Scientific Equipment Case Study

Varian, Inc., based in Palo Alto, Calif., is a $600 million high-technology company focused on analytical instruments that provides products and services to worldwide markets. It operates manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe, and Australia and has sales and service offices worldwide.

Varian requested that five 300-page product catalogs be consolidated into one central interactive database. Varian employees worldwide would access the database to generate customer-specific catalogs on demand, by supplier, product category, or any other combination. Project requirements called for the application to be built quickly, efficiently, and within budget.

The biggest challenge in the project’s design proved to be initial data collection. For this, FTA created an exclusive data compilation program for Varian suppliers. The application collected data as it was exported from suppliers to Varian. The data was then transmitted via e-mail or FTP to an Internet repository for approval and on to Varian’s backend data warehouse, which is protected behind a firewall. Available in both Internet and CD formats, FTA’s database management system features comprehensive searching, sorting, and navigation capabilities. Users, directly from their desktops, retrieve and publish data stored in this structured data warehouse, which houses not only all existing catalogs, but the most up-to-the-minute data. In addition to maintaining order histories and calculating transactions, the database’s functionality may be expanded to include product ordering and real-time supply order reporting.

Five 300-page catalogs were consolidated into one central interactive database. Any or all sections can be outputted to Adobe Acrobat PDF files for offset printing or to network laser printers eliminating many manual pre-press layout operations.

Visual FoxPro was utilized extensively in this project. With connections to Microsoft SQL Server, we created an enterprise-sized, Internet-based data warehouse enabling Varian employees to maintain data on the Web. It is then exported into FoxPro tables for our publishing software. The publisher is a desktop application written entirely in Visual FoxPro with calls to Pegasus' Imag'n Graphic libraries and Adobe Acrobat Writer. The publisher contains forms for modifying layout options, sequencing product pages, making minor text modifications, and importing OLE documents for informational pages. Custom written functions were created for text width calculations for non-proportional font column alignment and multi-column pages. Our software also automatically creates indexes and tables of contents.

This data-driven application can generate catalogs, any portion of a catalog, and sell sheets on demand. Varian can alter catalog pricing - anything from dollars to Euros - as needed. In short, the elimination of manual layouts will result in immediate and significant ROI.

Technologies Used
FTA used the following technologies to complete this project:

• Adobe Acrobat Writer
• Allaire ColdFusion
• Microsoft SQL Server
• Microsoft Visual FoxPro