Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Archiving of Engineering Drawings: An Essential Requirement for Large Process Industries !

Sometime ago I had written a blog about the importance of good record keeping practices for better administration. [ Your can read that here !] In this blog, I would like to cover the importance of record keeping and record management with special emphasis on engineering drawings and documents.

Engineers who are employed in technical fields understand the importance of engineering drawings and documents in their work. Unfortunately, those who are in the top management of industries do not necessarily know the gravity of engineering document management for their respective industries. You can not find fault with them on this count because, their time and efforts are absorbed in keeping the business financially viable and profitable. Detailed technical issues are complex and it is not wise to get entangled in such things. That has to be left to the technical managers down below.

But yet engineering drawings and documents are be regarded with due respect and owe right from the time they are created. To understand the importance of engineering and technical documents, let us consider the case of a large process industry which is being set up involving a capital expenditure to the tune of Rs.10,000 Cr ( $ 20 billion) or above.

Nearly 25 % of this cost is towards design and engineering. That is the cost involved in making the drawings and documents that are needed to set up the plant. That is a cool $ 5 billion. The break up of this 25 % would be some thing like below:

         Preparation of Feasibility Reports, Detailed Project Reports : 5 %
         Detailed Engineering by Plant design consultants : 8 %
         Detailed engineering by equipment and system suppliers : 12 %

Again, nearly 30 % of the project time schedule is typically taken for design and engineering. That is for making the engineering drawings and documents that are needed for construction, procurements, erection, testing and commissioning.

If the designers and suppliers are doing the work mostly for the first time, the time taken would be much more. If they are adopting designs made and used in other projects earlier, the time taken could be reduced to some extent.

The extent of details of the plant and equipment that are covered by proper drawings and documents will be more in a properly designed and executed plant project. Such projects are likely to be implemented smoothly as planned and in time.

Drawings and documents are the language of the engineers and technologists. It cover many types of information for various purposes. [ See Engineering Drawings for more details ]

Depending on the purpose and the content, drawings are prepared and printed on standard sizes of paper or other media having some prescribed dimensions as per international standards, such as A0, A1, A2, A3 and A4, the first being the largest. [See Sizes of Drawings ]

Preparation of an engineering drawing typically A1 or A0 takes about one week time for getting prepared, provided the design engineer is clear about his designs. The time of drafting and revisions can be much faster when modern computerized design and drafting software such as Auto CAD are used. However, this also requires high degree of training and skills.

A project of the size that we have considered can come to shape only with the help of thousands of drawings.

As drawings and documents contains confidential and critical information, business organizations that realize the importance of these take utmost care in its handling , preservation and management.

Technical document management systems (TDMS) therefore becomes a very important function for industrial organizations of the size that we have considered above.

Drawings are most required at the time of erection of the plant. Without referring to the design drawings, construction and erection of the plant systems are impossible. Technical documents such as testing and commissioning instructions are needed while the plant systems are taken for testing and commissioning.

Depending on the type of information contained, engineering drawings are classified as Civil, Layouts, General Arrangements, Process Flow and Instrumentation (P&I), Architectural, Electrical, Mechanical, Structural, Piping, etc.

A plant which has been commissioned after spending a few billion dollars would become a national asset whether it is in the private ownership or in public ownership. It is required to be functional for a few decades.

No plant of this order and magnitude can operated for longer periods, unless it is maintained well and continuously improved upon by periodical additions, modifications and replacements (AMR) of its plant systems and equipment.

Whether it is for the day to day maintenance or the long term AMR, study of the existing plant and equipment details would be required to be done by the concerned technical personnel. This is possible only when the plant has a proper TDMS department entrusted with the archiving and reprographic functions of its technical drawings and documents.

In olden days this department used to be called the technical archives. Now-a-days it is known as the Documentation Centre of the Technical Document Management Centre (TDMC)

Drawings and documents generated by the consultants and the suppliers are made for the client who has spent the money for building the plant and hence belong to the latter. The consultants and the suppliers provide a few sets of copies of these to the client at the time of plant construction, supply, erection and commissioning. It is the plant owners responsibility to set up the TDMC to take care of the drawings and documents for its future use.

