PDF/A in Product Life Cycle – Engineering Requirements for PDF/A

Any business that requires documents that are secure should learn about new PDF/A standard.

PDF (Portable Document Format) and the standard PDF/A are now being used in more and more sectors. Companies in the area of discrete manufacturing are not the only ones to profit from this standard for long-term archiving. All business processes that require documents that are secure and can be reproduced should align themselves to the new standard PDF/A.

While the PDF/A standard itself focuses only on the aspect of long-term archiving, it acts as a guarantee in the product life-cycle that all of the relevant documents are secure and can be identically reproduced. Three scenarios highlight the fact that missing standards may lead to considerable restrictions in day-to-day operations.

Creating documentation from various original documents

Manufacturers strive for an automatic process for documentation including very complex customer documentation. For each project, a very large amount of the primed files are checked out for the editing from DMS or PLM systems. The data material is extensively manipulated in order to finally have uniform customer information in digital form. In this case, original documents that cannot be processed lead to more and more sporadic errors. Early quality control could have eliminated these errors.

Standards for preparing documents in companies

Increasingly, companies are preparing manufacturing documents in digital form at the relevant workstations. If required, production planning, quality management or purchasing departments can search for and prepare the required documents from their workstation. Documents are printed locally only if required. The situation becomes awkward if a document cannot be interpreted due to an error. Document creation or archiving often already dates back a long time and can now be corrected only using a complex process. Quality controls for files were also missing from this area.
document diagram

Sectors demand mandatory standards

The average product life cycles in the aviation industry are up to 100 years. The archiving of the documents that are relevant for this product life cycle must take this into account. At an early stage, specific in-house standards were introduced to achieve such an archiving scope. Subsequently, tools and processes for putting these specific standards into practice were urgently required. These are now available.

PDF/A – an archiving standard

When using PDF for long-term archiving, serious problems occur. Due to missing font embedding and large variances when displaying colours, PDF documents do not always “look the same”. Various protection and usage rights also mean that it is difficult to automatically use PDF documents at a later point. In addition, the link to external contents and additional information (such as comments and bookmarks) weakens the character of the document.
Incorrect display due to fonts that are not embedded.
Incorrect display due to fonts that are not embedded.

In reaction to this disadvantage, PDF/A was defined as the standard for long-term archiving in the ISO standard 19005 and was officially released in Autumn 2005. As a result, a standardized environment is established for the first time in order to use the PDF format for long-term archiving. The rules and methods of the standard stipulate a subset of defined PDF attributes and, in doing so, define the minimum requirements with which a PDF document that is classified as being suitable for long-term archiving must comply.

The PLM system – useful for many types of documents

In the following, we will consider SAP-PLM as an example of a possible system for data storage. The document management system DMS that is integrated into SAP has proved its worth for a large number of file types and document types. Due to the built-in version and status management and a large number of functions for authorization and classification, this system can be used in many application cases, for example, for product information and logistics information, quality data, manuals and operating instructions, catalogues and images.

The documents that are managed using DMS can be used in a number of ways – for example, to display on screen or from printing and for electronic distribution. The joint preparation, together with other SAP forms for manufacturing, procurement and maintenance, establishes secure processes and saves a lot of time.

The built-in conversion interface to external SAP DMS conversion servers enables archiving and view formats to be created automatically or according to the status or user.

The SAP DMS manages documents for various SAP applications:

  • Application data about connecting to external applications (e.g., Office, CAD, DTP),
  • SAP PLM – Product Lifecycle Management,
  • EasyDMS – the user-friendly DMS interface,
  • Collaboration scenario with cFolders

Therefore, in SAP DMS, data from very different sources and applications runs together. Since this product and process data is often subject to long record retention requirements, a quality check of the long-term formats is essential: The quality of new PDF files must already be ensured at the time when the files are stored or created in various applications and this quality must be ensured using tools for automatically checking and adjusting.
The SAP user controls the check process.
The SAP user controls the check process.

