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Network Helps Double Productivity of a Technical Publications Group.

For more than 30 years, Tektronix Incorporated, with headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, has produced TV measurement and signal-processing equipment. As part of its product support, the firm develops instruction manuals, service manuals, data sheets, application notes and other technical publications.

In the past, this customer documentation was prepared using traditional production methods. Writers in the Technical Publications Group developed text that was then passed on to other employees for typesetting, illustrating, approvals and pasteup. Back then it generally required about 12 weeks to produce a 150-page manual.

Today, the support documentation is developed by a more-sophistiated production system that has cut production time in half. Key elements of the system are two Xerox 8010 Star professional workstations, a Xerox 860 information-processing system, a Xerox 16/8 professional computer, and a Xerox 8044 laser electronic printer with a 42-megabyte file server, all linked by an Ethernet local-communication network.

System Requires Less Personnel

"Without our new system, we would definitely require more manpower; another typesetter, another graphic artist and two more writers," says John Lauer, Television Products Division project leader and the system administrator for the Xerox 8000 network used for technical publications.

According to Lauer, the Star workstation has eliminated the work to two weeks previously required for typesetting, as well as the laborious job of pasteup and two proofredings. Text is composed on the computer and the 860 information processor and transmitted via the network directly to a workstation, where an operator proofs the copy, sets up the document's format (with margins, type fonts and sizes), and positions the headlines, subheads, pagination, and other elements of style. Operator Linda Jackson says, "You can selecticons instead of memorizing commands. I also find it's much quicker to position words with the mouse than it is to use manual commands to move things."

Multiple Display of Pages

The multiple display on the workstation shows several pages simultaneously and allows the writer to create graphics on one page while reading text on another. Lauer says, "I'm not an artist, yet I did all the illustrations in the last manual." With writers developing elementary illustrations, the artist is freed from more-complex projects.

With text and graphics merged on the workstation and printed on the laser printer, the job of assembling and pasting the elements in place on boards is eliminated. Lauer notes that in the manual process of pasteup, paragraphs can get lost or put down otu of sequence, and illustrations may be turned to the wrong angle. The two time-consuming proof-readings have aslo been eliminated. Now, the operator proofreds as he or she writes and the software spelling dictionary turns up spelling and typographical errors that might have slipped by. According to Lauer, the quality of the manuals has gone up.

Prior to installation of the information-processing system, ideas for illustrations to accompany text were relayed to the artist verbally or by rough pencil sketch, a time-consuming method subject to error. Lauer notes that if a writer does a pencil sketch, puts it aside and finds it two weeks later, the text will have to be reread to be sure the specifications haven't changed.

Better Illustrations, Less Text

Lauer points out that the time to initiate an illustration is when the idea is fresh in the writer's mind. With the writers developing their own illustrations, they can get by with less text and ideas flow more easily to the reader. In addition, when an engineer responsible for checking the technical accuracy of the document can see first-draft text accompanied with graphics, often he can give the writer more information and suggest modifications to make the finished material better.

Tighter Project Control Now

Today, text is written concurrently with product development and undergoes multiple revisions. Previously, type was set at the opposite side of the 600-acre facility from the Technical Publications Group and required three days from the time it was ordered until it was actually pasted down. Lauer points out the changes now are made immediately, giving the group much tighter control over the project.

The system also dispenses with the need to make expensive metal plates for materials to be printed, and the capability of the workstation to merge text and illustrations with photographs on page masters virtually eliminates the need for pasteup. Another reason metal plates are no longer needed is that the resolution on the laser printer is good enough so that it produces page masters that can be used directly to make paper printing plates. This economical printing process is used almost routinely for first runs up to 1,000, when product changes can easily force corrections in documentation.

According to Lauer, Tektronix has a variety of different manuals, some of which are changed frequently and need to be reprinted. Large-volume printing is done by the graphics department, one of the largest printing operations in the state. The laser printer is also a source for obtaining printed copies when the printing services of the graphics department are unavailable.

The 16/8 computer is presently used in a word processing mode. For future requirements, its capabilities allow the user to perform separate computer operations simultaneously. For example, an operator can be writing a manual while printing finished data sheets.

Shared Interface Accesses Tape

Prior to obtaining the 860 information processor and long before the Star workstation, the Technical Publications Group stored files on a DEC VAX 11/780 computer. Magnetic tape was the interface with the typesetter. Today, the group accesses files still on tape or in the active memory of the VAX by using an 860 system with 860 is used to take files out of the company's own Tektronix 1980 Automatic Video Measurement Set, using teletypewriter communications.

With proper interface, the VAX could become a full network citizen. However, Lauer's first priority is to link together the writers who occupy various areas within the engineering groups. The publications for many different projects may require identical or similar portions of text.

"The ability to borrow from one another and not reinvent the wheel each time we're doing a project will be very advantageous," Lauer says.

Writers Can Exchange Materials

The 305 feet of cable already installed allows some writers to access each other's materials. In the future, several writers in different buildings may work on a large project together and the network will allow them to transfer graphics and blocks of text back and forth.

The intent is to build a small network where users of workstations can route electronic mail, acess file servers at different locations, and print documents on the electronic printer at the main site. With two netwoks already in place and more coming, each department will have the potential of communicating with each other.

Future possibilities include linking with the Central Manufacturing Department's network to access data on components, and communicating with a documentation manager at the Tektronix facility in Vancouver, Washington. "We could communicate with all four facilities or even with someone in the field," Lauer says. "We don't have to go out looking for things to do with the network--plenty of applications find us."

Many Types of Publications

Using standard software with the 8010 workstation, the Technical Publications Group has produced data sheets for a new-products department, overhead transparencies to support engineering projects, a quick-turnaround educational package for a major presentation in China, engineering surveys and marketing presentations.

Artist Nancy Davis says, "I had never seen a computer before, but I couldn't believe how easy the system was to learn." According to Davis, with art easily manipulated, the elements in block diagrams and line drawings are in better proportion.

Lauer sums up the advantages for the group: "The installation of the system has been like transferring from the horse and buggy to the jet."
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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