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September 30, 2011

Global manufacturer emulates 3000 schedule

Measurement Specialties, one of the most extensive users of HP 3000s and MANMAN in China, the US and elsewhere, has adopted MBF Scheduler to manage its Windows batch job scheduling. The MANMAN user has been busy managing growth. The director of business systems Terry Simpkins couldn't attend the recent HP3000 Reunion because he was installing a system in France.

I really wish I could be there, but there was just no way.  We are installing the MANBAR 'add-on' to MANMAN at one of our sites in France. [Director of IT] Bob Andreini and I are both members of the CAMUS board of directors (which also met this week at the Reunion), while the two of us are both here in France this week.

The company is headquartered in Virginia and does business in 65 countries, producing sensors. They include fluid property sensors, photo optic sensors for medical applications, temperature sensors, position sensors to help control a Segway, pressure sensors to measure inches of water, chemical properties and salinity; and rotational position sensors for Gilbarco fuel pumps to measure the flow of fuel.

Andreini has a staff of 32 to help him manage operations. Simpkins is responsible for ERP implementation and support with primary focus on the MANMAN manufacturing app. Using Windows, MBF Scheduler is able to emulate the HP 3000 scheduler. The Measurement Specialty team immediately understood the concepts -- it talked the same language they did.

The company was using internal resources to manually manage Windows batch jobs and living within the constraints of Microsoft's Windows scheduler. The pain was compounded as Measurement Specialties developed other processes and internally grown systems with similar job scheduling needs.

Andreini and Simpkins said MB Foster and the Scheduler stood apart because of MB Foster’s responsiveness. "The way they have reacted to questions, problems and requests was outstanding," Simpkins said. "They made our team feel like they had a dedicated support team, and that we had guys that were really paying attention and wanted us to succeed and wanted the product to work for us." 

These IT experts said MB Foster’s product services and support has been stellar. “MBF Scheduler is a great solution and absolutely solved our problem," said Andreini, "because it is flexible and expandable and can be moved into other applications we weren’t thinking of initially. Our next implementation plans for MBF Scheduler include France and China."

Automation Benefits

Measurement Specialties' Production Planning System (PPS) is independent from MANMAN as an Oracle web-based solution. It runs at three Measurement Specialties European locations; several more are planned. PPS runs thousands of jobs every day. Measurement Specialties was accustomed to having one or two resources logged on all day, or numerous times every day, to ensure that batch processes were running and didn’t hang up.

One task launched a web page from the windows scheduler that would run for 12 hours and would eventually stop processing due to a timer they included.  If errors were generated during the job run it would stop dead in its tracks. Then if the IT team wasn’t watching, they would get complaints from the manufacturing production users, because they wouldn't be receiving expected updates to help monitor and schedule manufacturing processes. 

Implementing MBF Scheduler let Measurement Specialties include individual batch jobs at each of the three sites that run every minute. They no longer need to continuously log into the server, monitor or check jobs and status, read through jobs and or standard lists.

For example, the MBF Scheduler email notification feature and functionality doesn't exist in the Windows scheduler, and it was a huge benefit for Measurement Specialties. A log file analyzer and email notification capabilities gets the IT team an email alert, plus provides enough detail in the job listing that they can see exactly what the problem is and are able to resolve it immediately or forward it to someone who can solve the problem.

Andreini pointed out that with every-minute restarts, if a job does produce an error it flags the record and continues on with the rest of the stream and doesn’t stop all processes. “MBF Scheduler’s email notification is invaluable, as it takes daily operation requirements out of the hands of our developers” he said.

The Measurement Specialties leaders found it easy to train the whole operations team. Training a desktop support person, with windows and office experience, has a relatively straightforward task. Within a day and a half they were up to speed and able to do all status checking and make sure all jobs and process were running, while others enjoyed their vacation.

The learning curve was somewhat flattened for Measurement Specialties personnel who knew the HP 3000. Staff which was new to scheduling concepts found that what they couldn't do in Windows, they could do in MBF Scheduler. New to system administration resources was command line interface and scripting capabilities that provided more flexibility and were easy to use.

Productivity and Efficiencies

Andreini said MBF Scheduler did not increase sales or reduce the budget. Where they have gained the most, he explained, is in capacity and efficiencies. Measurement Specialties has been able to free up resources and higher level IT professionals to work on other projects that have greater value for the business -- rather than monitoring batch jobs. 

MBF Scheduler has expanded efficiencies beyond the IT group, said Simpkins. He no longer receives calls at 4 in the morning to resolve production line issues. They continue to run as production floor workers have what they need to do their jobs.

Implementation

Measurement Specialties leverages MB Foster’s training services for a quicker return on investment. In two days' time, MBF's Raymond Bilodeau delivered on-site, hands on professional training services to Andreini and his team. The goal was to ensure that Measurement Specialties was self-sufficient.

Measurement Specialties experienced some challenges when implementing MBF Scheduler. Those challenges included a steep learning curve and a very short window of opportunity to implement. MB Foster needed to learn Measurement Specialties' vision and long term requirements -- and as earlier adopters, some needed functionality was not included in the original specs when MBF Scheduler was developed.

“MB Foster's professional services responded to our sense of urgency and turned issues and concerns around quickly," said Simpkins. All those important features were added in one week’s time, adding planned functionality ahead of schedule and easing our implementation concerns."

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