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August 13, 2014
ShipbuildingShipConstructorTechnology

SCFileLess3

I have been getting some questions about if ShipConstructor is considered a zero-file solution after one of my previous posts “Are Zero File CAD/CAM Systems the Future?” My response is usually, “What is your definition of a Zero File solution?” A typical response would be, “It is a solution that does not require any files to use the solution.” From that definition ShipConstructor is a Zero File solution. However, for anyone who uses ShipConstructor this might seem confusing.

Well let me spend a little time explaining my answer.

Let’s start at the new beginning of modern day ShipConstructor

We fully redesigned ShipConstructor back in 2005 mainly because our previous version of ShipConstructor was too file-centric which revolved around AutoCAD DWG files. We did have a database that supplemented the files but it did not contain all the information about the project. There was duplicate information within the files and the database which allowed us some flexibility when files were not the ideal source of gathering information. For example, our report module used the information from the database and not the files.

Files were king in this environment. If there was any discrepancy between the files and the database, the files would win and re-sync the information to the database.

This file-centric model had many limitations such as when a change needed to be propagated through a model. For example, if you needed to modify a part that had relationships with parts in other drawings, ShipConstructor needed to open every source drawing that the related parts were modeled in and make the appropriate changes. As you can imagine, this was not fast or ideal since it was possible that another user was using a file that you needed to update.

There was still some life left in our previous architecture of ShipConstructor but we knew that its architecture had an expiration date. This is why we decided to invest in redesigning ShipConstructor from scratch, and to be honest it was a great decision.

ShipConstructor’s current architecture

As many already know, the modern day ShipConstructor is very information focused with a SQL database at the core of the MIM (Marine Information Model). Absolutely all information such as geometric definitions, relationships, attributes and properties are contained in our SQL database.

We designed the SQL database to not propagate changes but rather reflect changes. This is a very important technological strategy and is far superior to the change and propagate strategy. The way that it works is if a piece of information, let’s say geometry, is changed, it can be used by many other items within your project. With our strategy, if that geometry definition changes, the other items that use the modified geometry as part of its definition are changed without the need to propagate any changes to that item. The example I give is if a deck is moved up by 100mm, then the only information that would have to change would be the geometry that defines the deck by 100mm. Without any propagation the frames or longitudinal that use the plane of the deck as a boundary is automatically updated because part of its geometric definition is the deck’s geometry. This automatic updating includes all other associated information such as stiffener cutouts, corner treatment, welding information, pipe penetrations, etc. with no need to propagate the changes; the data model will simply reflect the change.

In addition to our SQL database, ShipConstructor also uses the AutoCAD foundation as a way for users to interact and visualize with the product model. Can you imagine creating a 3D model of a ship with just using the database? Talk about not very user friendly 🙂

AutoCAD is based on files so the ShipConstructor architecture will create drawings that represent a portion of the model that the users is interested in. These files are not stored in SQL but the information is. This has several very powerful benefits:

1.       Model Drawings can be 100% recreated from the information contained within the database

As mentioned, all information is contained in the database and we simply use AutoCAD to allow users to interact with the product data model. If a model drawing is corrupt or gets deleted, ShipConstructor can recreate the model drawing.

2.       Relationships across project

Throughout the development of the project there are many times you need to query information of related parts that are not contained in the drawing you are viewing. With all the information in the database ShipConstructor has various tools and features which allow you to access the information of any part within the whole project no matter where it is located.

There are also features available to create a geometry representation of any part in your current drawing without knowing the specific “file” it was created in.

3.       Create drawings to represent any portion of the model with any user defined criteria

You can create drawings of any portion of the project by defining any criteria you may want. This has many applications for engineering, production, planning, review and even integration.

These drawings remain linked to the project allowing automatic updating from the database to reflect the current state of the project.

4.       Leverage current processes and workflows

Let’s face it, Shipbuilding is very document centric. DWGs are still the standard output deliverable and are very entrenched into many of our workflows. Leveraging the DWG’s as a native file format of ShipConstructor naturally and painlessly allows you to use DWG’s within the MIM with current processes.

5.       Can use different applications to access and modify information.

With this data-centric strategy you can use various applications to view, interrogate and even modify the data. As mentioned above, ShipConstructor utilizes the AutoCAD foundation as one of the applications that is incorporated into our MIM but there are numerous others. For example, in my previous post “Excel is always there when you need a customized report” I talk about using Excel to access information from ShipConstructor with absolutely no customization. I also wrote a post about how to use ShipConstructor information to integrate with your CNC profiling machine.

There are also many clients leveraging the MIM and its open architecture to integrate with PDM / PLM / MES / ERP / MRP / custom applications / etc. The opportunities are virtually endless.

Thanks for the history lesson but how is ShipConstructor a Zero File solution, especially if it uses the AutoCAD foundation?

Yes, ShipConstructor does use the AutoCAD foundation but this was a decision made to leverage the current tools and skills in our industry. We could have technically used any other tool to visually represent the model and allow the users to interact with the model. We could have even created our own custom CAD environment which is the strategy our competitors used but by leveraging the most widely used CAD tool, SSI could focus on creating marine and offshore software products and not a general CAD tool.

We very successfully created an information-centric solution with a very file-centric product (AutoCAD). This did pose some challenges but it was outweighed by the benefit of leveraging a tool that is very powerful and has a large network of very skilled users.

From the users’ perspective they are using AutoCAD and files (DWG) but it really is just an interface to our database driven project model. The files are not stored in our database but when you save, the information is transferred to our database.

This will be more apparent with our EnterprisePlatform portfolio of products where you will be able to modify and even create parts without using any drawing or even a CAD application.

Closing remarks

I hope I explained that if you define a Zero File solution by: “It is a solution that does not require any files to use the solution,” then ShipConstructor would be considered a Zero File solution.

ShipConstructor very strongly leverages (but does not require) files and has included the AutoCAD foundation as part of our MIM environment. AutoCAD is file-centric and for ShipConstructor to take advantages of all that AutoCAD has to offer it was required that ShipConstructor had to create, update and manage DWG’s without any extra effort from its users. From the users perspective they are interacting with a tool (AutoCAD-ShipConstructor) which they are familiar and comfortable with.

Using ShipConstructor via AutoCAD is the main way to interact with the product data model but it is not the only way. They are many changes happening with technology and our industry that ShipConstructor architecture will be able to take full advantage of. As time goes on it will be more apparent that ShipConstructor is a Zero File solution.

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