Using SAP interfaces to create and check PDF/A

Conversion interfaces already exist for SAP DMS and other processes. These conversion interfaces can be used for PDF/A processing. The SAP document management system DMS uses a built-in conversion interface that communicates with third-party conversion servers. This means that long-term formats such as PDF/A can be created and checked in again interactively or according to the status. This interface is also suitable for converting 3D CAD formats. For this, an archiving file must be generated from many individual files that are in the form of material document lists.
SAP DMS integration with PDF/A check.
SAP DMS integration with PDF/A check.

The certifiable NetWeaver interface BC-XDC (External Document Converter) can also be used to create PDF/A. This interface enables a conversion procedure to be called from an SAP application. The type and number of application formats that can be converted depends on the functional range of the implementation of the BC-XDC server.

For the conversion procedure, you can use the PDF input and PDF/A output to perform a PDF/A check or adjustment. The BC-XDC interface is used by several SAP standard applications but is also available to all developers and solutions architects as of WAS 6.40. DPF4BCXDC is the name of the interface implementation from SEAL Systems Inc.

Central service for creating formats and quality management

In practice, central server-based procedures have proven their worth. For all applications in a company, these procedures create and check PDF files and adjust PDF files from elsewhere to the quality guidelines. Companies such as SEAL Systems can deliver suitable solutions through the PDF Longlife Suite: PDF Checker, PDF Adjust and a standard integration for the SAP DMS.
PDF Checker checks that the standard is met – PDF Adjust adjusts the document to PDF/A.
PDF Checker checks that the standard is met – PDF Adjust adjusts the document to PDF/A.

Suitable converters are designed for the conversion of application data to PDF/A. There can and must not be a standard decision about which method is used for the application. In this case, it makes sense to classify the applications that are involved according to their level of integration in the PLM system. Usually, one or two CAD systems for mechanical construction and an Office package for managing the accompanying documents of all types are directly linked to the PLM system. These applications require a fully-integrated PDF/A generation. The interactive creation of PDF/A from all other applications (the other M-CAD systems, E-CAD, DTP, content management systems) seems to be sufficient. Other converters must be used for converting diverse legacy data (HPGL/CGM, PS/PDF, TIFF G4 and colour TIFF, Ascii, JPEG).
Creating PDF/A from many applications and file formats.
Creating PDF/A from many applications and file formats.

When several companies collaborate in the product development process, they exchange a large number of documents. When transferring the documents to their own data storage and storing them in the SAP DMS, these documents must be adjusted to the company’s own quality standards. When doing this, the company must pay attention to legal aspects, such as the copyright protection of the original document. In this case, the company must not only store the document that has been adjusted to meet its own standards but, for legal reasons, they must also preserve the original document. For this, the integrated quality management should therefore also create a relevant protocol that includes test steps, their results and the changes that were made and should provide this protocol for storage in the SAP DMS.

Carefully planning the migration process

Project experiences have shown, that many PDF files can be retroactively changed to the stricter PDF/A standard. However, in principle, this is not possible. Migration projects show that about 10 – 30% of files cannot be made to conform to PDF/A without reusing the original application.
Migration concept for a company with PDF/A as the target.
Migration concept for a company with PDF/A as the target.

When choosing a suitable set of software tools, it is useful to plan a step-by-step implementation. In this connection, it is advised to structure the volume of documents that exist in the company according to the processes that are responsible for their formation. In doing so, we can identify document groups for which a longer time is required for conversion the into qualitative, high-quality PDF files. This mostly concerns the large number of externally-created documents that, over years, were gathered in the company from various unsecure sources. The migration should begin with these documents.

However, the documents that are currently being received are often equally important to the activities of a company. If an automatic quality check is activated for the check-in to SAP DMS, the task of long-term archiving using PDF and SAP DMS can then be regarded as solved.

PDF/A establishes security through standardization

The PDF/A standard establishes mandatory rules for PDF documents that are intended for long-term archiving. In addition, standards are established for document exchange between companies.

As a result, the administration effort is reduced when using documents within a company and when exchanging documents with suppliers and customers. The processes run smoothly.

Today, tools exist for creating and checking the PDF/A standard. For the SAP internal document management system DMS and for other DMS and PDM systems, these tools ensure that the only documents that are checked in are those that conform to the standard.

About SEAL Systems AG

SEAL Systems provides solutions for Corporate Output Management, SAP, PLM, Conversion and Publishing which help creatie, administer and distribute documents.

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