Choose one: text or animations for nuclear powerplant training

Text is not the answer to better product documentation

I was reading the “Engineers without Fears” blog and came across this post in which Matt Moore describes some of the core issues that arise in documenting very complex products, especially their long lifespan and the need to transfer information from one person to another over multiple careers.

Matt summarizes the problem succinctly:

Powerplants and fighter planes tend to be expensive and have long lifespans (as long or longer than the career of individual). Given that a proper understanding of how a complicated product operates takes a long time to build (often 10 years minimum), knowing who knows what around a specific component or assembly is vital. And yet often it is not known.

We agree these are important issues. Where we diverge is over the the idea that PLM is some kind of prerequisite for effective product documentation, and especially over the idea that a text-based system is the proper way to ensure long-lived documentation.

On the first point, we have implemented Seemage alongside PLM systems in some customers and in others we have implemented Seemage in spite of the PLM system. PLM systems don’t necessarily solve the problems users outside engineering have in documenting products, and in those cases, because Seemage is installed outside the PLM politics of the organization, these users are more productive more rapidly.

One the second point about text: we simply believe (as do our customers who eliminate translations using Seemage) that model-derived animations, high resolution graphics and images are better long-term documentation than printed materials. We’re not suggesting that all text can (or should) be eliminated. But a lot of it should be…especially when you are talking about the kinds of projects Matt was discussing.

I’d much rather have a text-annotated animation of the procedure for removing control rods in a nuclear plant to leave to the next generation of maintenance people than only printed, textual documentation in a thick binder.

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