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When is a schematic proprietary?
2

When is a schematic proprietary?

When is a schematic proprietary?

(OP)
During field service at a food processer I asked for schematics, was told that due to a "falling out" with the original construction electrical contractor they are not available - management thought they paid for the job, wiring diagrams should be included, contractor says "my property".

I expect this comes up, must not be searching right as I can't find much in the threads here. I read about intellectual property/patentability, definition seems something like "not protected if reproduceable by others with ordinary skills" (I bet debating that point generates a lot of legal fees).

In this case more than a hundred MCC buckets are interlocked (for lines of conveyors, cleaners, loaders, etc., etc.), will have big material pileups if not sequenced/trip chained. There's no PLC, just switches, contacts, timers, etc. It's been possible so far to just take care with wiring (when changing buckets, though PITA if substituting VFD with xline and vice/versa given mix of control volts). I would certainly prefer the big picture though, as I'm finding the interlock doesn't always follow the physical layout/numbering of the buckets, so things are likely to get mixed up over time . . .

Is this a typical dispute then? I do custom control work myself (smaller scale), always felt obliged to provide an annotated schematic describing the intended operation, with all components and wires labelled (especially since most often me or my guys will be troubleshooting later, nice to have right there in the box). Maybe I'm giving too much away though? I notice here even the factory stuff has unlabeled control wires, guess that costs extra now - pretty frustrating having to identify everything before troubleshooting can begin . . .

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

I've done this for decades. And there are always diagrams, BOMs, connection tables and system descriptions available on site.

There are, in most civilized countries, also legal texts saying that "Documents shall be available for erection, connection, maintenace, repair, modifications, crew education and inspection"

Anyone that says otherwise will soon be out of business. Just tell them that.

Gunnar Englund
www.gke.org
--------------------------------------
Half full - Half empty? I don't mind. It's what in it that counts.

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

This document deficiency issue occurs frequently when the owner drives the acquisition in lieu of hiring an engineer or other 3rd party versed in such matters. They will often neglect to require as-built document deliverables. This problem is almost always the case when software is involved and has been the bane of federal acquisitions, which for the longest time invoked nightmare standards such as DOD 2167 to drive software development and documentation efforts. You have to ask for the documentation and make delivery of such a condition of approval/acceptance, and you have to specify (in great detail ) what you want. When dealing with PLCs, the documents should be available by the time you get to the builder trials, so the client or his agent can proof the documents while executing the steps of the trial. Just as you would ask for the builder's test plan for review and approval, you need to ask for the record documents. If you don't ask, then you won't get, and you don't have a case. Absent such, then you will have to recreate by reverse engineering. Reverse engineering can be a pain, but for critical processes, it may be worth it, particularly if the objective is to ensure continuity of service, repair, replace, etc. In my acquisitions where I supply a one-line or elementary contract guidance drawing, I require the Contractor to supply an as-built drawing, and I may allow the Contractor to satisfy the requirements by re-lining my drawing. Where programming is an issue, he will need to supply maps,etc.

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

If not specified, you may not get it. A prior managers wife had an online business an after several years was unhappy with web creators service. They tried to cancel only to be told the web designer owned the domain name and if they left, couldn't use it.

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

(OP)
Thanks for the replies. The plant owners have since re-searched all their attic document piles (finding no diagrams), then re-contacted the original contractor (J) about purchasing electrical plans. I told them to be nice, and be prepared for a fairly high price ($10k, for example, would be cheap compared to the alternative). They say J was very cordial, expressed willingness to provide service work as needed, but said schematics are "mine, period - not for sale, ever".

J has been the guy for several of these plants built around here in the last 15 years. I can see how it happened - farmer/owners realize they can afford to build their own processing rather than pay others, they shop the equipment and installation, then shop the electrical work - J is local, has a fair price, word gets around, everybody uses him. Now as service needs rise over time, J is spread thin (original "falling out" here was his inability to respond quickly to a breakdown). So other electricians (like me) end up winging it. They're hoping I can make time in the off season to reverse engineer the place, create the needed one line and elementary diagrams - doable though tedious, certainly irritating that it has to be done.

Interesting situation - hard to see how J benefits by punishing the customers this way (forcing them to pay for reverse engineering or else just shut down and wait for his response, however long it takes). Perhaps he will go out of business, as Skogsgurra suggests, given this decidedly un-civilized practice (seems irresponsible, even dangerous - in a shutdown these guys end up "trying things" to get going again). On the other hand, if J takes the trouble to design a system on his own I can see how he wouldn't want it easily copied.

Buyer beware then - these owners probably saved a bundle by NOT hiring the 3rd party engineering and legal help described by BlackJackJacques, starting to regret it now . . .

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

Too bad that the farmer/owner has to wed the contractor. That is a dependancy sure to create problems. I wouldn't let J on the property anymore.

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

If all the installations are more or less identical and also solve a processing problem in a unique way - then I can understand why J" doesn't want to reveal his "secrets". But it doesn't sound like this is anything but a set of fairly standard motor Control Equipment with a few timers and interlocks. Perhaps a cam sequencer or similar thing. Not much of an IP.

It could also be so that this local genius goes on site with a van filled with Cables, motor starters, relays and timers and builds a system "on inspiration and needs". Just like some blacksmiths or builders set up bridges and sheds without any documentation. J may not even have documents.

Tough luck for J. If there are more customres in the same situation, a class action could help. Either by forcing him to deliver the drawings or, if there are no drawings, help creating the necessary documents. It would, after all, be easier for the builder than for someone that does not know the thinking behind the system.

I will look for text included in a typical EU contract. They all say that there shall be complete documents to support changes, maintenance and repair.

Gunnar Englund
www.gke.org
--------------------------------------
Half full - Half empty? I don't mind. It's what in it that counts.

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

Here is a list found by googling "automation deliverables" (https://control.com/thread/1477740457)

Functional Description
Project schedule (e.g. Gantt chart)
Drawings (e.g. approval layout, P&ID, electrical schematics, etc.)
Progress reports (e.g. photos, partial software, HMI screenshots, etc.)
Acceptance criteria / Inspection and test plan
Copy of software
Bills of material
Manuals
Installation plan
Certifications
Document list (Yes, a document listing all of the documents, which of course includes itself as the first document in the list.)

This list agrees well with what we are used to in EU.

Gunnar Englund
www.gke.org
--------------------------------------
Half full - Half empty? I don't mind. It's what in it that counts.

RE: When is a schematic proprietary?

I know a similar circumstance for a family friend farmer that was held captive by an employee charged with maintaining a small corn grain processing plant comprised of a conveyor belt, hopper, and whatever, that used a couple of small motors, ( i think a 10 hp was the largest) with insignificant controls. I don't recall even a small PLC - just some timers and a few safety interlocks. When the employee left to find other work, the farmer was completely stymied, and nearly went bankrupt until myself and a colleague assisted. The moral of the story is to ID dependancies early on and take measures to thwart these dependencies, otherwise, you set yourself up for failure. A simple system drawing, with even a system owner's manual describing system operation, goes a long way in ensuring continued service. I know, things are not done that way, especially in many informal settings - where Luke knows somebody's ex-brother in-law, etc. who worked on Clem's similar system, etc. In this regard, the Owner has to get a little smart as to what is going on, or he will back into it every time. With the ridiculously-wide proliferation and availability of the internet, especially with YouTube, where you can even learn brain surgery if you wanted to, it is pretty easy to at least become more acquainted with such systems and how they work. Heck, I learned to TIG weld from YouTube!

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