As Technology Evolves, Military Wrestles with Preserving Vital Engineering Data

TECHNOLOGY UPDATE

As Technology Evolves, Military Wrestles with Preserving Vital Engineering Data
Stars and Stripes (01/16/12) Carroll, Chris

As technology advances, military engineers are faced with the threat that vital engineering data could become lost or made unreadable due to being misplaced, misfiled, or corrupted by errors or obsolete computer programs. Engineers and computer scientists throughout the Department of Defense are struggling to solve this problem to preserve electronic data in the long term and keep it easily accessible for when it is needed. The constant need to transfer data on ships, aircraft, and other systems to the most recent programs creates opportunity for introducing errors or losing data. Many of the military's assets, including aircraft carriers, bombers, and artillery pieces, were designed decades ago, and the engineering documents, including details on modifications, are a confusing mix of paper and electronic documents from different times. Old fashioned blueprints and two-dimensional designs can be hard to work with in an era of 3-D computer simulations. Furthermore, software companies are constantly updating and improving their programs to encourage users to upgrade, but transferring designs between versions can create discrepancies that could be potentially fatal, such as if a weld was inaccurately placed on a ship or plane. Another problem is that defense contractors are concerned about turning over complete designs in case the military goes to a competitor for replacement parts. The solution for preserving data calls for every design, including manufacturing and support data, to essentially be put in cold storage using a system called Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data (STEP), developed by the International Standards Organization. “The idea is when you finish your design, you save it in this neutral file format agreed to by international committees, and which doesn’t change much over time,” said Mark Conrad, an electronic data preservation specialist for the National Archives and Record Administration. “You save validation properties with it too, information that lets someone who opens it in the distant future check to make sure everything is correct.”

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