by Tom Bommarito
Standens Limited needed a shop-floor control system. Located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Standens Ltd. is a manufacturer of steel products for the transportation, industrial, and agricultural industries. Standens’ wide range of products translates to a wide range of manufacturing processes and steps. Their factory includes a fully equipped tool and die shop with CNC capability. For shop-floor employees, a portion of pay is based on the work generated by the individual. Standens’ core business system is MANMAN version 11 running on an OpenVMS/Alpha platform. While MANMAN has been a solid ERP system for many years, it could not easily handle all the shop-floor data requirements at Standens. In order to monitor all the production orders and collect the data required for the employee payroll, Standens needed to purchase or develop a new shop-floor control system.
Standens began by outlining all the requirements required of a new shop-floor control system. They then reviewed the shrink-wrapped systems available. It soon became obvious that there was no single system that would completely meet their needs. Dean Bergsma, a consultant working for Standens, worked with management on the review and shop-floor system selection. He summarized the results of their search this way, “We evaluated shop-floor systems to see if we could find anything that would match our needs. We couldn’t find a complete shop-floor system because of the way we do things here. We realized that we would have to develop our own.”
Standens’ shop-floor system’s front end was built using touch-screen technology to simplify data entry. Microsoft SQL Server was the database. The next problem was how to get the data out to everyone that needed to use it. While touch-screen terminals worked very well for the shop-floor personnel, supervisors and other Standens personnel would need to be able to access the data easily from their own personal computers. ENYy Systems’ Ready2Go.Net product was an obvious solution.
Standens was already using eNVy’s Replicator Console for data replication and Warehouse Suite to relationalize MANMAN Oracle CODASYL DBMS databases to Microsoft SQL Server. ENVy’s Replicator Console performs unattended replication from a database to Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, Ingres or DB2 via ODBC. It allows the user to schedule different sets of data, each replicated at different times and on different cycles, from minutes to days apart. Standens replicates their MANMAN data to a Microsoft SQL Server database on a Windows NT server every 30 minutes between 5 AM and 11:30 PM daily. Dean Bergsma commented, “The whole point of the eNVy SQL database is to provide access to the data in a relational format. That basically extends the life of MANMAN.” Standens also uses eNVy tools to report executive information via a web-based “digital dashboard” to quickly show how the company is doing.
Bergsma himself actually created the shop-floor-control web pages using Ready2Go.Net. He estimates that it took three to four weeks working part time on the project (20 to 30 hours a week) to complete all the pages. This was significantly less than what it would have taken to develop the pages using HTML or by using some other method of creating a menu and series of forms or screens. Before selecting Ready2go.Net, Dean evaluated comparable shop-floor tools by Kronos.
Ready2Go.Net is designed to rapidly deploy formatted web pages from data residing in relational databases. The simplicity behind Ready2Go.Net is that it requires only a valid SQL statement to display the data. Various reporting formats (spreadsheetlike data grid, columns of labeled data) and the ability to hyperlink any piece of data to another web page are built-in functions of the Ready2Go.Net framework. A user basically inserts the SQL statement to access the data and decides how displayed data should hyperlink to other pages. Implementing Ready2Go.Net gave Standens exactly what they needed to quickly develop their shopfloor control system. Dean Bergsma put it this way, “The problem, ‘what do you do with the data once it is in [the shop floor system]?’ How do you get it out to the shop floor? By using eNVy’s MANMAN relational database, we were able to get a website up and running fairly quickly. The look and feel was already there. Basically we just added the SQL statements and decided what we were going to hyperlink. What the eNVy product did was give us the ability to have multiple views of data within a single page which is vastly different from the older ASP model.”
Because Ready2Go.Net is based on the Microsoft .Net framework, Bergsma could also use third-party controls and drop them right into the Ready2Go.Net framework and further expand its functionality. A Gantt chart was needed on one of the pages. After a quick internet download, the control was added to the Ready2Go.Net web page. In addition to the Gantt chart, Bergsma added update functionality, such as closing a work order, to the Ready2Go.Net pages. Because of the hyperlink capability, the end user can start from just about any of the Ready2Go.Net pages, navigate to the proper page, and then click the button required to execute the desired action. An end user can start out looking at an employee or a work center page and then easily navigate to a specific work order page to update the work order status.
Standens then added the functionality to pass shop-floor data back to the MANMAN system. Because of the complexity of Standens’ manufacturing process, there is much more data existing in the Microsoft SQL Server shop-floor database than in MANMAN. Various data is extracted from the shop-floor system and loaded into MANMAN. The cycle is complete when the eNVy replication tool synchronizes MANMAN and the SQL data warehouse. Shop-floor data is also passed to an off-line application that calculates the pay for shop-floor employees. Efficiency and productivity information is stored in the shop-floor system and referenced by the payroll application.
Using eNVy tools, Standens was able to complete their custom shop-floor control system at a fraction of the cost of the purchase, customization, and implementation of a shrink-wrap application. The unique tools provided by eNVy Systems gave Standens what they needed to quickly develop and deploy mission-critical functionality for the shop floor, user/analysts, and management. Perhaps best stated by Bergsma, “The concept of being able to throw together a site essentially by supplying SQL statements that are all hyperlinked together gives you a method of navigating and drill down that really isn’t, as far as I know, in existence using any other system.”