Years ago an electrical engineer stopped by my desk, leaned over the partition and said, I want you to automate my ladder diagrams. I want to push a button and the drawing comes out. He had seen what we had done, what others had done, with an automated program that spit out a family of parts that were going down our only area of the plant with a production line. I answered him that I could not write that program, which he interpreted I would not write the program. You don’t know how much time that button would save me, he said. In my only perfect response in this lifetime I said, you don’t know how long it would take me to write that button.
Our successful automation program had all the necessary ingredients. The product line had existed a long time. It had sold a lot. The variations in the family of parts were considerable but considering the volume and the number of times they had been reproduced, a system had developed to name and describe them. The product line had several smart people good with computers working in that area for a long time. High volume, good people doing it manual for a long time, discrete number of variations. That is what you must have to automate – a manual system.
The first step to automation, besides an actual product, is a five minute refresher, or introduction, to databases, specifically table relationships, and specifically what is a key field, and what is a foreign key. This is how data is stored. This is how the product is described. MS Access used to be a useful tool, but version changes, file version problems, 32-64 bit problems, getting it funded, being replaced by the big do-all database, all these caused it to drop in my work environment. But the principles of product structure, a main table and parts tables connected by relations, are applied in excel.
I will come back to this. This is a large topic not really suited to the blog format. I need to think up a sample project. It will be math related, not with obvious commercial applications.