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Atco Expands On-Line Processing with Satellite and New Mainframe.

On January 3, 1984, J. D. Ratliff sat in the data processing center at Atco Rubber Company in a state of anxious expectation. The source of his anxiety expectation. The source of his anxiety was the debut of two new additions to the company's DP facility: a Burroughs 1955 mainframe computer with Poll/Select protocol and a value-added, satellite-based data communications network.

The mainframe was installed to provide increased storage capacity and processing power, and the network was installed to provide on-line communications between the company's host computer in Fort Worth, Texas, and its eight manufacturing plants located throughout the US.

Ratliff's worry stemmed not so much from the installation of the mainframe--an operation he had completed successfully many times during the course of his 28-year career in data processing--but instead from the addition of the new satellite-based network, an area of data processing he knew little about.

"When we flipped the power switch, I held my breath just long enough to hear the first humming sounds from the mainframe," recalls Ratliff. "The rest, as they say, is history."

A year later, the satellite-based data communications network, furnished by RCA Cylix Communications Network, is playing a key role in helping the Texas-based manufacturer of industrial air conditioning duct work expand its operations.

As a replacement for the previous method of transmitting data--a WATS dial-up batch operation--the network has helped Atco Rubber process customer invoices faster, tighten the control of inventory, and schedule manufacturing capacity more efficiently.

Fastest Delivery Rates in the Industry

Says Ratliff, "The addition of an on-line network has helped us achieve one of the fastest delivery rates in the industry by providing us with an almost up-to-the-minute status of deliveries in progress, inventory levels and available manufacturing capacity. In our business, the prompt delivery of a customer's order is as important as price and product quality. The bottom line is that having fast and easy access to important operational data makes us more efficient and profitable."

All purchasing, production scheduling and order processing for Atco Rubber's 10 plants are handled from the company's headquarters in Fort Worth. Thus, it is crucial that each plant manager has access to the company's host computer, which holds important data concerning bills of lading, inventory levels, production schedules and shipping transactions.

As the conduit for this important data, the network has a role in almost every phase of the company's operation. When a customer calls in an order to the main manufacturing facility in Fort Worth, a clerk inputs it into the host mainframe electronically, using a computer terminal connected to the network. A software package automatically prices the order and creates a bill of lading, which is then transmitted via the network to the appropriate manufacturing plant.

At a given plant, a manager receives the bill of lading on a printer connected to the network and begins filling it, using inventory or by initiating a manufacturing cycle to produce the necessary products. At all times, plant managers are able to get a current reading of available stock by querying the host mainframe via the network. This helps them stay ahead in the production of products most in demand, avoiding production bottlenecks.

After each order is filled, the completed bill of lading is transmitted quickly back to the host mainframe for invoicing and distribution to the customer.

Each of Atco Rubber's plants is equipped with Burroughs ET1100 terminals, and Burroughs AP300 printers. These are the primary computer tools used to input and receive information transmitted via the network. Some plants have tied Burroughs ET2000 personal computers into the network, which are used for word processing, spreadsheet analysis and terminal emulation.

For Ratliff, the history of the great mainframe/network search goes back to the Spring of 1983. At that time, the company began looking for a replacement for its Honeywell Level 62 mainframe. A major factor in the search was the desire to add on-line communications capability to replace the batch processing being provided through dial-up WATS lines.

The first to come calling were the mainframe vendors. The favorite choice was Burroughs, whose fortunes took a turn for the better when Ratliff came across an article describing how another Burroughs user had successfully implemented a value-added network.

"At the time, I didn't know anything about value-added networks," said Ratliff, "but the article caught my attention. Given the problems of divestiture and the cost of setting up and maintaining a leased-line network, I was open to suggestions."

"In my opinion, value-added networks are the best alternative for companies who are eager to add on-line networking capability but are unsure of how to proceed," said Ratliff. "The start-up costs are minimal, their speed and reliability are excellent, and they can be expanded easily as your company grows."
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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