Technical Issues - Connecting FilmStar and Enterprise Databases

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'. (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 saving printed curves in filing cabinets. And as for thin 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 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. Never heard of ODBC?  It generates about 10M hits in Google! Click here for a complete discussion.

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

It is reasonable to assume that the FilmStar Database will be supported by the coating department and that connectivity to enterprise databases will be supported 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 will be more suitable for medium and large companies. At least one copy of FileMaker Pro Advanced is required in order to adjust menus.

Not sure what a database is or what it can do for your coating facility? Contact FTG Software for a demonstration via our Glance Networks facility.

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