Ames drafts a paperless plan

Ames drafts a paperless plan

ReviewIt gives NASA center engineers a new blueprint for building repairs

By Patricia Daukantas
GCN Staff

NASA Ames plant engineers, using ReviewIt, can see and mark up CAD drawings using a browserlike interface, then share their comments with other engineers.

Building engineers at a NASA research center have found a paperless way to collaborate on designs for major repair projects such as replacing roofs and building ventilation systems.

Instead of printing out large drawings, the plant engineering staff passes around electronic draft designs using ReviewIt, a collaboration-management package from Cubus Corp. of San Francisco.

The software will save time and the cost of computer-aided-design software licenses, said Steve Frankel, plant engineering branch chief for NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Frankel's staff handles the maintenance and operations of the physical plant at Ames, which is near San Jose. The staff's responsibilities include heating, air-conditioning, electrical, sewer and gas, and plumbing systems, as well as landscaping.

Getting together

Ames has about 200 buildings of all sizes and shapes, Frankel said. Some were built in the 1930s; others went up this decade.

Frankel said he heard about ReviewIt from a former Ames worker who had collaborated with him on past projects. He thought it might be useful for one of his staff members who drew project plans. The designer needed to collaborate with the design and engineering staff, as well as the utilities, roofing and mechanical specialists.

The various collaborators would output large 2- by 3-foot drafts on a plotter and pass them around the office. That took a long time and created piles of paper on people's desks. With ReviewIt, the staff views draft drawings at desktop computers.

All employees involved in a project can review and comment on drawings, Frankel said. Only the designer needs a $2,300 license for the AutoCAD package from Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif. The others need only ReviewIt, which collects all their comments in one place.

The ReviewIt screen shows several frames at the top with a comment section and perhaps other attached files at the right of the screen. The AutoCAD drawing fills the remaining three-quarters of the screen, and users can draw highlighted boxes around portions they want to discuss with colleagues.

Program highlights

'With a couple of clicks, you can zoom into any part of the drawing and put in highlighted comment blocks,' Frankel said.

During fiscal 2000, Frankel's group plans five roof replacement projects and six heating and air-conditioning projects. Depending on the budget, he hopes to add several electrical and underground utility projects. 'We have plenty of things to fix every year,' he said.

The Ames plant engineering branch uses desktop computers with mostly 450-MHz Pentium II or Pentium III processors and running Microsoft Windows 98, Frankel said.

The second-generation version of ReviewIt used by Frankel's branch was launched in the fall of last year, said Azhar Khan, president and chief executive officer of Cubus. The company optimized the collaborative software for architecture, engineering and construction.

ReviewIt comes in two editions: an enterprise version, which can be installed and run from its own server, and a host application model, in which the software resides on the Cubus server as a Web application. Licensees can view drawings and make comments from their client machines.

Frankel chose the host application model, which costs his branch $150 per user per month. He said he wanted to start out small by licensing ReviewIt only for two design engineers and one CAD user.

ReviewIt has intuitive controls that make the system feel like an ordinary Web browser, and its transaction tracking ability transfers comments almost instantaneously, Frankel said.

Branching out

Eventually, Frankel wants Ames to buy more ReviewIt licenses for other Ames divisions with which he works, such as the center's code compliance office.

He said he appreciates having a way for workers to pass around paperless drawings without overloading the e-mail system. 'A drawing could be 4M, which doesn't sound like too much today, but our e-mail system limits us to 5M,' he said. 'With ReviewIt, you're really looking at it on the server. There's no overhead at all on your machine.'

With only three people working with ReviewIt at the moment, Frankel said, he hasn't delved far into the security features, which will become necessary if the software is more widely used at Ames. Log-ins are the only security feature used now by the plant engineering staff.

Cubus loaded the ReviewIt software clients and provided training and phone support to the three users in the plant engineering branch, Frankel said.

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