Engineers in the United States handle billions of drawings each day. In addition to drawings, projects require specifications, analysis reports, raw material purchases, and written records of communications with customers. With so much paperwork, its no wonder material gets lost.

Some of this paper shuffling can be eliminated with electronic data management. Getting started first requires converting technical drawings to a CAD format. Drawings are scanned using machines that store an image in a computer where it becomes part of an electronic database.

Once in an electronic format, the drawing can be cleaned up and routed through an organization to be revised, checked, transmitted to users, and stored, without anyone touching paper.

It may seem that converting to electronic drawings and automatically shepherding them through an organization is justified most easily by companies with a large drawing database. But the number of drawing revisions made each year may be a better yardstick for measuring the economic advantage of an electronic drawing management system. For instance, if a company makes 3,000 revisions/yr and spends 2 hr/revision, the potential savings are estimated at atleast $29,000. The figures assume that the revisions are made on a CAD system. When the revision time is closer to 12 hr each, the savings can grow to $475,000.

Entry-level systems are made up of an E-sized scanner, a single CPU raster-to-vector processor, and a PC for initial viewing.

Drawing input starts at the scanner. Scanner machines are grouped into flat-sheet or aperture-card scanners. Scanners produce images in a raster format or a large grid of pixels or picture elements, small points that do or do not have color. Raster format contrasts to a vector file where details are stored as lines, shapes, or models. Drawings that originate in a CAD system are in vector format.

Once the drawing is scanned, it can be tidied up using special software. For instance, to get rid of speckles, the user can zoom into an area where detail is mixed with debris, draw a rectangle around the debris, and use a CAD-erase command.