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Features List 13
From CAD User Mechanical Magazine Vol 13 No 06 - JUNE 2000
Hailed as one of the most significant developments in Bentley’s history, ProjectBank is designed to pave the way for MicroStation users wishing to get more closely involved with Engineering Component Modelling (ECM).
Every change made to every design file associated
with a specific project is recorded - lines, arcs, circles or other
elements placed, modified or deleted. At the same time the same
design file can be used by several users at once!
ProjectBank maintains a project journal, radically improving the way projects are completed by providing total project information management. It works down to cell level - prompting questions such as. 'Who has ever worked on this from its' first creation?' It also allows change merging, allowing more than one user to modify a drawing at the same time - improving project scheduling. A project level supervisor acts as a hub through which project rules are enforced, and it is the multi-format repository for project information.
In short, ProjectBank has been developed to eliminate the traditional chaos associated with engineering project information!
Meta4 installs the first UK ProjectBank.
One of Bentley Systems' integrators in the UK, Meta4, has the honour of implementing the first ProjectBank site in the UK at Newcastle-upon-Tyne architects Red Box Design Group. As a result, the group are already seeing vast improvements in overall project management and collaboration within the group. According to Stephen Wilson, the CAD Manager at Red Box, 'the ability to audit the whole project life cycle including 'rollback' to view project status at any point during a project's past, is proving invaluable'.
Meta4 sees the future lying with Internet collaboration tools, and sells and supports Bentley's ProjectWise and ProjectBank solutions, offering full project management consultancy. Major contacts with WS Atkins, British Aerospace and Yorkshire Electricity have proved to be catalysts in their evolution. Previously providers of Solid Edge software, they have decided to restructure Meta4 to concentrate on the new market opportunities, having come to an agreement with iMpel, another Unigraphics reseller, to look after its' Solid Edge customers.
We seem to be throwing another set of initials at you every month. This issue's set comes to you courtesy of Bentley again - and is the title given to the company's shift in software focus beyond CAD architecture into a more widely embracing Enterprise Engineering Modelling (EEM ) System.
EEM sets out to create a more intelligent, enterprise wide, engineering
project management system based around more specific engineering
'components' that are 'enterprise aware'. ProjectBank is the hub
for storing and maintaining engineering project information and
co-ordinating the interaction of engineering information.
If we compare it to CAD systems, EEM can be seen as a node in a larger system of information creation, management and query tools - CAD programmes were designed to accomplish single tasks. Information for EEM is stored in a universally accessible manner, through web browsers. CAD data, on the other hand, is located in 'files' accessible, generally, only by the programmes that created them.
Engineering models are not limited to data types according to geometric
significance, but are, rather, composed of engineering components,
having a definition and relevance appropriate to its' domain, raising
its potential scope for use across the enterprise. Engineering Component
Modelling (ECM - another first!) incorporates computer programmes
in the components, enabling them to become electronic simulations
capable of reacting sensibly to external changes. Engineering drawings
are seen, therefore, as a by-product report of the models, rather
than as an end to themselves. Change Management of the data and
the software becomes, then, a significant feature of the EEM process.
Multi-level access to files.
Analysing the current situation for many designers can show the significance of multi-level access to files. Software design was based on the manual process of draughting boards, where drawings could only be modified by a single person at a time. Co-ordination was left to verbal communication between partners and often broke down. Digitising the process did not alter the process much, and designers wishing to modify files would find themselves 'locked-out' and unable to proceed. Curious stalemate situations arose where subsequent access to the file locked out the original modifier, who, on subsequently unlocking the file, may find alterations that conflicted with the changes that he had made. Alternatively, editable subsets could have been modified, whilst the user was locked out, leaving the project in an inconsistent state. As the workgroup increased in size, the problem intensified.
CAD files don't have the necessary inter-file dependencies that are required to enforce consistency with other drawings, tables, reports and specifications. Only files, and not their contents, have a unique identity across the project. The only way to avoid exclusive locks is to sub-divide the engineering project information into smaller units - these so-designated components. Each element in a drawing becomes a component with a unique, project wide identity. This enables a single change being made to a component that is represented in several drawings at the same time.
Since change is being made at component level, there, then, is no need to 'lock out' the drawing. The problem is then moved towards global project administration and 'change merging' again.
Unfortunately, revolutions tend to falter on the slopes of reality. Quite a large sum has been invested in current CAD technology and systems, and putting one's head over the parapet is not an attractive prospect for many people. Making a move to an EEM environment is a high-risk occupation, and involves expensive custom software development projects that normally take too long to deliver, are unstable and fraught with potential disaster. Companies continue to attempt to scale the peak, though, because of the competitive advantages that will be found on the other side.
Bentley are attempting to ease the transition to EEM through the Bentley Continuum - not a time warp from Star Trek, but a process of incremental, rather than revolutionary, software change. Bentley believes that large-scale, multi-discipline engineering projects should be capable of evolving, rather than implementing devastating revolutionary software changes. Each step taken, however, whilst advancing the project towards its ultimate goal, must be seen to provide some small tangible benefit in itself.
As engineering projects contain many different types of data, they must also contain different types of components. Components, therefore, have to be defined in a flexible manner. JMDL has been developed by Bentley as a means of describing a component, and is based on the Java programming language with a few extensions necessary to support engineering modelling. JMDL programmes are saved in a virtual format, so that they can be loaded and executed on different types of computers using a virtual machine - the first JMDL virtual machine, naturally, being introduced in a MicroStation.
JMDL enables programmers to describe the properties and behaviour
of engineering components, so that other components and programmes
can interact with them. A component type is called a class, and
a group of classes that, together, define the component types used
to model a specific engineering function is called a schema.
Schemas, in turn, are used to create engineering models - a collection of components that represent a real-world construct. A typical engineering project will contain many engineering models, and an engineering model generally contains components from a single schema to address a single discipline, but may reference components in other models from different schemas.
This is where ProjectBanks come in - all of the components used to build schemas have to be stored safely, and be available for accessing and modifying. Server resident ComponentBanks are available to each workgroup, over a local area network. The ProjectBank Server controls access to the ProjectBank, available through standard APIs. Besides storing current component values, ComponentBanks stores complete journals of changes made to the values. ComponentBanks are also direct access repositories and don't provide a general purpose query language, unlike databases and relational databases. However, for every constituent component, a ComponentBank automatically and explicitly stores a list of other dependable components - used to determine connections between components, enforced when components change. This is not possible in relational databases, as programmers would have to anticipate dependencies and programme for them.
Schemas are stored with every component in a ComponentBank, so
that when a component is retrieved from the ComponentBank, its'
schema is retrieved as well.
How does all of this eliminate the chaos of change? ProjectBanks
synchronise and control project changes. Users extract information
from the Database by beginning a 'transaction' with it, so that
the information they have obtained is logged out to them, and remains
valid until it is 'committed' to the project - whereupon the data
is synchronised with the current state of the ProjectBank, and the
User transactions, lasting hours, days or weeks, are handled within Project Briefcases, created and run by Briefcase Managers, the transactions expected to be run, in the main, off-line.
It is difficult to go much further in the description of ProjectBank without extending this article beyond reasonable lengths. It will have given, though, enough of an insight for further analysis, so that you can make your own minds up about the 'revolutionary' impact of the software. CU
For more details, contact: Tracey Robinson at Meta4 Systems Limited;
Tel: 01925 284040 or email Tracey.Robinson@meta4uk.com
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