The History of Data – Part II

The History of Data: A Product Data Archive


In the first blog written for this series back in September, The History of Data, the role of the public library was discussed. Within any company that creates or manages product, we find the same need to preserve and organize records related to products and operations of the company.

We find that there are many functions that are still required as we shift from paper to a digital era. Part II of this series will focus on engineering drawings and a brief history of how they were (and sometimes still are) archived.

A Corporate view of Product Drawing Archives


Corporate libraries consume internal resources; therefore their collections are proprietary and accessible only to those who work for the company.

A corporate library functions to preserve and organize records relating to a product and/or the operation of the company. It may also provide a resource from which a research staff can mine for ideas for new products.

If a corporate library function is not in your organization, does your company archival solution look like the image below?

The History of Data

The Role of a Drawing Control Group


A drawing control, configuration, or project management group are the current equivalents of corporate librarians. As a product is defined and executed, the role of drawing control is the driver for effective ways to collect, organize, store, and preserve engineering documentation.

Collections of engineering documentations are unusable without attention to part identification and long-term organization for project members to access. As we see in the above image, there is also a need to provide more accessible storage and retrieval solutions for product engineering documentations.

Drawing control groups often define part numbering schemes for project execution, like the ones listed here:

Numbering Schemes

Typically, internal discussions vary considerably on the usefulness of these types of part number definitions. In every product definition, part number identification is required and no part numbers may be duplicated. Hence, schemes for managing data must be defined and implemented

In prior practice, the “Book of Numbers” concept was used.


The history of data back in the day required that part numbers were to be issued in a series of notebooks, and in sequential order like so:

  • Engineer A receives a “book of numbers” (possibly) starting from 000001 to 001000
  • Engineer B receives her “book of numbers” ranging from 001001 to 001999


…. And so on.

This method partitioned a product’s design into manageable functions and ensured that part numbers were not duplicated.

Before Computer Aided Design


In the past, engineers described components and assemblies using the drafting board where part numbers were taken from the Book of Numbers, and then mapped onto a new drawing board. The media for drawings at that point was engineered vellum- a translucent dimensionally stable paper made from plasticized cotton, typically unaffected temperature and humidity.


In the history of generating this data, dramatically different methods were taken to create reference copies. An example of this would be blueprints – a copy made on a Blueline Machine using the Diazo process. In this technique, Diazo paper was wrapped in a thick black plastic bag that was sealed to keep the light from exposing the paper. Once processed through the Blueline Machine, the paper turned from yellow to blue indicating it was complete. When it was finished, engineers could expose the paper using black lights and ammonia- something completely different than the technological advances we are prone to now on a digital screen.


**Fun Fact:

The finished copies of these prints had a blue background with white lines, which is why they named it with the term “blueprint.”


The Sign-Off Process


It is no secret that departments today and 100 years ago had to chase people down for consistent communication. In the history of data long ago, once a drawing was completed, it had to be checked by other members within a department. This process surfaced details such as missing dimensions and added notations for manufacturing sectors.

Once the drawing was developed, it began the approval process. Analogous to signing your paycheck, the signature approval process utilized a signature form and a blueprint copy for verification. This pair of documents then “traveled” through the departments that would authorize its information for prototype or production manufacturing.

The History of Data

At this point in time, a blueprint copy was used in place and was kept in the engineering department until the signature processes were complete.

The Engineering “Vault


Now that we have advancements in digital systems, data can easily be stored on computers and in the cloud where all things are secure. In the history of storing data, drawings had to be moved to protected locations once completed. These areas were often referred to as the “vault.”


Access to the vault was typically controlled by the drawing control group who performed the role of a corporate Librarian. Original vellums, engineering calculations, and specifications were cataloged and assigned to specific locations in the vault which ensured easy retrieval for revisions and/or follow-on projects.

Within this, reference copies of any approved data was provided by drawing control using a request process. If drawing revisions were required, the originals were “checked out” to the responsible engineer.

This formal process compares to checking out a library book where there is a library card (approval for access) and the document (vellum) assigned to the borrower, as well as a due date for returning data.

The Era of Product Data and Lifecycle Management


As organizations shift digitally, functions for managing originals and copies described in this blog remain as business requirements. In digital transformation, documentation management functions were not always considered.

Digital Era

In Summary of The History of Data

Ultimately, data processes are changing and securing files digitally is the new age of engineering. While considering this series explaining the challenges data management has overcome, the topic of blog 3 will be based on The Information age.


As a preview, Teamcenter is an application that features library archival, part identification, sign off and approval, accessing data among entire teams, streamlining communication, and so much more.

Post by Craig Robillard

Hello, I'm Craig! With beginnings starting as an engineer/draftsman back in 1983, I was the first user of McAuto Unigraphics II Version 1.0. At that time, Teamcenter was not invented, however the need for file management was soon recognized. I am now an Application Engineer at Swoosh Technologies that specializes in Teamcenter, and has a background in new product development, working on a wide range of products such as the following: Copiers, Ink Jet Printers, Scanners, Satellites like Google Earth, Fusion Energy Research, and Industrial Compressor Design (HVAC).

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