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Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Are any of you transmitting engineering documents with electronic signature (signing and sealing by electronic encoding)?  Some states now permit electronic signatures for expedience of transmitting engineering documents (plans, specs, reports, etc.), provided a standard protocol of hard copy registration and standard encoding is followed.

Let me know your thoughts on this, whether you are now doing it or contemplating it, and whether you are meeting with resistance from anyone (internally or externally) in the process.  Also address liability and other thoughts of this process.


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Hi Ron

I have been transmitting drawings, bending schedules and various other documents electronically for the past 3 years.  This has been carried out between the 3 major parties on our contract, namely myself (Main Contractor), our Client, and our Subcontracted Design Engineers.  This has worked very well in my opinion.

The protocol we use is that whoever of the 3 parties produces the original drawing, keeps the master copy on paper with handwritten signatures on it (for legal reasons).  Only then can the drawings be transmitted electronically with typed signatures in the check boxes. Our drawings are produced in Autocad.

As the project Coordinator, all drawings pass through my office and I am responsible for ensuring that the appropriate parties have the correct copies.  this is easier than it sounds as there is so little paper to habndle.

We initially had worries about the security of the drawings and the possibility of the transmission not being correctly printed out at the other end.  In my experience this is not a problem.  The robustness of the technology is such that we have had possibly 2 or 3 transmission errors in 3 years and it is obvious when the plots are in error as the drawing looks an absolute mess.  I would argue that it is so unlikely that it is dismissable that the drawing would selectively not print out  one vital piece of info only (assuming your CAD technicians are on the ball and have drawn and layered the drawing correctly).


Andy Machon


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Thanks for your input.  It is very relevant to my issues.  We have also used electronic transfer of documents internally, but have only done limited external transfer of official (signed/sealed) documents due to liability and security.  Now I feel we need to take it to a different level with true, encoded electronic signature and sealing to comply with laws that have been developed for this purpose.

Getting our bean counters, IT group, and legal beagles to support this effort is my latest challenge.  Operationally, they don't see the significance of using the technology...they figure we should be able to plan and execute flawlessly so that time is never an issue.  I suppose after 25 years of practice I should have reached that point, but what the hell....I just haven't made it to perfection!

Have you used any of the available encoding software that uses a file matching scheme to see if a document has been modified?

Reminds me of something I heard once....All the people who have achieved perfection must get awfully tired of doing nothing!

Take care,

RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Ron,  good to hear from you again.

We have not employed an encoding system as yet.  Our current defence against other parties modifying the dawings is that we hold the signed paper originals.  I (naiively perhaps) believe that a great benefit of transmitting drawings electronically is that the receiver can open the drawings and then merge our details with theirs in order to check where clashes occur or plant will not fit into the spaces we have allocated. If the receiver believes that there may be some info missing on their electronic copy they are free to phone us to check.

We place a degree of trust in those we deal with electronically.  We do tend to deal with the CAD technicians of these companies who are well versed in the protocols of updating drawings etc, so we have never had a problem on that front.  Would a disclaimer in your drawing title block relating to security of electronic data satisfy the Legal Beagles?

We now receive tender documents on CD-ROM from most of our major clients.  This saves us a fortune in paper and photocopying costs as we only print out the drawings we need and we can print A3 or A1 copies rather than being swamped under a mountain of A0's.  Also the bills of quantites are on the CD so we can fill these in and send a CD-ROM back at a fraction of the postage costs.  I will consult with our estimating chaps regarding the security measures and legal approach that our clients have adopted.  I'll also chat with our CAD supremo regarding the encodng.


Best Regards

Andy Machon


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Thanks again.  Another sticky issue we have to deal with in this mix is that our state law does not allow us to provide a document with our signature or seal that is capable of being modified .  As an example, we cannot sign and seal an original, reproducible (even sepia) to transmit to a client or file for public record.  It can only be a blueline or other media that would show immediately if modifications had been made. That is what makes the encoding significant.

Most states have similar laws.  Of course this does not preclude sharing drawings or details among consultants, owners, or contractors....just the final responsibility drawings for which we must bear signature/sealing responsibility.

If your IT or CAD people have any additional comments, please pass them on.  I appreciate your input.

Hey Q...JAE...Mike......throw me a bone here guys!!!


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Here's my late response....just got back from vacation.

