Adobe is one of the major publishers of DTP and image editing software. Using FrameMaker and Acrobat, Rover finds a happy solution for its printing needs
Most drivers don't think too much about the documentation that comes with their vehicles; you perhaps look at the handbook once or twice a year to remind yourself what the tyre pressure should be, or consult the service booklet to see when the car next ought to go in. Neither of these are "big" publications, maybe a hundred or so pages for the handbook, most of which you may never read. So it's not surprising if you don't really think of documentation as playing a large part in the manufacture of a car.
If you work in the motor industry and it's your job to repair vehicles, you'll have a different view of the documentation: the workshop manuals, which run to hundreds if not thousands of pages, are essential for you to do your job. And they need to be the right versions for the models you're working on - outdated information could be inconvenient at best, dangerous at worst.
And if you're the manufacturer, you know just how important the documentation is to the process of readying a vehicle for the market and then supporting it while (and for long after) it's on sale, because you have to compile, check and publish that information.
A man who has that responsibility is Brian Cade, manager of Technical Communication at Rover Group's Oxford plant. Cade's group is responsible for producing all documentation on a growing number of new vehicles from the Rover stable, from the Freelander and New Discovery off-roaders to the Rover 75 saloon.
With annual sales running to nearly £6.5 billion, nearly half of which goes abroad to some 130 countries, the Rover Group is Britain's third largest exporter. The Group employs around 39,000 people and produces four distinct product ranges: the ubiquitous Land Rover four-wheel drive range, the Rover brand of small, medium and executive cars, plus the world famous Mini and the MGF sports car. In addition to the plant at Oxford, the group has manufacturing facilities at Longbridge and Solihull in Birmingham.
The Technical Communication department at Oxford has standardised on SGML, in response to demands from both the military and the North American consumer markets. Materials, such as the workshop manuals, electrical library, handbook and repair times manual, are laid out automatically in Adobe FrameMaker+SGML running on Windows NT workstations. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are used to create various handbook illustrations, such as those detailing the operation of the car radio system, though technical drawings for the workshop manuals usually come straight from the engineering design system.
Page composition is carried out using rule-based algorithms that deal with page elements - headings, pictures, text, tables, captions and so on - according to their SGML tags. This ensures that tables are not broken across pages and that captions always appear next to their associated pictures, for example.
Another benefit of the structured language approach comes when localised versions of the documentation are produced. Brian Cade explains: "We now support eight languages - the major European ones plus Japanese and Greek - and producing translated versions was a big exercise. We used to have to leave space in the English version to allow for the translation being longer, and when the layouts were done, we had to check manually that every element had been included and was in the right position.
"With FrameMaker doing the composition, we find that there is less wasted space in the manuals and we no longer have to check it page-for-page against the English version."
FrameMaker+SGML was chosen because it is an off-the-shelf solution. Rover Group benefits by using the one tool to manage publishing for all media (print, CD-ROM and eventually an extranet that Rover Group dealers will be able to access) with minimal overhead in maintaining software tools and managing systems. "It allows us to focus on creating the documents, not on the tools," Cade says.
Once the documents are finished in FrameMaker +SGML, the next step is to export them as PDF (Portable Document Format) files. The PDFs are sent to the printers for producing the printed manuals and are also put on CD-ROM. Cade is particularly pleased with this stage of the process: "We used to have a bespoke software solution for publishing on CD, based on RTF (Rich Text Format). It was a cumbersome process, quite separate to the production of the printed versions. With Acrobat, we got the software to produce the files for CD for worldwide use for only £150 and they are made from the same source. In effect, we do the layout for print and get the CD and intranet versions for free. We put the free Acrobat Reader on the CD so anyone can use it."
The hundreds of pages of paper that comprise a vehicle documentation pack (this one is for the Land Rover New Discovery) fit easily onto a CD-ROM when converted to PDF. Rover Group plans to move away from paper-based documentation altogether in the next few years.
Another strength of the PDF solution is the close integration with FrameMaker. This means that bookmarks in the PDF version can be created automatically from SGML constructs in the FrameMaker+SGML file. This saves time in preparing the PDF versions, while adding significantly to their value. "We're looking to phase out paper altogether," says Cade. "The beauty of Acrobat is that it's a natural step towards electronic viewing of documents. Our bespoke solution didn't work in this respect because the technicians didn't understand it, but Acrobat gives them the book on the screen. The bookmarks and text search add value to the printed book, as does the fact that the electrical diagrams can be shown in colour on-screen."
The FrameMaker and Acrobat system brings benefits while developing the documentation as well. "It's made it amazingly easy to show pre-release information to the engineers for their comments," says Cade. The engineers use X-terminals and can directly display and print PDF documents from these.
( Adobe 1998
Compiled by Ajith Ram
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