Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Upgrades Its Flagship Submersible And Revamps Its Engineering Document Management ProcessesCase Study
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) www.whoi.edu is the world’s largest private, non-profit oceanographic research institution and a global leader in the study and exploration of the ocean. WHOI operates the U.S. Navy-owned Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin for the national oceanographic community. Built in 1964 as one of the world’s first deep-ocean submersibles, Alvin has made more than 4,600 dives. It can reach nearly 68 percent of the global ocean floor.
Alvin’s most famous exploits include locating a lost hydrogen bomb in the Mediterranean Sea in 1966, exploring the first known hydrothermal vent sites in the 1970s, and surveying the wreck of RMS Titanic in 1986. In its final series of dives before the current upgrade period, Alvin explored deep-sea biological communities in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill.
Rick Chandler, whose career at WHOI has spanned 34 years, is the Submersible Operations Administrator for National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF). He’s been involved with the Alvin Operations Group for 27 years and has responsibilities in finance, procurement and logistics. The Operations Group is comprised of submersible pilots and technicians at sea and a small team of ten engineers working on the design and maintenance of the Alvin ashore in Woods Hole. By the early 2000s they had generated thousands of engineering drawings and several operational and maintenance manuals, and realized they needed a means to organize, access, or safeguard their work.
“All of our files were stored on individual PCs—so they weren’t backed up in a central location and they weren’t accessible to other engineers,” recalls Chandler. “We realized we needed a document management system that could centralize all our drawings in a secure vault, with controlled access and compatibility with Autodesk Inventor, our primary CAD application.”
The Alvin Upgrade Transforms Document Control Processes
WHOI was granted funds from the National Science Foundation for a major overhaul of Alvin. The overarching goal is to enable the submersible to withstand descents to 6,500 meters (21,325 feet) below the surface – 2,000 meters more than the pre-renovation depth of 4,500 meters (14,764 feet). Phase One of the upgrade is targeted to be completed in April 2013.
The Project Implementation has Two Main Stages.
The central focus of the upgrade’s first stage was the personnel hull—the titanium sphere that sustains a pilot and two scientific observers in a one-atmosphere controlled pressure environment. The new, larger personnel sphere includes an ergonomic interior designed to improve comfort on long dives; five viewports (instead of the current three) to improve visibility and provide overlapping fields of view for the pilot and two observers; new lighting and high-definition imaging systems; new syntactic foam providing buoyancy; and an improved command and control system. In June, the hull was pressure tested and sufficient data were collected and analyzed to support certification for human occupied operations to 6500 meters.
“The first stage of the Alvin upgrade was the most far-reaching change that I have seen since I’ve been here,” said Chandler. “Our operations team needed a new document management paradigm. We needed to make sure that we got all of the new documents that were going to be generated into some system where they were accessible and then securely stored.”
The first phase of the upgrade also necessitated an increase in engineering personnel who in turn, were expected to generate a big surge in documents. “When Alvin was taken out of service for the upgrade, the Operations Group knew we needed to revamp our document control and security,” states Chandler. “Up until now we made due with a file server. But with the upgrade project, we knew we’d need the collaboration and a centralized system for all the new engineering and operational documents.”
The second stage of the upgrade will likely take place sometime within the next five years. “At that time, we’ll upgrade all the other systems connected to the personnel sphere to the new depth rating,” notes Chandler. “Then, the sub will be able to go to 6,500 meters water depth.”
Selecting and Implementing Document Management
The Operations Group was pressed to find a document management solution and get it implemented for the impending upgrade. Three people from the Alvin Operations Group headed the evaluation and within a month had selected Adept document management from Synergis Software. “We read about Adept on the Internet and invited a consultant from the company to come to our site,” recalls Chandler. “Adept met all of our key requirements: Tight CAD integration with Autodesk Inventor; access control to all types of documents; and document check-in/check-out to a secure vault.”
According to Chandler, the Adept implementation was straightforward—the whole process took less than a week. “After installing the server software, I configured the client software for our ten engineers and installed it on their workstations,” recalls Chandler. “We had several training sessions to familiarize everyone with the program, and the transition went smoothly. When the upgrade started the number of engineers jumped to over thirty, but we simply added more software seats and conducted additional training. The transition was seamless thanks to Adept’s ease of use. We now have two people who share the Adept administrator duties, one handling day-to-day document management and the other overseeing administrative tasks.”
Creating More Documents than Ever
With the Alvin upgrade, the number of documents that the Operations Group manages and tracks with Adept swelled from a few thousand to over 18,000. Adept now manages centralized access to all 2D and 3D design documentation, including Autodesk Inventor models, OrCAD Capture mechanical drawings and electrical schematics, as well as engineering change requests, engineering change authorizations, and manuals.
All Alvin controlled/production documents are stored in Adept as Adobe Portable Document Format files, which are often sent to outside vendors for manufacturing. PDFs were selected as the controlled file type because they cannot be altered once released – it was extremely important that drawings be transmitted and utilized in their original form. All native documents stored in the system are either Inventor/OrCAD files, Word documents or Excel files.
“Of the 18,142 Alvin-related documents in Adept, 696 are related to the Alvin personnel sphere and just 67 are of the entire submersible. The vast majority of the files are related to subsystems and smaller parts.”
Automating Processes with Adept
The Operations Group also uses Adept’s built in workflow to manage documents as they proceed through the engineering development and approval process. Once documents are approved, Adept provides a controlled environment for document storage and transmittal to internal machine shops and outside vendors.
“We have a very simple one, maybe two-step workflow,” explains Chandler. “First, we have drafters who create the documents, drawings, and manuals. Then we have an engineer who reviews and checks them.”
Adept also manages and tracks their Engineering Change Requests (ECRs), including all the documentation related to an ECR. “Anybody who wants to make an engineering change creates an engineering change request form,” clarifies Chandler.” “We check them out, make comments, then check them back in. The submitter can then check the changes out, review the comments, and make edits to the document before they are submitted to a weekly review board of senior engineers. At that time, the ECRs are either approved or disapproved, or approved with mark ups for further changes.”
Achieving Improved Document Control, Collaboration and Peace of Mind
When Alvin Operations started looking for document management software, they were mainly focused on the basic functions of locating and securely storing documents. Says Chandler, “Adept has provided centralized document access and storage, check-in/check-out capability, and access limitation options. It has helped us move documents from individual workstations, where they were at risk, to a stable, safe, accessible central location. We’re able to share documents without having them squirreled away on somebody’s PC.”
After using Adept for some time, Operations realized other benefits across a much wider area of their process. Take, for example, secure collaboration.
“Before Adept, you would have to walk an ECR around or email it to somebody,” explains Chandler. “Now, we can create an Adept library folder for the week’s engineering change requests and everybody with permissions can go look at them. It’s saving us a lot of time. No more walking around the halls, trying to find people who are not always at their desks.”
“I believe we have seen an increase in productivity because of document management,” claims Chandler. “Everything is checked in and we have secure copies of everything. That was what we wanted to accomplish and Adept has delivered.”
Concludes Chandler, “Because a lot of my job is logistics—getting things out to the support ship and submersible to keep the operation going—Adept is what keeps me sane. I know exactly where to find my documents; I know they are safe; and I can always get to them. It gives me great peace of mind.”