Why we use LaTeX for engineering

 In Blog

At Feed4ward, we take a software engineer’s view of  project documentation, using principles such as inheritance, templating and object reuse to produce consistent and precise documentation for our GAMP®5-compliant automation projects. To enable this, we use the typesetting package “LaTeX” instead of conventional word processors. LaTeX is pronounced “Lay-tech”.

LaTeX is a macro package for TeX, the original advanced typesetting system that was developed in the 80’s to create complex technical text layouts and display mathematical expressions and formulas. Unlike word processors such as MS Word, LaTeX separates the document’s content from its formatting. Styling can be configured independently and applied consistent across documents, whereas the source code is plain text, making it platform-independent and reusable, to produce the same output file quality every time.

How it works

Here is a very simple example of how the LaTeX source code looks and what is generated from it:

Simple LaTeX code
Formatted text created using LaTeX

The engine that converts the LaTeX code into a printable format such as PDF can be expanded with additional packages of commands. Common glossary and abbreviation entries can be written in a separate file and listed automatically when referred in the main document. Footnotes are created with a simple command and section titles are numbered and listed automatically.

It is this flexibility and consistency that appealed to Feed4ward for the implementation of our ISO9001 Quality Management System documents and for the GAMP®5 project life cycle of the software developed in-house.

Project documents all use the same layout and style template, allowing the authors to focus only on the content of the document. The result is a recognizable document format, across all the Feed4ward projects, with the high quality standards we set for ourselves.

The LaTeX plain text source code allows our automation nature to run wild. Having developed several Perl scripts that automatically generate complex documents, we can reduce the writing and formatting time required to a minimum, and better use our time for software development.

Paper-free and automated

Feed4ward has recently introduced a “no-paper” policy to reduce our carbon foot-print and improve the document workflow by adopting electronic signatures. Signature fields are defined in the LaTeX source document and the final PDF output makes use of the Adobe Acrobat e-signature features. All signatures are individually authenticated and once the trusted certificate is shared, that person’s signature cannot be forged.

We have further extended our paper-free approach to our internal forms, eliminating the need to print paper and keeping all the information in the digital world where we can track and store it easily. Once again, LaTeX adaptability plays a key role in the implementation of digital forms. With the addition of embedded Java Script tools, our forms are dynamic and adjust to the situation at hand.

The example above shows a section of a form that may be reserved for risk and impact assessment of a reported fault, or if the observation is categorized as a change, the fields are instead replaced with a justification of the action required.

In conclusion…

We use the LaTeX typesetting system to “engineer” documents with consistent styling, writing in familiar programming language and generating a consistent output file that supports the requirements of our project documentation. Our engineers can focus on content rather than style, and our customers receive well-structured, consistent and quality-assured documentation for their automation projects every time.

If you’d like to hear more about Feed4ward’s unique approach to automation project delivery, please do get in touch, we’d love to talk to you.

Marco Crespo

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