Army provides Web access to 4 million tech drawings

Army provides Web access to 4 million tech drawings

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Army Communications'Electronics Command has made more than 4 million technical manual drawings accessible to remote users via Web browser.

Centra 2000 users can customize their native client to view electronic engineering documents stored in the Army's PDM system.

The rigorous three-year, $1.1 million product selection, system development and training process has paid off in efficiency, flexibility and ease of use, an official said.

'It was a long process, the longest one we'd ever tackled in rolling out a software system,' said Gary Salomon, engineering data management branch chief at the CECOM Logistics and Readiness Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Salomon's branch serves as a repository for CECOM computer-aided drafting, engineering and technical publications. There are 400 registered users across the United States who access the technical data, he said.

'Others produce the technical data. We manage and store it,' he said. CECOM is a subordinate command to the Army Materiel Command.

CECOM's Product Data Management (PDM) system replaced the Technical Data/Technical Configuration Management System, a program that used a relational database from Informix Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif.,with a text-only user interface that ran under Unix on Hewlett-Packard 9000 servers, Salomon said. Technical support for the older system was expensive, he said.

The PDM system also replaced the Joint Engineering Data Management Information and Control System that housed the pictures.

'The old system didn't store the drawing itself,' Salomon said. 'It was a text-only listing of files that referred to the repository.'

'The two systems didn't talk with each other. They were always out of sync with each other,' Salomon said.

CECOM officials decided to replace the two systems with one.

Following on-site demonstrations of competing products, CECOM officials in February 1997 selected the Centra 2000 PDM system from Auto-trol Technology Corp. of Denver, Salomon said. CECOM runs the product under SunSoft Solaris 6.2 on a Sun Microsystems Enterprise 4000 server. It taps an Oracle7 Release 7.3.4 relational database management system and has a Sun Sparcstorage Array 100 RSM system.

Product comparison and training were important, Salomon said.

'We wanted to have a long-term relationship with the product we selected,' he said. 'We were not going to change on a whim. You want to be rigorous' in product selection.

The leading criteria in selecting the PDM product were ease of use, user interface and software capabilities, he said. Auto-trol's product is similar to Microsoft Windows, with files and nesting folders, Salomon said.

Getting ready

It took 15 months for CECOM to set up the Product Data Management system.

'Most of the work was organizing data and migrating the legacy data,' Salomon said.'General users received four hours of training, and a core group of power users helped train their colleagues. Initially, 200 users received formal training, and 200 more have received 'buddy' training, he said.

Users found they could store documents in different formats, such as Microsoft Word and Portable Document Format, he said.

Remote users access PDM through Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. As its Web server, the Army is using a Dell Precision 610 workstation running Windows NT Server 4.0.

It takes five minutes to access drawings and technical documents, compared to 30 minutes under the old system, Salomon said.

'Users realize they have a lot more flexibility. They don't have to go into two different systems. It takes less time,' he said.

'We think it should open up whole new areas of business processes' that CECOM can improve upon, Salomon said.

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