FileMaker aids shuttle missions

More than 350 users at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi are using a desktop database software application from FileMaker Inc. to manage and document repairs to all space shuttle main engines and to verify approvals of these repairs before the engines are fired up for use.

NASA is using FileMaker Pro software to automate the process of testing and repairing shuttle flight and test engines, said Victor Alfaro, acting manager of safety and mission assurance at Stennis.

Engineers, mechanics, quality-control inspectors and others use the centralized system, which replaces the center's paper-based system for documenting "nonconforming" aspects of the engine's operation that need to be repaired. Nonconformance indicates a condition that does not meet government specifications.

"We have certain requirements that have to be adhered to. In most operations where humans are involved, [before the system was installed] we would bypass certain things," Alfaro said. "We're documenting errors that are found during tests or inspections, and we're tracking the repair process."

FileMaker Pro is a cross-platform database software application that is designed to allow users to work with and organize data and integrate it into real-world applications for the desktop, intranets and the World Wide Web.

Attractive for Downsized IT Offices

Steve Ruddock, FileMaker's director of public relations, said the product's ease of use and its workgroup features— which allow groups with up to 100 people to easily share database access— make it especially attractive for information technology departments that are downsizing while having workloads increase.

"Lines of business or end users...can create very robust solutions that can be used by teams of up to 100 people," Ruddock said. "Regular guys can— and often are— the champions that deploy [systems] within their own workgroups. It's truly huge savings in terms of development, deployment and [maintenance of] databases."

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama also is using the product to collect bids from vendors on electronic forms powered by the FileMaker database engine. In addition, NASA is using the application to track repairs to its reusable launch vehicle and low-cost booster programs.

At Stennis, once a needed shuttle engine repair is identified, it is entered into a system that automatically highlights which disciplines (specific engineers, mechanics or inspectors) are required to work on a needed repair or to validate its completion. Before using the automated system, all these employees filed paper documents that were faxed among the various groups during the process.

Each discipline has a visual stamp that has been digitized in the system so that after each group signs off on a particular work order, a graphical display will accompany the print detail of the work. Also, for individual tasks in the overall repair process, mechanics are prompted by the system to check off each part of the task and cannot sign off on that task until all requirements are met.

"It audits itself throughout the whole process," Alfaro said. "It doesn't allow closure for nonconformance unless all the required stamps, coding [and] approvals are there."

Use of the technology has reduced the cycle time for evaluating nonconformance conditions from 71 days to less than two weeks. In addition, the system allows NASA officials to discover patterns in shuttle repair work, such as how many times nonconformance occurred because of certain conditions, Alfaro said.

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