Air Force Engineering Center Links Eight Local-Area Nets.
ASTF will complement the more than 40 facilities--27 with unduplicated test capabilities--operated by this Air Force Systems Command unit. Since the 1950s, AEDC has helped develop almost every top-priority aerospace program from Minuteman ICBMs to the space shuttle for its Air Force, NASA, Army, Navy, private industry and other clients.
While AEDC's technical community wrestles with complexities such as simulating flight conditions at 1,000-mile altitudes or Mach-20 velocities and measuring temperatures of components super-heated to 7600 degrees Fabrenbeit, its management team tackles equally intriguing communication and administrative challenges.
Community Shares Information
Every day, information on budgets, project schedules, tests and instrumentation advances must be shared among the AEDC community of 180 Air Force officers and enlisted personnel, plus about 3500 contractor and 190 civil service employees. Test results and other data on 200 to 300 annual test projects also must be compiled and distributed to sponsors, who need fast feedback to choose among competitive designs and to proceed with product development. However, distributing information internally and externally is complicated by the engineering center's organization.
"Many visitors have difficulty envisioning how we function and efficiently interact given our four-way administrative interface," says Jack Broerman, AEDC director of management systems for the Air Force, referring to the center's division of management tasks among the Air Force staff and three separate operating contractors. "But it does work."
One reason it works is the successful collaboration of the Air Force and the contractors on an office automation program. High-tech solutions to common administrative headaches now are being implemented across the board.
Cable Interconnects Networks
"As of May 1983, we had eight Xerox Ethernet communications systems in eight separate buildings," says Broerman. "These local communications networks, all interconnected by an underground, 9600-band inter-facility cable, remove communications barriers among people belonging to different organizations and located in scattered facilities.
"For example, it used to take two to three days for the model shop to mail an activity report to an administrative office three buildings away and to get its revised and massaged copy back," he notes. "Now, it can be sent over the net, reviewed, revised and returned in about six minutes."
Broerman points out that the eight networks are AEDC resources rather than organizationally independent tools. Since it's transparent to users which individual net a correspondent may be on, the center simply wired each building for Ethernet without worrying about which individuals were hooked into a given network.
"We're widely dispersed geographically," says Broerman. "Employees of all three contractors and the Air Force may work in a single building. So, it wasn't feasible to have a network for the Air Force over here, and one for a given contractor over there. The interconnection of our nets gives us a total AEDC resource."
Xerox communications interface units provide gateways between the networks. For electronic-mail applications, a home file server maintains the names and machine addresses of all users. So, when E-mail is addressed to a John Smith on, say, the model shop's Ethernet, the system automatically sends the mail to this network and terminal via the shortest inter-facility cable route.
When the final network interconnections were made, the nets linked about a dozen of Xerox's 8010 workstations, some 50 of its 860 information processing systems, approximately 25 of its 820-II and 16/8 personal computers, plus two optical character readers (OCRs) and shared resources such as laser printers and file servers. But Broerman notes that each of the eight networks can support up to 1,000 devices and that more equipment is being added.
"We started our office automation efforts at the clerical end," he says. "Then we addressed upper-management needs. Now, we're closing to gap, bringing office automation to the middle-management level."
He adds that managers and professional don't need to be convinced of automation's benefits. Management information systems (MIS) staff briefings in recent years have made prospective users eager to tap new technology to boost efficiency and to gain access to more up-to-date information.
"The selling is done,c says Broerman. "Now our task is keeping up with demand. And pent-up demand for professional workstations is frightening. It's hard to say what our eventual machine-to-manager allotment will be, though one to four is a fairly good rule of thumb.
"On the administrative side, we're already providing many people with electronic-mail, documentation and reporting capabilities. Now we're beginning to analyze how engineers and project managers might use workstations for project management, spreadsheet calculations and data-base applications."
All data automation requests funnel through Broerman's office, which reports to an Air Force Management Information Systems management board. However, if requests relate strictly to office automation, they're sent to Lew Dozier, manager of office automation for Pan American World Services, the contractor charged with providing AEDC as a whole with required administrative, technical and base support.