We haven't approached the issue yet.  Most of the states we do business in have specific regulations prohibiting any electronic signatures but I agree...there seems to be some software developement which creates a document that cannot be messed with once it is submitted with the signature.

I would think that this issue expands beyond our own issue with design documents...i.e. such as signing contracts, banking, and other legal type "paperwork".   The problem has always been keeping an "original" that records, in history, what occurred.  

Whatever happens, I'm probably not alone in despising the repetitious signing of blueline after blueline when a project goes out.  On top of that, I have a fairly long signature.  Thinking about changing my name to Q ....or at least Joe Doe.

RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Hi Guys

Well,  having consulted with our font of knowledge on all matters IT, he tells me that the best way to ensure that your drawing document cannot be tampered with is to issue it in Adobe Acrobat as a .PDF file.  You will need to purchase the writer software to do this.

This format will allow the recipient to view, enlarge and print the file but not modify it.  This does not allow you to play with or merge the drawing with one of your own to check for clashes etc.  However, what you could do is send out the Adobe file and the Autocad file together.  This will allow the recipient to work wih your drawing but have the Adobe file as a fixed record of your original.

As for the CD-ROMs we receive with tender docs and drawings on them, the trusting, foolhardy Brits over this side of the pond appear a little lax in terms of security.  I am told that these come with no protection and can be modified by the unscrupulous (but to what end I cannot imagine).


Andy Machon


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

I understand .pdf files can also be tampered!


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Ron, I'm always willing to share my $0.02 but since we've yet to deal with the issue here in the midwest, I'm reluctant to do anything but sit back and watch to see whats happening.  I have taken the same approach to this thread: sitting back taking in all of the responses.

I'll say one thing for sure as unpopular as it might be...I'm scared to death of what may happen with this business of transferring drawings.  Hell, I don't like to transfer drawings internally let alone outside the company.  Inevitably someone will have a drawing that is several revisions old (i.e., working drawings not noted revisions)they'll make some changes slip in with thier set and call it good.  Yikes!

We do, however, have files of seals so that a drawing may be "stamped" without the laborious, repetitive task of actually doing so.  The signature and date though are both done by uno.  I just finished a set of 200+ drawings for a job several weeks ago...had writer's cramp for days.

I wonder if its the technology I mind so much or the amount of trust I must put in on the other side of the equation.  Lately I haven't seen much to give me the warm fuzzies.

I appreciate your taking this issue up and providing the opportunity to hear some different opinions.

RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals


At the peril of appearing rude.....

I hear what you say, but this almost smacks of paranoia!  What is the problem?  If you are dealing with other professional engineers who are bound by the same codes of ethics as you are, then why would they attempt to change the details of a sealed drawing without your knowledge?  If you have the original (and all parties know that you have the original) then I can't see why you are so jumpy about letting others have an electronic copy.  

The fact that the copy is electronic and not paper has no bearing on whether someone is using an out of date copy.  This happens on paper systems too.  When I go out on site it is all too easy to find an out of date drawing in one of the drawing cabinets, especially if the number of drawings on the contract is large.  This is a simple statistical fact that the drawing controller is bound to make a mistake in issuing or updating copies of drawings.

If a party wishes to mess about with the drawings to fraudulently create a "good" set then they can suffer the consequences.  If other professions approached the transfer of information with this degree of scepticism then the World would grind to a halt!

I know that I don't understand the US laws (which appear to vary from State to State), but to an outsider this appears to be ridiculous.  Engineers are happy to calculate, draw, analyse and design electronically, create complex finite element models ( and believe the answer the computer tells them) but God forbid they should ever want to transmit drawings electronically.

PS.  Please feel free to tell me where to get off if I have missed the point !

Best Regards

Andy Machon


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Andy, Your points are well taken.  However, its been my experience that Murphy's law is reality: If it can go wrong it will.

I have worked with a number of high caliber people that I would trust to the limit that a professional should.  Those are folks I truly enjoy working with.  I have also, however, worked with a disproportionate number of folks who simply don't understand the limits of thier own knowledge and inevitably wreak havoc on a project or business relationship.  I'm not trying to be an elitist just offering my many years of experience.

Yes, I agree that you can have the same problems with paper.  However, at least with paper its difficult to make changes without them being noticable.

Moreover, I am "happy" to use the computer for a number of tasks that I do including complex finite element models as I understand the concept and limitations with them (incidentally, I'm referring to FEA of solid continua not simple stick models when mentioning complex finite element models).  And that I suppose is the issue.  I don't understand the limitations (checks and balances) afforded to this new method of drawing transfer.

