Robot Gives Worm-Drive Manufacturer a Leg Up on Lights Out
September 24, 2013 Alex Woodie
Cone Drive, a manufacturer of precision worm drives, had automated about 60 to 80 percent of its IBM i operations following the first implementation of Robot products from Help/Systems. After the second go around and some training, the company made it to the holy grail of lights-out computing, or 100 percent automation.
Cone Drive is a Michigan-based manufacturer of high-precision, double-enveloping worm gear sets, which deliver higher torque and last longer than other types of gearing. The company’s products are used all over the world in a variety of industrial applications, including solar tracking, satellite tracking, machine tools, plastic sheeting, printing, medical instruments, and semiconductor manufacturing.
Several years back, Cone Drive brought in its first Help/Systems product to help automate an MRP process driving by its Infor ERP XA (MAPICS) application. Specifically, it adopted Robot/ALERT to automate the handling of messages generated by XA regarding job conflicts. It also adopted Robot/SCHEDULE to give it capabilities above and beyond what IBM provides with the native IBM i job scheduler.
That enabled the company to automate about 60 to 80 percent of its processes, says Ed Kandel, a senior programmer analyst with Cone Drive. “With the Six Sigma project, we got the time commitment to go the rest of the way,” he says in a case study published on Help/Systems’ website. “It pushed us to go for lights-out.”
Implementing Robot/REPLAY, an interactive job management tool, was key to Cone Drive’s push to total automation in the XA environment. But the breakthrough moment came when Kandel created a reserved command variable in Robot/SCHEDULE. “I learned that you need reserved command variables with specific meanings,” Kandel says in the press release. “My big revelation came when I went to a Robot/SCHEDULE class–that’s when I realized that reserved command variables would really get us to where we needed to be.”
The combination of Robot/SCHEDULE and Robot/REPLAY gives the company a lot of flexibility in automation. “It made sense to use a product like Robot/REPLAY,” Kandel says. “It captures screen images and allows you to manipulate the inputs and the field-level data to create job scripts easily.”
Cone Drive no longer employs any operators on its IT staff. The company used to have operators on the payroll, but it transitioned those employees to other tasks following the implementation of the three Help/Systems products. “At one time we had an operator manually entering and running jobs in the system, but those days are long gone,” Kandel says. “Basically, we reload paper and change ink. That’s it.”