Since its founder, Samuel I. Cone, manufactured an improved Hindley worm gear and patented a practical method of generating the elements of this double-enveloping worm gearing in the early 1900s, Cone Drive has been a world leader in precision motion control technology.
For computing power, Cone Drive uses a POWER8 platform running IBM i in three environments: test, development, and production. Their software includes the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) package, Infor ERP XA; MC2, a collections system; F9, a financial application; and the Robot products they now use to automate their operations.
“At one time we had an operator manually entering and running jobs in the system, but those days are long gone,” says Ed Kandel, senior programmer analyst at Cone Drive. “Our customers are industrial clients, material-handling companies, packaging companies, and so forth. You really don’t want manual operations—a system should be interactive and automated: updates, planning runs, financial closes.”
Ed wears lots of hats, including security officer, applications administrator, and systems analyst. He has been with the company for over 30 years, is their main developer, and can’t speak highly enough of automation.
“We phased into the Robot products,” Ed explains. “Robot Alert really got us into Robot Schedule. We had a Material Requirements Planning (MRP) run that often sent messages about job conflicts. So we decided we needed Robot Alert and a more robust job scheduler than the IBM system scheduler. We started monitoring with Robot Alert, and then added Robot Schedule and Robot Replay.”
Running Without An Operator
Ed’s background in computers started in high school with a part-time job on a System/38 where he was the operator—using punch cards! “Our Six Sigma project really pushed automation,” he says. “When we got fully certified, I think we had only 60–80 percent of our processes automated. With the Six Sigma project, we got the time commitment to go the rest of the way; it pushed us to go for lights-out. Getting away from human intervention was wonderful—we don’t have an operator. Basically, we reload paper and change ink; that’s it. Automating the schedule was a good thing. And, instead of eliminating jobs, we’re doing other tasks.”
To get to lights-out with Infor ERP XA, Cone Drive used Robot Replay. Ed reflects, “It made sense to use a product like Robot Replay. It captures screen images and allows you to manipulate the inputs and the field-level data to create job scripts easily.”
After automating the MRP run, they used the Infor ERP XA calendar feature with a Robot Schedule reserved command variable Ed created to process the timing. “I learned that you need reserved command variables with specific meanings. 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.”
“With Robot Schedule and Robot Replay, there’s so much flexibility. We’ve set up reactive jobs to IPL the system and bring it up in a controlled manner. For example, on Sunday morning we use Robot Schedule to bring down our system, put it into restricted state, do a full system backup, and restart it. First, we bring up basic services while we do our weekly housekeeping—environment things like removing deleted records—and then we make the system available to end users.”
More Control for Easy Audits
Robot Schedule tracks everything, and Ed likes that. “If anything fails, we’re alerted and the history is there—you see when the job ran and for how long. The auditors love that. Documentation is another big reason to automate. With Robot Schedule you can print your job schedules, show your history, and if you’ve got a problem, use the Good Morning Report. It’s great for Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance to demonstrate that your processes are controlled and not variable. Now, we don’t get auditor comments like ‘Something doesn’t look quite right.’ nearly as often.”
Cone Drive also uses Robot replay to rebuild their test environment weekly. As Ed explains, “It’s invaluable to have an up-to-date test environment. There are multiple levels of control and approval because of SOX, and we need to follow certain processes to develop and test the production environment.”
“We have an online backup of the environment from the night before that we store on disk and there’s an Infor environment-rebuilding process that is green screen. So, we automated the process using Robot Replay. Robot Replay deletes our current test environment, signs on to our production environment, clones the production environment, enters the appropriate commands and entries to rebuild the test environment from the disk backup, and runs it. Robot Replay builds our environment, runs our Infor ERP XA processes using reserve command variables, and logs into the FTP server to perform some cleanup processes.”
To sum it up, Ed explains the reason he really likes Robot. “Robot products are easy to train and show up ready and eager to work at all hours and on holidays. I appreciate that they’re always there, that I can really depend on them!”
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Integrating automation increased from 60-80% to lights-out
Documented history satisfies SOX auditors
Reserved command variables deliver flexibility for dynamic fields