ASNA Helps Steel Company Off Big Iron
September 17, 2013 Alex Woodie
Industrial Steel Treating Company (IST) is happy with its new Windows-based shop floor software, which it recently moved from IBM i to Windows with a little help from Amalgamated Software of North America (ASNA).
According to a recent ASNA case study on the migration project written by Tom Stockwell, IST had gotten its money’s worth out of its custom shop floor program, which was originally written in the 1980s in RPG II to run on an S/36 minicomputer. But the time had come for the company to move forward, which meant moving the software to a platform that was cheaper to maintain and offered more flexibility in programming.
The IST shop floor application had been adapted to fit the specific needs of the steel treating process. Meeting the strict metallurgical requirements of IST’s customers requires the company to closely track the environmental variables that occur during the steel manufacturing process.
The application helped the company do this well enough that IST is considered one of the most technologically advanced steel-treating facilities in the country. Like many IBM i shops with heavily customized applications, the IST shop floor application was critical to IST’s success and a differentiator from competitors. The fact that IST employs a single IT staffer showed how resilient and reliable the application was.
However, the costs of maintaining the system weighed on IST, and its green-screen interface looked old. The company wanted to have the same application, with all of its competitive advantages, to run on Windows. It also wanted a Web browser-based interface.
The company hired ASNA to complete the migration, which took about four months. The migration involved several ASNA tools, including its ASNA Monarch modernization tool, the ASNA DataGate database software, and the ASNA AVR.NET language.
Monarch was called on to convert IST’s RPG code into AVR (ASNA Visual RPG), a language that has an RPG-like syntax, but which can be compiled to run under Microsoft’s .NET runtime. (Monarch can also convert directly into C#, but IST did not choose this option.)
DataGate was called on to front-end and eventually replace IST’s DB2/400 database with the Microsoft SQL Server database. DataGate was able to direct I/O from the IST shop floor application to both DB2/400 and SQL Server databases during the testing phase. When it was deemed that the application and database were fully synced and working well together, DB2/400 was turned off, resulting in no downtime for the critical application.
The final piece of the migration puzzle concerned the UI. Getting 5250 green-screen interface users accustomed to navigating the shop floor app using a mouse instead of just a keyboard presented its share of challenges. But thanks to Monarch’s capability to emulate some of the more esoteric 5250 commands–think function keys–no UI functionality was lost, and getting the users up to speed was simply a matter of training and time.
IST estimates the move off IBM i is saving the company between $10,000 and $15,000 per year, while opening up the application to get new features that were apparently unable to be implemented using RPG.
To read the complete case study, see asna.com/us/company/case-studies/industrial-steel-monarch/.