[Home] [APPW 2004] [Journal papers]




Patrick von Essen


Jaakko Pöyry Oy


Virtual Mill, database, virtual documents, creating, storing, technical data, information





Information management evolution

The classical generation 1 information management procedure, before writing and reading became common, was that older generations passed on their knowledge to the next generation orally.

The generation 2 information management procedure was to write or draw the information on paper, and file the paper in a systematic way. When computers and printers became common, they changed the way documents were produced, but in most cases the paper document remained the "official" version.

Paper-based information management is still widely used, and – one has to admit – it has its merits: The medium itself – paper – has a long lifetime, and the format of the information (text, pictures, sketches) can be chosen freely, and – providing the user knows the filing logic and structure – it is fairly easy to use.

For industrial-scale management of technical information, however, paper-based information management has some serious weaknesses:

  • Slow access to information
  • Considerable amount of manual handling: copying, distribution, filing
  • Large space requirement: filing rooms and cabinets, copy machines
  • Requires total discipline in numbering, filing, and returning "borrowed" drawings
  • Information redundancy

Generation 3 solution

The solution to many of the above problems is a generation 3 information management system:  electronic documents in combination with a professional document management system. In a good generation 3 solution, everybody has fast and easy access to the latest version of each document, hardly any manual handling of documents is needed and the space requirement is minimal. The Jaakko Pöyry generation 3 solution is called DocHotel.

The generation 3 solution, however, still has two serious drawbacks:

The first problem is that the same data appear in several documents. Imagine that you, as part of optimising your plant, remove a pressure screen from your process. Which documents should you revise to keep the information up-to-date? The process P&I diagrams and the layout drawing, of course. But also the equipment lists, motor lists, interlocking diagrams, cabling lists, piping drawings, loop diagrams and host of other documents? Guess again. It is in the very nature of document-based information management that each document shows just one small aspect of the whole. When applied to managing information on complex technical plants, a huge number of documents is required. Needless to say, keeping them all up-to-date is very costly, and a management nightmare.

This leads to the second and more serious problem: The quality of information. Imagine you make one modification per day that would require a revision of technical documentation. Imagine that on average, each change affects 5 documents. Imagine that you catch 80 % of these (and miss one). Imagine that you have been operating the plant for 5 years. This not-so-unlikely scenario would mean that you have close to 2000 documents which are – to some extent – incorrect.

We have found that

  • Typically, there is no clear information management strategy, leading to a chaotic co-existence of generation 1, 2 and 3 solutions, and hardly any generation 4 solutions.
  • Information management procedures are typically not applied correctly and/or consistently.
  • Information management tools typically either do not exist, or, if they do exist, are used only for part of the information management or by part of the organisation.
  • Although information management is a prerequisite for sustainable business, it typically has too low a priority when resources are scarce.
  • It is common that people build up their own, unofficial document archive, which is offline from the official archive, and therefore, by definition, not up-to-date.

And finally that

  • Managers typically believe that the technical information and documentation is in much better shape than it actually is.

Generation 4: solution based on virtual mill model

So what does the generation 4 solution look like?

The generation 4 information management solution is not based on documents. It is based on a virtual mill model. The virtual mill model is a complete physical, technical and functional model of the mill. Intelligent P&I diagrams, linked both to a 3D model and to a technical/functional database, create the basis of the virtual mill model. Individual pieces of information (like equipment names, position numbers, installed power, interlocking information and so on) are stored in one place only, eliminating both of the serious drawbacks of generation 3 systems.

Are documents obsolete in generation 4 solutions? No.

In fact, the P&I Diagram is still the best way of describing the process, connections and automation of a technical plant. Combined with active links to additional information, it becomes even better.

Many traditional documents (equipment lists, loop diagrams, cabling diagrams and interlocking diagrams are simply replaced by virtual documents, which means that the document is generated automatically by combining data with document templates.

Other documents, such as maintenance manuals, installation instructions and process descriptions remain more like traditional documents. The difference is that in generation 4 solutions, these documents can be linked to the rest of the information in a smart way, making the search for information faster and easier.

