Trains keep a rollin’!

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On track with Gerard Hall of Scott Wilson Railways

London, United Kingdom — As CADD/EDMS (Electronic Document Management System) Manager for Scott Wilson Railways, Gerard Hall is responsible for managing and supporting the CADD and EDMS systems of one of the top ten largest engineering consultancy firms in the United Kingdom. He talked with us recently about some major rail projects, including transportation preparation for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Gerard Hall uses FileFixer once a week.

MicroStation Today: What are some of the projects you have been working on?
Gerard: One major project is the London Crossrail. This £16 billion project includes the planned construction of a brand-new rail link across London from Maidenhead and Heathrow Airport in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. The railway will utilize existing infrastructure on the western and eastern surface (above-ground) sections of the London Crossrail, coupled with a brand-new tunneled section beneath central London, to link major existing Underground (subway) and National Rail stations. High-frequency train service will serve all stations within this central zone. Scott Wilson Railways has been one of the significant players in developing the Crossrail project in its current form. In addition, Scott Wilson has been awarded a contract as a multi-disciplinary consultant for the London Crossrail surface routes west and northeast.

Another big venture is the East London Line Project. Phase one of this £900 million project will form a key part of the transport strategy for the 2012 Olympics, incorporating an extension to the south via the London Bridge branch of the Brighton Main Line, allowing trains to run through to West Croydon and Crystal Palace. Scott Wilson will provide all structural engineering for the new, refurbished and extended track structures, including the architectural design of all stations which includes the Dalston Junction remodeling.

MST: With all that going on, what are some of the problems you have encountered?
Gerard: We are finding that more often, clients require the original design files, to support the delivered hard copy or PDF. These files, quite rightly, must be supplied such that they conform to project standards for collaboration purposes. Typical requirements include specific settings for reference files, such as “locate” and “snap” turned on, and making sure that only final, deliverable reference files are attached. Also, the reference file name must not include any file path.

Apart from design file settings, we also need to check for departures from standards, such as changes to global origin, elements drawn outside the limits of the project grid, non-standard text and dimension styles, non-standard levels, elements that are on incorrect levels and so on.

So, for whatever reason, it is not possible to maintain the design files in a “to standard” condition while in they’re in design development, be it for purposes of efficiency or user preference. From the point of view of delivery, it must be considered that all files, in some way, do not conform to standards.

We first check the files while in their design development using SpecChecker to both affect a partial fix and generate a summary report which is returned to the file owner for correction.

Then for larger projects, where there can be up to a thousand files in each delivery, we use Axiom’s MicroStation Productivity Toolkit in a series of batch processes to cleanse the files prior to issue. RefManager is used to ensure that “locate” and “snap” are turned on, that all reference files are detached from models and that the ProjectWise file path is removed from the filename. We also use Global File Changer to copy the design file settings from the project seed file into the batch of project files.

We haven’t measured the overall time saved, but typically a batch of 50 design files is processed in around an hour, using Global File Changer, compared with manually checking each file at 20 to 30 minutes per file. Anyone can do the math.

As part of our day-to-day support to the CADD teams, about once a week we are asked to recover a file from back-up because the original file has become corrupt and unusable. More often than not, this is not necessary, as FileFixer either completely fixes the file or recovers enough design data that the file can be re-used. This way, the designer gets the file back in a quarter of an hour or so, as opposed to the one to three days that it takes to retrieve a file from back-up. This is much better than the last resort – and the bane of every draftsman – having to draw the same design twice.

Just recently, I have become aware that virtually all design files have some problem that needs fixing. It may or may not need an immediate fix, but as matter of course, all files will need to be fixed prior to being made available to the users.

MST: How did you get started in CAD?
Gerard: I’ve been in civil and structural engineering since 1979 as a draftsman. From 1988, I have been primarily involved in the rail industry, specializing in bridge design. In 2000, I changed tack and since then have been working in coordination and management roles. Since 1981, CAD has played a significant role in my career. For five years, I worked on Scott Wilson’s own in-house system, but since 1990 I have been utilizing the more “industry standard” systems.

MST: As busy as you must be, do you have time for anything else?
Gerard: Outside of work, I enjoy playing a lot of sports. My main passion was rugby – but alas, the body is no longer willing. So now most Saturdays are spent playing golf, which although less physical, is no less competitive. The frustrations of the week are now taken out on the green, instead of on the rugby pitch. [Editor’s note: “Pitch” is a British term for a ball field.]
I have been married for twenty years and have two children. As any parent of teenagers will concur, your time is no longer your own. Though, naturally, I would not wish it any other way.

MST: What would you like to be doing in ten years?
Gerard: I’d like to think that I’ll be working in a similar role and still have the enthusiasm and appetite that I do now, but not with quite so many working hours.

MST: What’s a book you wish you’d written?
Gerard: I’m never without a book on the go, non-fiction or novel. The book I would most like to have written, I have yet to read. Recently, I read a biography on Chaucer. His Canterbury Tales is recognized as being the first work of literature in English, at a time when all other written material was in either Latin or French.

On Saturdays, you will find Gerard on the green.

MST: If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would it be?
Gerard: Tiger Woods. Just so I know what it’s like to hit a golf ball properly.

MST: What do you predict will be the “next big thing” in CAD?
Gerard: I don’t believe that there is much more that can be added to the existing CAD platforms so my best guess is that there will need to be changes in the way that we share data.

In the UK, our infrastructure has been underfunded for many years. This is now changing, and a large amount of investment is being pumped in, especially into rail projects. This, coupled with the large number of civil/structural CAD designers nearing retirement and not enough school-leavers taking their place, has put a huge demand on these resources. Consulting engineers are now setting up design offices overseas and using local labor for the engineering design and drawing. With this comes the problem of file sharing. We have to become smarter in the way that this is managed. By “smarter”, I mean that there should ideally be only one file, which can be accessed by all, rather than having multiple copies that are held on local area networks, CDs, e-mail, local C: drives, etc.

And, by “one file”, I mean that by the efficient setup of caching servers and local caching, there will be little need to drag the entire file all over the world, taking up bandwidth. However, when a file does change, delta file technology facilitates this by transferring only the part of the file that has changed. [Editor’s note: “Delta file technology” is a technology which analyzes changes in content between two versions of the same file.]

So I think that we will see a blossoming of project collaboration software using delta technology for the file sharing.

MST: Thanks, Gerard.

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