On the Job: Across Seven Cities, 1,000 Miles — Steel Producer Speeds Access to CAD Files

13 Oct, 2005 Cadalyst

Gerdau Ameristeel creates real-time, global network using Availl WAFS software

Gerdau Ameristeel, the second largest minimill steel producer in North America, recently developed a global network for sharing CAD files that has led to significantly faster engineering turnaround time and lower WAN (wide-area networking) costs. The new network lets Gerdau Ameristeel staff access large CAD files stored thousands of miles away at local access speeds -- ensuring that users work from the most current version of the design while reducing bandwidth by as much as 95%.

The melt shop at Gerdau Merisel's plant in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Rather than deploying costly hardware-based VPNs or PLM (product lifecycle management) software that wouldn't speed up file access times, Gerdau Ameristeel opted for WAFS (Wide Area File Systems) technology from Availl. WAFS is designed to answer the common AEC industry conundrum: how to share CAD files -- including MicroStation, Solid Works and AutoCAD files, as well as Microsoft Office files -- efficiently across distances.

"Availl allowed us to take our WAN system to another level," said Chris Cherry, technical services coordinator at Gerdau Ameristeel, whose finished steel products are used in construction, automotive, mining and cellular and electrical transmission. The company employs engineering and production professionals who create and modify MicroStation CAD files that define where reinforcing steel is required, as well as production bar list files, which are created from the engineering drawing files and specify each customer's fabrication requirements. Engineers then send drawings and list files between team members for review and approval.

CAD file sharing between engineers and production workers at Gerdau Ameristeel is crucial to convey custom fabrication requirements of each customer.

"Before Availl, files were sent back and forth as e-mail attachments -- a cumbersome approach that got the job done but was slow and put an unnecessary load on our mail server," said Cherry. "We needed a way to share these files and let all users see the same revisions all at once." The company also wanted to closely manage WAN bandwidth costs.

Remote File Sharing Made Feasible
"With Availl," said Cherry, "we estimate that we've improved our typical detailing cycles by several days just by being able to work in real-time between offices -- time-savings that let us respond to our customers more quickly. Availl became the common medium that truly transcended time, bandwidth costs and geographical differences. All the drawing files became available in real time to all users, and everyone is able to work with the latest version of the file."

Gerdau Ameristeel runs Availl software on a Windows server at each of six fabricating plants, and plans to double that by year-end. The data set at each site ranges to 80GB and may consist of many projects or volumes. The data changes throughout the day, as the original files modified by one user are mirrored by Availl on all servers with that same volume in the WAFS system.

Availl WAFS software lets Gerdau Ameristeel access large CAD files stored in remote offices thousands of miles away at local access speeds.

Availl's real-time WAFS technology ensures that files are instantly accessible in an almost limitless number of locations simultaneously, and in complete synchronization -- no matter where changes are made and with no chance of conflicts.

Gerdau Ameristeel uses Availl WAFS software to ensure that CAD files are instantly accessible in al locations simultaneously and in complete synchronization.

Availl WAFS keeps a mirrored copy of all files on the local office servers, in a conventional Windows folder, automatically updating each copy in continuously. The software handles the updates by sending only byte-level differences, not entire files -- and applies WAN optimization techniques and compression -- so files transfer swiftly. The product eliminates 95% or more of previous bandwidth requirements and eliminates the chance of any user opening an outdated version of a file. As a software-only solution, Availl also is readily deployed on common PC hardware at a fraction of the cost of WAFS appliance approaches, according to the company.

Gerdau Ameristeel set up its network so engineers work locally, then upload drawings to the Availl volume on the local server. In the event of an Internet outage, users still have access to all the files locally.

"With both disk space and memory being pretty cheap these days, as we plan more uses for Availl's software, all we have to do is provide those inexpensive hardware resources on the client side to make it work. Mount a volume, map a drive and we have instant file replication. It can literally be done at the user level," Cherry said. The company plans to deploy Availl to an additional six U.S. Gerdau Ameristeel fabrication plants.