Rather than accessing documents, the user can access the information directly using a simple web browser interface. If, for instance, the question is "How is the 2nd stage cleaner pump motor interlocked?", the user could open the P&I diagram, click on the pump, get a link to the motor and choose to view the interlocking diagram. The next question maybe is "Where is the 2nd stage cleaner pump motor located?" A click will take you to the right place in the 3D model. From there you could, for instance, click the 2nd stage cleaner feed control valve and enter either the homepage of that loop or the right place in the P&I diagram.

Jaakko Pöyry generation 4 solution

The Jaakko Pöyry generation 4 solution is called the Virtual Mill. The full Virtual Mill concept has been used in all major Jaakko Pöyry projects since around 1998. The results and response have been overwhelmingly positive.

The Virtual Mill is a professional solution for creating, storing, maintaining, searching and accessing technical information on an industrial scale. The solution is created during the normal course of a detail engineering project. Alternatively, the as-built situation of an existing plant can be defined in the form of a Virtual Mill.

The Virtual Mill serves all phases of the plant – design, engineering, construction, installation, start-up, operation and maintenance.

Fast and easy access to mill information

The Virtual Mill quickly provides you with up-to-date information on any part of your plant. All you need is our simple-to-use web browser interface. The Virtual Mill features

  • process flow sheets, process descriptions, installation drawings
  • equipment lists, pump lists, motor lists, component lists
  • interlocking diagrams, loop diagrams, cabling diagrams
  • 3D views, walk-through features, 3D system reviews
  • and much more…

The Virtual Mill consists of a 3D model, a database and documents, which together define the real plant, and a web-based user interface for fast and easy access to any information or document required.

Up-to-date virtual documents generated on call

The Virtual Mill has two very special features: virtual documents and three-way links.

The virtual documents feature means that when a document is needed, it is generated by combining the latest information from the database with customised document templates. This ensures you always get up-to-date information.

The three-way links feature means that you can approach information from three directions. You can access the information you need starting from a document (e.g. a process flow sheets), in the 3D model, or in the database. This ensures quick and easy availability of information in any situation.

ustomised tools for creation and maintenance

The Virtual Mill includes a software application for creating and maintaining the database. It is used in process, mechanical, electrical and automation engineering. The application contains various customised templates, solutions, models and standards which minimise routine work and result in cost-effective, high-quality engineering.

The database is a technical and functional model of the plant, including data such as position numbers, technical component data, connections between components, and interactions with other components. It also includes customised document templates for instant generation of up-to-date drawings, reports and lists.

The 3D Model is a physical model of the plant. The Virtual Mill includes tools for viewing the 3D Model, navigating within the 3D Model and hiding or highlighting systems or components. Each component in the 3D Model is a link to the technical database and the process flow sheets.

The Virtual Mill user interface is an easy-to-use web browser-based application. It is used to access and publish information contained in the mill model. Information can be searched based on location, engineering discipline, process flow sheets or connections.

Naturally, the Virtual Mill can also interface with other plant IT systems such as ERP systems (SAP, JDE, IFS etc), DCS systems, document management systems, maintenance management systems or other information repositories of the plant.

Mobile solutions is the newest Virtual Mill feature. Using a mobile phone, you can access the Virtual Mill data base from any location for information output or input. This opens up a range of interesting opportunities, such as on-line follow-up of installation progress, on-line field access to design history and data.

Is poor information management costing you a fortune in the form of document handling, slow access to information and extra work caused by working based on incorrect information?

A mill manager gave us a recent example where an unplanned shut-down was prolonged by 4 hours, because a maintenance engineer was trying to fix the problem based on an outdated document. An engineering manager told us that they have several hundred thousand paper documents, and that finding the right document may take several days. One mill has three parallel paper drawing archives, all slightly different because procedures for updating documents are too complicated. And so on.

If you feel that you may have an information management bomb ticking close to you, turn to us. Jaakko Pöyry can provide help in upgrading your information management strategy, procedures, tools and resources. The first step could be a free information management survey. The survey report will give you a snapshot of the information management status in your organisation, and will recommend a path forward.