Mincom turns to .Net to reengineer parts catalogue

The transition from C and C++ to the newer .Net and Visual Studio development tools has been a welcome pain killer for Queensland-based software developer Mincom.

Mincom's LinkOne is an electronic parts catalogue (EPC) and electronic maintenance documentation product for companies, and their clients, in industries such as mining and aeronautics where the viewing and then ordering of parts for maintenance is key to the success of an operation.

As Ross Furlonger, operations manager for Mincom puts it: "We are about creating graphical content so the guy who needs to replace stuff can click on the picture and drill down using the pictures to find the right part as opposed to searching [text] for bolts or whatever and getting 10,000 hits from his search.

"It is about finding the right part quickly and accurately."

LinkOne initially came out as a CD version called WinView, but this year a Web version, called WebView was released.

For this, Furlonger said the WebView product had to be reengineered.

Both C++ and C, on which LinkOne was initially developed, was "basically giving us pain in terms of the amount of maintenance we had to put on the code".

"It was a breath of fresh air getting C#, Visual Studio and .Net," he said.

"By using the new Microsoft products we did the whole lot using four developers in probably a third of the time if we were using it in C++."

Due to the backend Microsoft technologies deployed in WebView, Furlonger said the result was all the content can be delivered over the Web immediately.

One company to use the LinkOne, and now WebView product, is long-time customer Raytheon Aircraft Company.

RAC is a big player in aircraft manufacturing in the US. It designs, builds and markets Beechcraft and Hawker aircraft for government, business, and personal use.

To imagine how the product works with Raytheon, visualize an exploded view of an aeroplane. The user starts with a complex wire diagram that is linked to detailed information on their component parts. They then locate a section of the plane and click on that image. They see another image and click that - the whole time seeing the picture and call outs on the drawing to select parts, or to drill down even deeper until locating the correct part.

Nigel Gray, group manager, technical publications at RAC, says moving to WebView also brings cost savings.

"Paper copies of manuals is still an expensive cost item for us, so WebView brings us big advantages if we can migrate customers away from paper.

"We see WebView as a tool to generate additional revenue of online orders of spare parts. If it creates an additional 5 percent, that equates to more than $US2 million."

Raytheon has focused, for the time being, on providing only Parts & Wiring manuals within WebView - as both of these manuals feature selectable parts data for direct online ordering.

"The original CD version has complete maintenance libraries. There are a few small differences between the two products, notably in the functionality of the graphics window (it uses Adobe's SVG Plugin Viewer), but other than that, our customers should be able to seamlessly switch to the Web product," Gray said.

Although being used by Raytheon for aircraft repair Furlonger said LinkOne was a generic product. For example, Siemens Medical is using it for its MRI equipment. There is even a mining company using it in Siberia.

"It is really suited to anything that is complex and repairable. Repairable being the key," Furlonger said.

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Howard Dahdah

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