What Is Automation Intelligence And How Professionals Use It?

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One company heavily involved in the technology for computer-aided manufacturing is Automation Intelligence, established in 1983 after Westinghouse sold its factory automation businesses located in Orlando, Florida. Originally, Westinghouse established the Orlando operation to enter the minicomputer business. By 1975, Orlando had become the company's focal point for industrial computer controls for running machine tools automatically. In 1981, Westinghouse selected Orlando as the site to develop robot controls and sensors, including industrial vision systems. Two years later, Westinghouse bought Animation, a world leader in robotics.

Key Westinghouse managers-Theodore F. Fluchradt, Christopher A. Hudson, and Richard Q. Fox-then proposed a leveraged buyout, and became co-founders of Automation Intelligence. As Hudson describes AI, "We're focused 100 percent on computer-integrated manufacturing, with both hardware electronic products-controls and peripherals-and software.

"We work with the integration of factory-controlled systems... from unit controllers (the actual devices that run equipment such as robots, material handling systems, or machine tools) through cell controllers (which coordinate a small group of those devices) to area controllers or factory supervisory controllers (that control groups of cells)."

Automation Intelligence targets many of its products primarily towards aerospace and towards heavy equipment manufacturing... manufacturers such as General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Deere and Caterpillar.

Two primary areas for the company are Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS) and controls, and CIM software-software Automation Intelligence offers that integrates the output of computer-aided design and mechanical design systems so it can be used by FMS control systems.

Cell controllers, says Hudson, can represent an investment of $50,000 to $250,000 for a customer; a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) can cost between $250,000 and $1,000,000. Big FMS systems, he says, are delivered in phases over a six- to 18-month period. At the time a company orders an FMS system, it and Automation Intelligence agree on all the functions the system should do. During the following three or four months, AI and its client detail the specific layouts for each function. Next, AI makes and tests the individual pieces of the system, testing as much as possible at its Orlando facility before taking them to the customer's site.

"Since an FMS involves controls for different machines," Hudson explains, "you first demonstrate you can control the individual machines. Then you demonstrate that you can tie two of those controllers together with the supervisory computer, and that everything works. Finally, you must demonstrate you can tie all the controllers together with the supervisory system." Eventually, the control equipment is taken to the customer's factory, installed, and debugged by AI personnel. Automation Intelligence also trains the client's own workers and technicians in how to operate the system.

A CNC Applications Engineer

One Automation Intelligence engineer who develops software for computer numerically controlled machines and installs it onsite for customers is Debra Quiles, 27. Encouraged as a high school student to enter the computer field by her grandmother, a computer operator for the Dade County (Florida) school board, Debra found her high school only offered key punch courses in an office machine business class. She enrolled at night in computer classes at Miami-Dade Community College, initially while still attending high school, and earned an Associate Science degree. After her high school graduation, she combined her college courses with part-time work for RaCal-Milgo, a company making encryption devices and modems. It promoted her to full-time programmer after she got her A.S. degree.

Three years later, she'd switched companies and broadened her experience. For eight months, she worked on business applications such as accounts payable. Then she'd joined Control Laser, an Orlando firm, working on their laser engraving system. Debra used a form of numerical control language to program the system to engrave pieces.

In March 1982, she came to Westinghouse-now Automation Intelligence-as a CNC applications engineer. "I had no idea what a CNC applications engineer was when I interviewed for the job," she recalls. "Except for the laser company, I'd never worked in a factory-type environment. I had no formal training for the position."

The advice Debra gives persons wanting to work in CAM-related occupations: "Go for it! Don't place limitations on yourself."

"Don't say, 'I only know such and such a language, or worked only on a particular type of computer.' Once you do that, you are not opening yourself up to different opportunities."

Debra believes employers will look at your basic talents when hiring. "At the time I joined Westinghouse," she remembers, "my manager was looking for someone with experience in software development. Although I had very little experience in factory work, I could look at problems a little differently than an electronic engineer or a hardware design engineer does. The talents I had complemented and filled out the needs of our particular group."

As Debra describes her job, she works with minicomputers based on either a machining center or punch press or lathe. "These computers run the operation of the machines," she explains. "I'm a software engineer for the computer, writing the specialized code that a particular machine needs, telling the machine where to move and where to use a drill."

Debra takes information developed in a computer program written by an NC programmer on the customer's factory floor, and uses it to write instructions to the machine that will perform the desired functions. Primarily she writes in W-2500 Assembler, a version of the Assembler computer language that's been developed for the Westing-house 2500 Computer. She's fluent in Fortran, BASIC, and COBOL, has studied RPG and JCL in school, and has reviewed Pascal.

When she works at the Orlando office, Debra's day begins at 8 a.m. She spends her first 20 minutes reviewing the previous day's work and planning her objectives for the day and the week. Usually she handles several shorter projects simultaneously, but if she is working on a major system, that takes most of her time. "I wouldn't have two main projects at the same point," she says.

Debra estimates that 30 to 35 percent of her time is spent in customer field support, often on the telephone. "Last week," she says, "I continued work on a major system to be installed in Sweden. I was interrupted by one of our field service engineers, working on a machine in Pennsylvania, who called to discuss the way in which a machine axis was not being offset correctly."

By 3 p.m., she fixed the engineer's problem, and phoned him. The engineer tried Debra's solution, changing memory locations in the machine's computer, which he could do on the Pennsylvania factory floor, and reported it worked. For the rest of her day, she went back to work on the Swedish installation.

Although Debra's normal 40-hour work week in Orlando is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she usually leaves the office around 6.

When Debra travels to customer plants, however, workdays are considerably longer, though that's not required in her job, which pays "in the $30,000-and-up range." She's visited Ohio, California, and Arizona, installing and starting up equipment, but doesn't go out on everything she develops. "Some jobs are close enough to standard-type systems so we have documentation about them," she explains. "Our field service engineers will go out and install that software. If they find a problem, they call me in the office. I can usually solve it over the phone."

In 1985, Debra spent several weeks in Japan installing an FMS unmanned system at a factory in a small town near Mount Fuji. "The system wasn't hooked up to a mainframe," she recalls, "but it could be scheduled to run unmanned. The particular machine I worked on made parts for an aerospace company."

As she usually does on factory installations, Debra wore jeans and closed-toed shoes with rubber bottoms. The reason she dresses casually is that factories are often dirty. She wants to avoid getting oil and grease on her clothes from rubbing against a machine.

"In Japan," she says, "I had to wear a safety helmet. In most factories, you must wear safety glasses. The Japanese factory supplied a jacket like the ones all factory workers wore to protect their clothing.

"Any time you go into a factory anywhere, you comply with their requirements. Usually the head engineer on the job supplies you with safety glasses or anything else you need."

In Japan, Debra told two Japanese male engineers how to run the machine. "It was a little difficult at the beginning," she says. "It took them a while to adjust to me because of the culture, although they were expecting a woman. It's hard for them to get along with a woman as one of their peers. They did it, though, but it was a little strange to them at the beginning."

Back in Orlando, however, Debra finds no discrimination, although she is the only woman engineer in her 8-person group. She doesn't feel she has problems when she visits American factories, which she does whenever travel is required-perhaps two to three weeks a year.

Debra credits her lack of problems to her attitude that she does not deserve a break or any special treatment because she is a woman. "All I want is the same respect that's given to anyone I work side by side with," she says. "If I can do the same kind of work you can, there shouldn't be any problem if we respect each other."
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