Contractors Operate Facilities
The other two contractors are Sverdrup Technology and Calspan Field Services, a wing of Arvin/Calspan Industries, Sverrdrup runs the Engine Test Facility that detects, records, analyzes and solves problems related to liquid and solid-fuel rocket motors and air-breathing jet engines. Calspan operates the von Karman Gas Dynamics Facility, which is devoted to aerodynamic and heating studies, plus satellite-component, ballistic and impact testing, and the Propulsion Wind Tunnel for large-scale model/engine/inlet compatibility studies.
AEDC's structured approach to MIS planning has integrated office and data automation efforts while involving contractor and Air Force users. The center's Configuration Management Board includes representatives of all three contractors and the Air Force. Reporting to it is an office automation steering committee that gives general direction to the three-person office automation planning, implementation and training from headed by Dozier.
"We've come a long way since we decided to integrate data and office automation program in 1981," says Broerman. "Now these dual MIS tools are merged in our information-sciences approach to problem solving."
Office Automation Comes Along Dozier recalls that it "took a long time to get to the specifications starting gate," but indicates that progress has been rapid since Xerox won AEDC's office automation contract in 1982 and began installing systems late that year.
"We were looking for machines that could talk to each other, a shared system," says Dozier. "While our specifications spelled out requirements for things like equation-handling and spreadsheet capabilities, they primarily emphasized our need for heavy-duty word processors. We had been inundated with paperwork, and text processing was our top priority. However, while billing those specifications, the vendor gave us additional capabilities, such as graphics, that greatly expanded our applications horizons."
As an example, Dozier cites his own department's use of an 8010 workstation to process procurement paperwork. For the first buy go-round, a massive scheduling, charge-back and budgeting table was typed and retyped repeatedly, with accountants manually calculating figure totals for each revision. For the last procurement, an 800 unit automated all paperwork preparation, including spreadsheet calculations.
"The upshot is that professionals and departments can be more self-reliant," observes Dozier. "If you need a spreadsheet, you can build one yourself. If you need overhead transparencies, you can draw them on workstations. You don't have to queue up for third-party service to finish a job. The machines are letting us put out more work per person."
On the document-processing side, Dozier credits automation with reducing overtime typing, enhancing document quality and improving staff morale.
"Before our department secretary had an 860 unit, turnaround on non-priority jobs was three to five days," he says. "Now she can keep up with the workload, and things get done on a timely basis. Morale has improved since people don't begin each day with a frustrating week-long backlog."
Beneficiaries of office automation reside within each contractor organization. For instance, though Pan Am's Management Publications Group had word processing equipment prior to its Ethernet hookup, it's found that networking and an upgrade to modern equipment have bolstered productivity. This group prepares documents ranging from two-page Associate Contractor Agreements, which spell out responsibilities, to 500-page procedures books on management topics such as quality assurance.
Linda Rhudy, word processing analyst, reports that initial keying of management procedures has been minimized by electronic-mail and an OCR scanner. "If procedures analysts have 860 units, they can use E-mail to send text to us," she explains. "If not, they can send typed copy for us to scan and enter without rekeying. Also, as more people come on the network, we can send copy to, say 13, procedures analysts to review and edit on screen."
Pam Pendergraff, systems administrator, adds that 8010 workstation graphics, spreadsheet and records-processing capabilities are used extensively.
Most Documents Include Graphics
"Graphics such as flow charts, tables and matrices are incorporated into most every document," she says, "while spreadsheet applications get heavy use at budget time. Records processing is used to maintain our data base of system users.
"Previously, it was too time-consuming to handle graphics--even simple things like vertical lines," she adds. "So anything that needed graphics went to the publications/composing department, or graphics were left out. Also, it took a lot of time to line up preprinted forms to insert information. Now, we store a variety of forms on our system, fill them in on the screen, and send them to the laser printer."
Rhudy estimates that network access to a laser printer has boosted by as much as 15 percent the time she can devote to text and graphics creation and editing. This network printer uses a laser to image a variety of type styles and sizes, plus graphics. "Many of our documents have italicized type within the copy," she explains. "With a standard printer, we sometimes had to change printwheels five times on a page."
