Saving Major Data: Document Management "Firepower" Helps Watervliet Arsenal Win the Data Control Battle

Watervliet Arsenal, the nation's oldest manufacturing arsenal, has two types of firepower; high-tech, high-powered weaponry; and the firepower that resides in a new document management system that went live in May of last year - Process Innovator, the first totally Web-centric Product Data Management and Electronic Document Management (PDM/EDM) system.

Watervliet Arsenal, the nation’s oldest manufacturing arsenal, has two types of firepower. The products manufactured at Watervliet Arsenal comprise one type of firepower. Located along the Hudson River, just a few miles north of New York’s state capital at Albany, Watervliet makes high-tech, high-powered weaponry – the kind of cannons that produce the firepower for the U.S. Army’s main battlefield tank, the M1 Abrams. In fact, Watervliet is America’s sole manufacturing facility for large-caliber cannons in volume, and is recognized as the nation’s premier cannon maker. And we’re not just talking about actual "cannons" here; the term also encompasses recoilless rifles, mortars, howitzers and tank guns.

Then there’s the kind of firepower that Bruce Pienkoski has at his disposal. For Pienkoski, a Mechanical Engineer in the Computer Integrated Manufacture Workgroup at Watervliet Arsenal, his firepower resides in a new document management system that went live at his plant in May of last year. And when he wields it, with his itchy trigger finger on the keyboard, no manufacturing operation is safe from improvement.

"Recently, I fixed an improper data entry for approximately 300 records," says Pienkoski, whose job description has grown to include administration of manufacturing software systems, as well as purchasing, maintaining and distributing manufacturing hardware and software to best utilize manufacturing automation systems. "The entire process took me about 20 minutes. With our previous system, we would have never been able to identify all the incorrect data, let alone fix it."

The system that has put so much firepower at Pienkoski’s fingertips is Process Innovator, the first totally Web-centric Product Data Management and Electronic Document Management (PDM/EDM) system. Developed by Integrating Data for Management (IDFM), a software products and services company based in Burlington, Mass., Process Innovator converts legacy data, has a solid browser interface, and offers a great deal of functionality. It is particularly beneficial in the manufacturing environment, reducing costs and cycle times, while improving quality.

What’s more, due to its Web orientation, Process Innovator can be run from thin clients or from any workstation that supports a Web browser, as well as running on an extranet, an intranet or across the Internet.

Most importantly, it offered Pienkoski the firepower he needed to perform operations too complex for his previous system.

"We used to have about 20 different planners entering data into our system," he explains. "Because we had no set standard for data entry, one person might put a stock number in differently than another – some might use a dash, some might not. I needed software that would allow me to go into the database, instantly identify all of the discrepancies, and fix them. The bottom line is, we’ve been able to clean up our data quickly and easily. And while figures aren’t yet available, we know we’re saving both time and money, not to mention producing more accurate routings."

It is the kind of system befitting an operation with the storied history of Watervliet Arsenal. Founded in 1813 to support the "Second War for Independence," the War of 1812, the arsenal has been a valuable resource ever since. In 1887, the arsenal became America’s "Cannon Factory." But the arsenal is not limited to cannon manufacture: It is equipped with a variety of modern machining centers, mills, profilers and lathes, providing the versatility to machine most any part configuration. One of the most extensive metals processing facilities in the entire northeast is located at Watervliet.

Further, a 10-year, $350-million renovation program completed in 1992 has made Watervliet Arsenal one of the most sophisticated, automated heavy manufacturing and machining centers to be found anywhere, whether in the private or public sectors.

Watervliet is running Process Innovator on a local area network that spans several buildings, with NT clients (running Netscape 4.5), an NT Web server (running Microsoft IIS Web server, which also functions as the Intranet for the Arsenal and IDFM’s Process Innovator 3.0 application server) and an NT database server (running Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 Database). They have a few hundred registered users of the system and average about 30 to 40 concurrent users.

The documents and data being managed can be 50 to 100 pages in length, and there are several thousand part numbers and revisions. The Process Innovator application server is written in PowerBuilder and sends HTML with JavaScript to the client browsers. There are also several reports written in Java. Process Innovator uses dynamic SQL to access the data from the database and has a built-in metadata table describing the definition of the arsenal data.

Ironically, the search for a new document management system was motivated less by a desire for a more efficient system than it was the result of Watervliet’s effort to combat the pesky Y2K bug.

"The document management system we had been using was not Y2K-compliant, and the manufacturer had no plans to make it Y2K-compliant," recalls Pienkoski. "So, although budgets were tight, we knew we had to look at replacing the system."

After attending a demonstration of Process Innovator’s functionality, Pienkoski was comfortable making the investment. Once in place, the system certainly satisfied Watervliet’s initial requirement for Y2K compliance. But, he also had much more; an extremely easy-to-use, cost-effective document management system.

"I had actually been considering the purchase of a PC-based, multimedia manufacturing software package to use on the shop floor with our previous system," Pienkoski says. "But finding software that combined both of these functions in one system was much more useful. What’s more, the added benefit of [Process Innovator’s] ODBC database, which would allow access to our existing CAPP data, was important to us."

But that just scratched the surface of the system’s functionality. Once installed, any PC-based application can be integrated into Process Innovator documents, including word processing, spreadsheets, graphics, CAD systems, and even audio and video applications.

In addition, Process Innovator can be integrated into the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) environment, because it stores data in a relational database (most ERP packages run on relational database platforms).

Because Process Innovator is a Web-based intranet system, no one was forced to learn another proprietary program to make changes. Pienkoski was able to train his own personnel with relative ease. If they knew how the previous CAPP system worked – and if they were remotely literate in Web browser technology – it was very quick and easy training.

"Most of the training I have had to conduct on the system was in basic Windows functionality, such as cut and paste, not Process Innovator," he says.

Watervliet has more than 20,000 routings in their system. To date, the biggest benefit has been the functionality associated with the data residing on Process Innovator. Yet the graphics capabilities of the system, says Pienkoski, will perhaps provide the most significant benefits.

"You’ve heard the expression, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’" he says. "All of our routings are currently text-based; we plan to introduce more graphics into them, to make them easier to work with. We’ll feature pictures of complex setups and fixtures. We want to be able to illustrate a revised part mix that might require too many words to describe. We want to be able to display graphic interfaces of each part, how the part looks, etc."

But that’s only the beginning, Pienkoski notes. "We intend to provide links to other manufacturing data. We will soon be inputting all of our CAD drawings, and will have live links to our NC programs, as well as establishing links to various SOPs."

The ability to easily create templates for complicated documents is also attractive to Pienkoski. He is particularly interested in the possibility of combining two elements of Watervliet’s process plan into one.

"Our operation utilizes two critical process documents: the traveler document and the shipping document," he explains. "There are also two types of traveler documents, so really there are three documents. The traveler form accompanies products throughout the manufacturing operation, which can include anywhere from four to 50 steps. It also indicates which machines to use and in which order to use them; process approval is also part of the traveler document. It’s all part of our of statistical process control system. Combining all of this information into one form would help us realize significant time savings, not to mention making the form far simpler to follow."

Pienkoski says he will continue to familiarize himself and his staff with the potential of the Process Innovator system. In doing so, he will be able to enter the productivity and quality battle with both guns blazing.

About the Author: Jack Saint is the President and Co-Founder of IDFM Inc., where he handles the day-to-day operations in the Products Division. With more than 18 years in the application software industry, Saint's experience includes developing legacy, client/server and Web-based application solutions for various companies as part of development teams, professional services organizations and internal IS staffs.