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Surviving a computer meltdown.

Surviving a computer meltdown

Fire destroyed their offices, and the intelligence needed to run their factory lay in a smoldering heap of melted plastic out on the lawn.

When he pulled out of his driveway late that Saturday night, what Mike Burr saw confirmed his worst fears, stirred a minute earlier by a phone call. "I live three miles from the plant," he recalls, "and I could see the flames. When I got there, part of the office wing was in flames, and the roof about to collapse. Fifty fire fighters battled the blaze into the early morning hours."

Although their offices were destroyed, Cogsdill Tool Products' manufacturing plant suffered only smoke damage. When workers began sifting through the rubble, the CAD/CAM equipment was barely recognizable. "Several monitors were completely melted," recalls Burr, Cogsdill's vice president of engineering. "You could hardly tell what they were."

Tool designer and CAD/CAM coordinator Farin Derrick crawled through the debris to recover backup tapes containing about a gigabyte of drawing files for the specialized metalworking tools that Cogsdill manufactures at their Camden, SC, plant. Many of the tape cases were melted shut. Some were filled with water.

All of the paper drawings on file were salvaged, but many were discolored, and water damaged. Many customer-account files were damaged or destroyed.

Rallying from the rubble

Nevertheless, Cogsdill's workers rallied, and vendors and cleaning crews chipped in. By Tuesday, less than 72 hours after the fire, Cogsdill was shipping tools. Calls to customers confirmed the few destroyed orders. Workers in the plant continued producing tools they had been working on prior to the blaze.

But, to complete orders not yet on the shop floor--let alone fill new orders--Cogsdill needed drawings. The data from the CAD system had to be recovered or Cogsdill's tool designers would have to sit down at their drawing boards and recreate everything from scratch.

"When these systems are down, it isn't that we can't make parts," Burr explains. "It's just that we can't make them the same way. A $3000 tool can become a $4000 tool."

Burr collected what was left of the components that ran their Hewlett-Packard ME10 2D design and drafting software, and took them home to his garage. Within a few days, HP representative Frank Van Rood showed up with a computer system to help get Burr, Derrick, and their team working again. Another system followed, and the engineering department set up shop in a Camden motel room.

The following week, HP applications engineer Ken Freeman arrived to begin recovering data, working slowly on disk drives that were barely recognizable. He recalls one drive in particular--a 40 megabyte unit with an internal 3.5" disk drive--that looked particularly hopeless. "The case itself was melted. You couldn't get a diskette in the slot, but the disk mechanism and interface card were intact. The same was true of the rest of the drives, which was incredible considering how much water had been pumped on them. They were noisy, but they worked.

"The drives are sealed units, so once they sat for a while and dried off, they were ready to go. We only had to go to the backup tapes for about six files, which is pretty lucky, since trying to recover all the data from them would have increased our work by a factor of 10."

All in all, they were able to reconstruct 98 percent of Cogsdill's data.

Rethinking the new

The next step was to "rethink the CAD/CAM systems to replace the destroyed components. In the meantime, Von Rood and Freeman set up loaner systems to keep Cogsdill's tool designers working.

"They had the computers waiting for us before we had the office trailer to put them in," Burr says. Five Cogsdill tool designers worked in that trailer for the next nine months while their offices were being rebuilt.

The firm's new system consists of a diskless cluster of six HP9000 Series 345 workstations, with an HP9000 Series 375 acting as file server. It has a 660-megabyte hard drive, a pair of 3.5" diskette drives, and both a tape drive and a high-capacity magneto-optical drive for backup.

Bill Westerman, Cogsdill president, is impressed with the service his firm has received. Burr and Westerman agree that, when choosing a CAD system, vendor service and support can be just as important as hardware and software features. That point was driven home after the fire in March 1990. "We had no right to expect HP to respond the way it did after the fire," Westerman says.

PHOTO : Data bank? The office fire at Cogsdill left this pile of computer rubble and melted floppy drives, yet engineers recovered nearly all design and manufacturing data.

PHOTO : Mike Burr, vice president of engineering, was amazed that Cogsdill was back in production in only two weeks, thanks to rallying workers and a highly responsive computer vendor.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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