Barbara Casey, senior publications clerk in Pan Am's publications/composing department, reports similar gains. As the center's sole composing facility, this technical publications group produces photocomposed copy for about 80 to 90 test reports each year, as well as AEDC brochures and forms. While some test reports are a mere 50 pages with 30 illustrations, others mushroom into four-volume, 700-page documentation sets. The addition of an 8010 workstation tied into an Ethernet has given this group network access to text prepared by technical authors on other processing units in remote facilities.
"By eliminating the need to rekey copy, the workstation can save us four hours to a full week on a given report," says Casey. "We've had text-interface capabilities for quite a while. But previously, mag cards and diskettes had to be hand-carried, and there was a degree of error in transferring text to our Compugraphic 7770 system.
"With Ethernet, it's all electronic," she explains. "When we request information, it's here in minutes. Everything moves faster, giving us extra time to spend on creating better-looking, easier-to-read formats." In addition to relying on its 8010 unit as a receiving and editing terminal for report text, the group uses it to support the photocomposing process. Primarily, the workstation is tapped to prepare less-complicated graphics, such as charts and tables, which account for an eighth to a quarter of machine-produced graphics.
Artwork Done On Workstation
As a technical assistant for Sverdrup, Gail Arnold works within the Engine Test Facility creating 30 to 50 internal company forms, flow charts, bar graphs, and other presentation and report graphics each week. Before she acquired her workstation, Arnold spent much of her time hunched over a light table and chasing down corridors.
"Each month, I produce a shaded bar chart for one management report," she explains. "It used to take about seven hours to cut out press type, walk it upstairs to get it reduced, and then cut to shadings and assemble on a light table. When my workstation arrived, it took about an hour to create my first bar chart. I never had to leave my chair. And with an original stored, I can revise it each month in about 10 minutes."
As word has spread of her new graphics capabilities, Arnold is getting many new assignments from individuals who need same-day turnaround on presentation graphics. "These are jobs I simply couldn't have tackled before," she notes.
System Administrator Carole Rogers is charged with providing complete administrative support for financial management, plus contract and project control, related to Calspan's operation of its two facilities. Currently, her office is using its 8010 and 860 units for both production and the training of staffers who will have units of their own once terminals are placed in each engineering office.
All Reports to Be Put On System
"Eventually, we hope to put almost all of our project-control documentation on the system," she says. "Then, reports that are now typed in our facilities and sent here for editing and repeated revisions will be typed just once and then revised electronically."
Though Calspan-operated facilities are involved with about 80 projects a month, the need for pre-test and post-test paperwork translates into at least 160 document sets. And Rogers explains that such a paperwork set may include 10 to 20 forms--for jobs such as scheduling, budgeting, reporting priorities and tracking revisions.
On the financial-management side, expenditures must be projected for each contract period, with detailed balance sheets. In addition, there are general management requirements to maintain data bases on topics such as on-the-job safety and to tap this information to prepare trend statistics, reports and graphs.
"With Ethernet, reporting is much faster," Rogers concludes. "It's allowed us to go from a two-week to a four-day turnaround requirement. And forms, graphics and calculation capabilities are a big help. For example, using the workstation's formatting capabilities and our laser printer, we converted one three-page form into a one-page document, which makes it easier for managers to review information. Though it's in a smaller font, the laser print copy is sharp. Use of spreadsheet-calculation capabilities saves time in preparing financial reports, too."
While Jack Broerman's delighted with such progress, he likes to put it all in perspective.
"AEDC has just digested five major new management-support systems that added one million lines of code to our files," he says. "But, now we're ready to move into a new MIS requirements phase. We're going to take a very systematic look at what tools people need.
"Also, one objective is to link our office automation and IBM 4341 computer systems via Ethernet for new administrative, accounting and logistics applications. Down the road," Broerman adds, "we computer to support technical people. There's still much to be done."
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|Date:||Mar 1, 1985|
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