispersed them to more bases, making it more difficult to solicit bids for repairs, maintenance and modifications.

The vessels host changing groups of scientists who study fisheries, hydrographics, and deep-ocean currents and temperatures. A typical crew consists of about 50 NOAA personnel plus a complement of biologists, geologists and mineralogists. Some of the ships conduct sonar surveys and operate remote vehicles.

'Ship time has to be divided up very carefully among the researchers and the rest of the world,' Ringstad said.

The average ship is 20 years old, the newest 2 years old. They cover the U.S. coastline from bases in Charleston, S.C., Honolulu, Norfolk, Va., Pascagoula, Miss., San Diego, Seattle and Woods Hole, Mass.

Ringstad said Web use of the engineering documents grew rapidly once contractors got used to not receiving Federal Express boxes of documents for bidding.

Transferring the document retrieval and printing to the bidders has saved, for each major ship repair, about 100 hours of marine clerks' time plus document copying and express delivery fees totaling about $25,000, he said.

Now NOAA simply sends contractors a uniform resource locator. Interested bidders can index, search, view and print directly from the Web, see thumbnails, and zoom in at multiple ratios to specific areas of a ship.

'We're past the break-even point,' Ringstad said. 'We would like to bring every aspect into Intranet Docs, because we still send out requests for bids in hard copy. We'd like to put the bid package on the Web so bidders could see the current contracts, read the fine print and link directly to the drawings.'

The problem, he said, is that the paper-laden procurement process is hard to integrate with the newly digital architecture.

Intranet Docs software runs under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 on a 400-MHz Dell PowerEdge server in Seattle with a dedicated T1 line to the Web.


Coordinated effort

After NOAA users and contractors get accustomed to coordinating the repair work and tracking ships via the Web site, Ringstad eventually wants to see high-speed satellite modems installed on each ship so that those aboard can access the drawings, repair manuals and other documents.

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