If care is not taken to receive and store the drawings with proper systems initially, the handling and management of the technical drawings and documents would pose a Himalayan task for the industry later.

Drawings made by the consultants and the suppliers will essentially have a drawing number and a title which briefly describes the contents inside.

However, the purpose of the individual suppliers of the plant and equipment in making their drawings are different from the client who is to preserve and use it for a longer duration of time later. The formers' responsibility is short term while the latter's is long term. 

It would be almost impossible to locate a drawing later when thousands of drawings get mixed up. Hence, keeping the drawings in a systematically indexed manner is of utmost importance.

Now-a-days drawings and documents come in different forms. Some are hard copies made on paper, such as blue prints, photo copies, machine drawn prints, transparencies, hand drawn or microfilms. Other types are digital copies or prints made with the help of many formats such as pdf, tiff, dwg, jpg, bmp, etc and stored in hard disks, compact disks (CD/DVD) or various other digital storage media.

All these have different methods for storing, handling, accessing and preservation. They all have different shelf lives. Microfilms and digital media, though good for better management on a longer period are also prone for quick destruction if not handled or managed carefully.

The TDMC should preferably planned in a separate building with due care with regard to its ambiance and aesthetics. Though drawings and documents appear to be value less paper for ordinary folks, they are of immense value for those who are in need of it. Sometimes, inability to retrieve a piece of technical information from a drawing or document can cost dearly to the industry concerned. Hence, wise and visionary managements do not mind spending a bit for setting up a TDMC and entrusting it with dedicated and committed personnel for managing it. Carelessness in handling the drawings and documents right from the beginning in the right manner would cause innumerable problems for the plant operating personnel in later years.

TDMC should essentially have building infrastructure ensuring an ambiance which is air conditioned, dust and vermin free, rodent free and fire protected. It should have properly designed furniture with good quality to hold all kinds of drawings in all forms. Separate rooms or enclosures should be earmarked for the repository areas holding different kinds of media.

There should be a receipt section where incoming drawings and documents are opened, studied, indexed and registered. It should be manned my archive staff capable of identifying drawings and documents and indexing them with proper coding and entering the key identification details in registers or computers. There are various kinds of drawing archiving software available for this purpose. [Click Here for Example] Drawings and documents as received in the TDMC of the industry from the consultants, contractors and vendors will now get a different archive number at this receipt section of the TDMC. This number may be a simple serial number or it can have a complex structure to help the users to identify the drawings at a later stage to some extent. However, one part of the number shall run serially as per the incoming sequence of the documents and it shall be the identifier to store the drawings and to locate them later.

Computerizing the drawing titles and archive numbers with appropriate key words would help to search a drawing quickly in later years. Hence, utmost care has to be taken to do this properly while the drawings are initially registered with the TDMC.

The TDMC should have visitors' section where facilities for searching the drawings and viewing the contents of selected drawings shall be provided to technical personnel having authorization to access such information. For the interest of the industry, it is advisable to keep the centre a protected area with restricted entry. There shall also be facilities for reprography of various kinds which would ensure easier availability of copies or prints of archived drawings for permanent use later for specific purposes and preserving the originals from not getting damaged or lost for ever.

An industry where good TDMC practices are adopted would be likely to be managed much better. Suppliers and consultants would be happy to work with such an industry later. Availability of relevant engineering data would make their work much more simplified.

Industries who have realized this are taking due care in TDMS and set up of proper TDMC with proper manning. As in all walks of life, there are industries who are ignorant in this aspect and mismanage this causing much distress to their overall management.

Interestingly many old industries in the western world are spending large sums of money to convert their old physical drawings that are archived to scanned images and vectorized digital drawings for making their TDMS functions in accordance with modern technology. Many Indian firms are helping them to achieve this task.

[For more on line reading click the links here : 1  ;  2  ; 3 ]


  1. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u.

    Document Management Systems

  2. Process industry has a major impact in the textile sector by archiving of engineering drawings they can be more workable

  3. That is really good and interesting post, Going to share it with others so that they can also know these facts. Thank you for sharing it with us and keep posting such posts


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