Finally, I'm not sold on this fascination of the new generation with instant food, instant phones, instant engineering.  People today want to have an answer right now, immediately just because they think they can.  Yet when its all said and done there are many restrictions on a given situation than just the engineer having an answer immediately.  A truly discerning person knows this.

RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals


Thanks for your thoughts.  I understand your concern that speed is not the essence of good engineering.  In fact, in the rush to provide instant solutions we more often than not incorporate error into our thinking without standing back and taking the time to assess what we have done.

I just feel that you are passing up the opportunity to have a really useful tool in your armoury out of fear that the unscrupulous in this world will seek to undermine your work. I have worked with electronically transmitted drawings from our subcontractors and I have on numerous occasions saved time and money in avoiding clashes or spotted where various problems occur simply by merging and overlaying their drawings with ours.

Can I suggest that in the spirit of good engineering you undertake a test and monitor the results. Why not have an agreement with a number of your trusted contractors/ clients/ subcontractors to run a test project (either a totally ficticious one or run an electronic job alongside your traditional paper one).  I am convinced that your confidence in the robustness of this tool will grow and you will discover the benefits and pitfalls for yourself.


Andy Machon


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

I agree with you and shall seek such an opportunity.  I can see benefits...


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

I work in a large consultancy company (about 3000 technical
staff) dealing with multidisciplinary projects of hydrocarbon
industry. The drawings generated by one discipline need to be
coordinated with several other disciplines for compatibility, or
used as basic input by some other disciplines to generate their
output. After completion, these drawings need to be sent
to the construction site for execution. Similarly, a number of
equipment and materials need to be purchased through a
detailed procurement procedure, and the status of each item
is to be tracked in real time for proper project management.
The extent of data transmission and tracking and records to
be maintained for QA purposes (We are an ISO 9001
company) is just phenomenal. The kind of mistakes,
use of old issues of drawings when they have already
been superseded, parties not receiving drawings in time, are
a few of the problems that are faced regularly in document
transmission in paper form.

We have decided to go for electronic generation, storage and
transmission of documents in an integrated manner.There are
some special data management software which are currently
under consideration and evaluation. The system is under
network environment and all concerned personnel will be
provided right of access/use/copy/revision as the case may be.
The security aspects are taken care of by the rights provided
to individuals. Revisions to documents are instantaneously
transmitted to all concerned. Old versions are not accessible to
outsiders! The procedure can be quite detailed, but easy to
implement once finalised. For large projects and large
companies, this is inevitable.

Note that paper prints would still be taken when the people
are working at site. Periodic checking of updates and taking
new prints of updated drawings would still be necessary at

We intend to extend this system for getting vendor data and
drawings as well. That means the vendor has to generate and
transmit documents electronically. I think these will be obtained
in .pdf format so that the vendor is confident that his
document is secure.

We have worked on some offshore projects with a Norwegian
client, where all data/document transmission has been
only electronic. The work was done in India and transmitted
to Norway.

Incidentally, we do not have the system of sealing and signing
or the concept of EOR in the projects I have described.


RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

Picked this up in one of my emails... sorta related to the discussion.

09.  ELECTRONIC SIGNING.  Now that electronic signatures are legal, it's easy enough to do those: just scan your signature and insert it
right into the document.  But the ease itself is the problem, since the unscrupulous can easily lift your signature and place it in another document as well.  Not so with free onSign at http://www.onsign.com .Encrypted software will invalidate your signature if anyone attempts to copy it or to change any document that you have signed.

RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

I've been elctronically signing and sealing CA jobs
for 20 years. Some counties establish a wet stamp or
wet seal policy to build their confidence in authenticity.
Reference to the consumer affairs professional code moves
them toward acceptance.
It is the boards responsibility to chase fraud, not the PE.

RE: Electronic Signatures/Electronic Document Transmittals

I know I arrived at this thread a little late.  The company I used to work for converted all drawings to be transmitted to .pdf format.  Adobe has a method of "stamping" the drawing electronically.  We transmitted these directly to the construction site.  At the other end, they had no means of ever changing the drawing.  The drawing was "frozen" by adobe.  When construction was complete as builts were drafted and the final electronic files were given to the owner in the original format if they requested, along with a hard copy stamped set.

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