This 'web paper' is provided as a service to optical thin film engineers. In this paper we discuss software for managing coating operations. This seems to be an important topic, but we cannot recall, say at SVC, any papers or discussions on this subject.

Connecting coating departments to enterprise (corporate) databases

Fred Goldstein PhD
FTG Software Associates
Princeton, New Jersey

Built on the popular FileMaker Pro application, the FilmStar Database manages quality assurance and/or film designs. It includes sample databases and BASIC macros which integrate specialized coating tasks with powerful general business tools.

A first step in implementing this solution is to contact your IT manager. He/she is likely to remind you that your company uses MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle or Access as its enterprise (corporate) database. He might even indicate that the high cost of database consultants is 'prohibitive at this time'; he's probably hoping you go away and leave him alone. By the way, don't expect the IT manager to be a database expert; that's not really his job.

While the enterprise database deals effectively with payroll, order entry, etc., it probably offers no help in storing and analyzing measured spectra, thin film designs and other technical data. In IT terms, local needs are not being met by the enterprise database system.

Modern and expensive database tools are used in the front office, but the coating department is left with DOS-level technology (storing data in separate files in multiple directories) or even worse: saving printed curves in filing cabinets. As for film designs, we've heard about redesigning previously manufactured filters because that's easier than locating the design in some directory on someone's computer.

Can FilmStar users really maintain and support the FilmStar Database? FileMaker Inc. claims its software is very easy-to-use. But easy for whom? A computer science PhD? What level of effort is really required to modify and adapt the supplied FilmStar Database examples?

Last summer, an optics division of a major corporation (known to all) implemented the FilmStar Database to manage measured spectra. The task was quickly accomplished by an intern (college student) with no previous experience in either FileMaker Pro or FilmStar.

But what about that enterprise database? It must be part of the solution. As an example, we'll assume it maintains your company's customer list. Surely you don't want to maintain a separate list in the coating department. Therefore, you need the ability to exchange data with the FilmStar Database. You need to connect the workgroup (coating department) with the enterprise (front office, manufacturing, etc.).

As an illustration, we set up a simple enterprise database with a table called 'customers'. Note the list of companies names in the following screenshot. (Don't worry about all the icons and buttons; maintaining the 'customers' SQL database wouldn't be your job anyway.)

Using ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity), we configured the customers database as an external data source in FileMaker Pro 9.0. The coating department pull-down customer list shown below then coincides with the corporate customer list. IT managers should click here to gain further insight. Never heard of ODBC?  It generates about 10M hits in Google!

As illustrated above, measurements with PerkinElmer and similar spectrometers are automatically stored in the FilmStar Database. There is no chance to meet specifications by adjusting curves in Excel or copying and pasting previous spectra. Results can even be viewed with a web browser.

Exporting data from the coating department workgroup to the enterprise is also possible as shown below. As an example we exported color coordinates.

It seems reasonable to assume that the FilmStar Database will be supported by the coating department and that connectivity to enterprise databases will be supported by IT. The IT department should also ensure that the correct version of FileMaker is purchased. Small companies might do with a multiple-user license, while the server version should be implemented by medium and large companies. At least one copy of FileMaker Pro Advanced is required in order to adjust menus.

Ultimately, the FilmStar Database satisfies the needs of coating departments (easy to implement and support) and corporate IT managers (connectivity to enterprise software).

See for yourself how the FilmStar Database can help manage your coating facility! We'll set up a web-based demonstration at your convenience. Click here to learn more, or call us today at +1 609-924-6222.

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