NAVSEA is riding high after converting massive tech manuals to SGML, XML

NAVSEA project manager Bernie Coval finds ways for Navy ships to set sail with fewer heavy paper manuals.

Courtesy of the Navy

A content management system and Standard Generalized Markup Language have helped the Naval Sea Systems Command cut back on the number of paper manuals that ships must carry to repair their engines and other mechanical systems.

To date, NAVSEA has converted about 5,000 tech manuals, said Bernie Coval, a project engineer at the command's Ship Systems Engineering Station in Philadelphia.

About 3,500 manuals are part of the content management system's database, and the rest are being checked before loading.

The content management application, XyEnterprise Content@, came from Xyvision Enterprise Solutions Inc. of Reading, Mass.

NAVSEA started the project in 1994 to simplify updates. Coval's group first converted the manuals for gas turbine engines to SGML and started distributing them on CD-ROM, which required a high-end, proprietary viewer application.

NAVSEA converted 15,000 to 20,000 pages of data, and Coval's group went through several generations of viewers packaged with the CDs.

Over time, the group found that SGML conversion speeded up their production and saved money. Once all the data was tagged for SGML, updates became much easier.

Coval's group changed to XyEnterprise XML Professional Publisher to produce documents in Adobe Portable Document Format. Because ships' software already included the Adobe Acrobat client with panning, zooming and other functions, the proprietary viewers could be dropped.

'We deliver a book today that has hyperlinking, an interactive table of contents and an index so users can search and find the things they need,' Coval said.

End users see the paper presentation that they're used to, and they're comfortable working that way, he said.

But with 1.5 million pages of accumulated data, NAVSEA needed a more robust way to manage it. XyEnterprise Content@ can use the SGML tags to share repetitive chunks of text and propagate updated text, Coval said.

A prime candidate for content management was a set of shipbuilders' information books for DDG-51 guided missile destroyers. Each ship gets its own 10-volume set of the books, 90 percent of which is the same from ship to ship.

Coval wanted to shrink the shipbuilders' books for the 40 DDG-51 destroyers down to 10 chunks of data, each representing one volume of the set. Then, with the right filtering, the books could be customized for individual ships.

'The thing we're in the middle of right now'the total reuse environment'uses Extensible Markup Language scripts and transactional data to control the database,' Coval said.

The production database also stores 3,500 tech manuals above and beyond the shipbuilders' books. A typical tech manual is 250 to 300 pages long and holds 30G to 40G.

Coval's office manages two other data sets: the Engineering Operational Sequencing System, which has 40,000 documents of three to four pages each, and the Planned Maintenance System, which has more than 60,000 documents and has been running in the same system as the technical manuals for two years. The maintenance system has handled more than 14,000 database transactions in that time.

NAVSEA still has to send out some CD-ROMs, because ships are not always plugged into the Internet.

'When they're deployed and under way, they're disconnected,' Coval said. His staff distributes PDF files over the Navy network to docked ships and customers ashore.

Paper manuals still take up space on ships. 'Nobody's removed the requirement for paper yet, but we have cut down on the amount of paper we send,' Coval said.

Instead of two or three copies of many manuals, ship crews get only one copy of each plus the CD-ROM of the whole manual set so that mechanics working in hot, damp engine rooms can print out only the pages or diagrams they need.

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