Authored by:
James I. Finkel
Engineering Manager
Wallace Cranes
Malvern, Pa.

It sometimes becomes necessary to convert a technical manual from Format A to Format B as, for example, from MS Word to Framemaker. There are ways to avoid making a career out of this job. The techniques suggested below are relevant to any massive data conversion. Your goal is to achieve 100% fidelity, fast.

The takeaway in any data migration project is that the process moves best with the least excess information. In most cases, there is a source document or example that shows what the new format should look like. To ensure content fidelity, save the content as a format-free, straight text file. In any document, the “body” is the bulk of the content. Titles, captions, comments are all separate formats, but you will still make just one or two lines per page in a different format.

Next create an empty shell document (as you would create a “blank” CAD file). This shell should have all the existing standards (such as page layout, paragraph types, font choices, pagination, and so on) built in. The content for each chapter is then inserted as a cut-and-paste. One further hint in this process is to save each dummy chapter as “body” or plain paragraph text. This way, when you import the unformatted text file, the bulk of the material is already in the “correct” format.

Some text applications, such as Framemaker, support the use of keystroke commands for changing formats. The mouse-and-menu process for making format changes is cumbersome but to those with extensive CAD experience, keystrokes are much faster. To further simplify the process, you will, of course, have already printed out a copy of the source document so you can pattern-match the original and revised documents.

In the case of a 350-page manual initially in MS Word that had to be turned into Framemaker, use of the above techniques led to finishing the conversion in two days. Each chapter took about a minute/page to format, or 20 min/chapter. On a historical note, at one point IBM computed that it took 8 hr to write, edit, and format each page in a technical manual. But this number was from the 1970s, quite a few years before the advent of “word processing.”

How to upgrade a CAD file

Your best bet in upgrading a CAD file from one format to another is to first store the source CAD file in a neutral file format, such as IGES or STEP. A useful step might be to reorient the piece to a set of standard datum planes before the file is translated. If you are sufficiently skilled, you may want to put in some highlighted or extra lines to ensure that hole centers and radii stand out.

The trick in creating the neutral file format is that while you will make use of the key points, the final goal is to completely delete this intermediate content. You will use the entire imported file as a mass of construction lines. Using the tools in the target CAD system, you will then rebuild the part. Independent of the CAD system, you should try to use similar techniques to build similar parts. For example, all tubes should be constructed from a part profile in the front plane. A common orientation makes the creation of shop drawings and parts assemblies easier.

What you get in return is a CAD file in the new “native” format. And this file can be edited. To be sure the file is absolutely free of any extraneous data, you can select the new CAD geometry and place this in an empty file. While you want the geometric fidelity, the last thing you want to import in a “live” file is extraneous data, or in the case of a document file, extraneous formatting.

The hazard of this whole process is that when you re-create the assembly, you will likely see errors as the parts might not quite match. Finding and fixing these error is an entirely different problem.

 

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.