A U.S. Department of Energy contractor, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), asked Intertech to build an application that can analyze factory efficiency and calculate the time it would take for improvements to pay for themselves. Advanced manufacturing operations across the country can use this application to calculate pump, heating, fan, steam, and other efficiencies from a single, open source tool.
ORNL has a contract from the Department of Energy to refactor a tool that improves efficiency in advanced manufacturing and helps manufacturers make decisions about which equipment upgrades to implement. The current suite of tools dates back to the 1990s and are no longer supported.
While ORNL’s team includes knowledgeable engineers in the manufacturing field, their coding expertise was limited to a few staff and some interns. The fundamental challenge of this project is transforming the engineers’ calculations and the functionality of the outdated software into a new interactive application. Manufacturers should be able to input information about their equipment and current resource usage. Then, based on a hypothetical upgrade of the manufacturer’s equipment, the application will provide data about increased efficiency and payback period to see a return on investment.
A secondary challenge was updating ORNL’s development methodology. To date, software projects ORNL has completed for the Department of Energy have followed waterfall methodology. When ORNL contacted Intertech, they were interested in implementing agile scrum on this project, but were unsure where to start.
In their initial conversations with ORNL in December 2016, our Intertech consultants found that the outdated tools had been structured as separate applications for each system in the manufacturing process (e.g. heating, steam, fans, pumps, etc). Intertech proposed a new, integrated solution that brought these seven separate tools together into one application.
The application needed to be available offline, since many manufacturing facilities didn’t have consistent internet access. In addition, this tool could be used in sensitive manufacturing settings where data privacy is critical. However, ORNL would like the option to make the tool available as a web app as well.
As a result, our Intertech consultants decided to create the application as an Angular web app. For offline access, the app is saved locally and displayed via an Electron wrapper. This allows cross-platform support for Windows, Mac, and Linux--both online and offline--while only needing to create and maintain a single code base.
In addition to serving as a technical advisor to make decisions about how to implement the application, Intertech also provided coding expertise. Two Intertech consultants work on the project full time, leading the development effort and reviewing code from the client’s small team of programmers. Intertech also provided scrum training to help the client’s team learn and implement agile methodology, making this one of the first agile-developed projects for the Department of Energy.
As a federal contract project, one of the keys to success for the client was that the project be delivered on schedule and under budget. By implementing an agile methodology, Intertech was able to increase the cost effectiveness of the development process while also being flexible to respond to feedback with frequent releases.
Intertech’s technology expertise also helped come up with an all-in-one solution for the application that the client hadn’t considered. Bringing seven separate tools into a single application that can run seamlessly across platforms, online or offline, is a major success of this project.
Of course, that wouldn’t be possible without Intertech’s coding expertise. Our Intertech consultants worked remotely from our offices in Minnesota, allowing the client to extend their software development team without the overhead of hiring and onboarding their own developers.
This open source, integrated tool will be instrumental in helping the Department of Energy encourage manufacturers to upgrade their equipment.
More on the technology used during the project:
Electron was used to develop a cross platform desktop application using web technologies. The web technologies used included Angular.io, Bootstrap v4, D3.js and IndexedDb. A C++ library was used for data calculations and ported to the application as a Node Addon using Node-gyp.
The development team was organized in an Agile fashion, using pieces of the Scrum methodology. Intertech’s development team was completely remote. Slack and Bluejeans conference calling were integral parts of daily development. Additionally, since the project is open source, Github is used for version control and Waffle.io is used for issue tracking,
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