Customer Profile: Curtis & Tompkins
SwiftView Pro Viewer and SwiftConvert helped Curtis & Tompkins eliminate truckloads
of paper and improve productivity with web-based report viewing.
Curtis & Tompkins is one of the oldest analytical chemistry laboratories in the United States, operating continually
since 1878. Curtis & Tompkins performs analyses of samples from industrial and Federal sites across the country,
and for the last twenty years, the company's strategic focus has been environmental (EPA) analysis. Based in
Berkeley, California, the company is privately held and employs 75 people who are dedicated to delivering superior
data quality, on time, at a competitive price. For more information, visit
|The Challenge: Overwhelmed by paper |
"We analyze environmental samples for chemical pollutants," says David McNerney, head of IS architecture and development
for Curtis & Tompkins. "We analyze by a large variety of EPA methods, using a variety of different specialized
instruments from different manufacturers, each controlled by proprietary software from the vendor. All this work
generates a huge amount of paper, both from the instrument vendor's software and from our central computer system.
Sometimes a single analysis of a sample, on just one of these instruments, can generate close to 100 pages of reports.
A whole work order, analyzed on many instruments for a full suite of analyses, can turn into a stack of paper that's more
than two feet tall. Government regulations require us to store this data for longer and longer (more than five years),
and the business has been growing every year, meaning more samples and more paper to store." The solution: go paperless.
"We are currently in the process of transitioning to a paperless system, based on a specialized set of web applications
developed by our staff," says McNerney. "These web applications display views of the data generated by our central
computer system, together with what we sometimes call the 'raw data': the original reports generated by the instrument vendor's
software, captured automatically by our computer system, and stored in our central database."
If archiving the reports electronically were all that Curtis & Tompkins needed, their established database would suffice.
But staff also had to be able to easily view those reports. "We needed a way to display raw data reports in a web browser,
because each chemist needs to review the original raw data before signing off on the results," says McNerney.
|The Search: How to view "paper" online|
Curtis & Tompkins began looking for ways that users with a web application could view "printed" reports online. One of
the challenges in finding a solution was the wide range of software programs associated with the assorted lab equipment.
So the company standardized on PCL, capturing the original data stream that would have been sent to a printer anyway, thus
taking no more work time to produce. "We spent a long time researching all sorts of viewers and viewing formats on the web,"
says McNerney. "We also spent time testing jpeg images and PDF and Acrobat, both of which could be easily integrated into
the web app. But neither worked as well as PCL."
"We had to give up on PDF and Acrobat because it is so slow: it takes time to start up, installation is a hassle, upgrading is
a hassle. We hadn't actually tested it with 1,500-page documents because it seemed slow even with smaller files. And
using Acrobat to display documents meant our server had to convert all of them to PDF, and that consumed server CPU time.
Using PDF seemed to us like a heavy-handed, slow and inefficient way to display documents when with PCL and SwiftView, we could
take it from the horse's mouth, and display the actual information that was captured from the printer."
"We licensed SwiftView for the intranet so that our chemists at their lab benches can review data," says McNerney. "They
use dual display workstations and see the paper-sized, 8.5-by-11 image on the (right-hand) 1280 by 1024 display. SwiftView,
embedded in a stripped-down FireFox or IE window, gives them a great view of the captured reports since the aspect ratio on
the rotated screen ends up perfect for viewing regular letter size pages."
"We really needed the new 600 dpi rendering in SwiftView Pro. We capture printed documents from lots of different Windows
applications that control test instruments. If an application does 600 dpi output and I view it with 300 dpi, it just
looks horrible. That's why we had to upgrade our license to SwiftView Pro."
The company also uses SwiftConvert, for example when it needs to generate PDF on occasion when sharing reports with customers.
"We use SwiftConvert to convert TIFF images to PCL for integration into PCL files, when we need to show all the data in one report,"
says McNerney. "And we've
started to use SwiftConvert to break PCL documents into pages, and extract text from each page."
A few important reasons why SwiftView is so efficient for Curtis & Tompkins:
- Embeds in the web browser, "so we can integrate it seamlessly with our web applications."
- Displays the original captured print files. "We store the captured PCL unmodified. It's nice
to be able to view that directly, rather than going through another file format like PDF. We can always deliver PDF reports
to the customer through conversion."
- Looks exactly like printed output. "SwiftView's accurate, high-definition rendering of PCL
documents is critical here: the chemist's signature on the data can only have meaning if they see the same supporting documents
that would have come out of the printer."
- Fast. "Our chemists have to navigate between many different objects in our application; each object
has captured reports associated with it that are shown on the right hand display. We don't want all this navigating to
be slow. SwiftView takes raw PCL, so there's no server-side delay while converting to PDF and it displays that PCL much
faster than Adobe Acrobat can display PDF, so there is no delay at the client PC either."
- Reliable under repeated heavy usage. "Our chemists spend a good part of their day using the application,
meaning that SwiftView is asked to display hundreds of documents, sometimes many in rapid succession. It never seems to hang,
crash, or get slow under such usage, which is kind of unusual for a Windows program. Nor does it cause problems for the
- Good for long documents. "We sometimes have to display combined reports that can run to over 1000 pages,
including many pages of graphics. These PCL files can run to over 50 MB in size. SwiftView shows these reports in
the web browser with no delays other than network transfer, and allows the user to move between pages rapidly. I can't
imagine anything like this performance if we were using Acrobat for such large files."
- "SwiftView works with both FireFox and Internet Explorer, so that we don't get tied to a single browser
for our applications."
- The plug-in and ActiveX control for the two browsers are easy to install.
"Currently we have one of our most important departments converted to this new system, using SwiftView on six workstations,"
says McNerney. "The rollout went smoothly, and SwiftView has been great. We just started a couple of months ago
with that one group, and will be doing another one soon, and then will proceed group by group."
"We don't have any hard and fast numbers yet, just images. The lab was piled with stacks of paper, and now there's only
a little bit of paper here and there, but the lab is basically clean. By getting rid of the paper, we allow our employees
to work at a higher level. It's harder to keep good chemists (or good technical people of any kind) if you're making them push
paper all day. The chemists have reported productivity gains with the new paperless approach."
"In terms of equipment and supplies, we've removed printers from that part of the laboratory. Between losing printers
and removing stacks of paper from the workflow, we've freed up valuable counter space. Down the road, this will allow
us to put more instrumentation in our existing facility. We're spending at least $16,000 a year on paper and we expect
almost all of that cost will someday go away as a result of the automation we're doing."