July 24, 1967 – that’s the date Bob Schmidt joined AAF (now AAF Flanders). In that year, Ronald Reagan became the governor of California, the Beatles released their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court member. Computers were in their infancy, and with Bob’s engineering background, he found that creating programs for these gadgets provided an interesting mental exercise.
Bob remembers literally assembling his first computer from a kit. This meant soldering each and every resistor, capacitor, and chip one by one onto the motherboard. Since at that time production orders for the plants were manually written, Bob decided to come up with a better solution and used his own personal computer to write the necessary programs. After these were complete, he would phone his computer at home and in that way print production orders at the Columbia Plant. Programs and data were stored on a cassette tape, because the computer had very little memory by today’s standards.
Bob learned how to program by buying computer programming magazines and typing in the code. “Back then, you couldn’t buy a program for your computer,” Bob says. “I was probably the first person in the company to design a program for customer orders, making sure that the orders for the Columbia plant had the right style codes.” The program was designed to catch errors up front, when Customer Service entered an order, so that orders would not inadvertently be placed for filters that could not be manufactured. Bob provided the IT department with the rules used in his program so that it could be translated to the mainframe, and he provided a point of standardization between IT and product engineering.
Bob completed two years of college at the University of Louisville before he started at AAF, intending to earn his degree while working full-time. Shortly thereafter he was drafted and joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He spent two and a half of his four years in Thailand working on the electronics for television and laser guided bombs. When Bob got back to the States and joined AAF again, he also went back to college full-time, and earned his degree in two years.
Bob has many stories centered around his jobs at AAF, including one about how the plants got computers. Around 1983, plant personnel were still using a manual process for calculating. The Clean Air Division Operations Manager wanted plant personnel to be able to use an early predecessor of Excel, VisiCalc, so that computations would have fewer errors. However, the Controller at that time had forbidden computers to be in the plants. This presented a conundrum.
In order to get around the no-computers directive, the instructions Bob received from the Operations Manager when he ordered five Apple computers were to be creative with his purchase order notations. Drives were noted as storage cabinets, monitors became graphic displays, and the computers themselves were noted as calculation devices.
Of course, eventually everyone in the company, including plant personnel, started doing their work on computers. In his support of the Operations department, Bob at times helped set up systems for plants and made sure they ran smoothly. For example, Bob travelled to the Emmen plant in The Netherlands because the personnel there were experiencing difficulties with their warehousing stream and logistics. Bob wrote his own programs to manage their processes, so that these plant personnel had heightened logistics control.
Bob was also the main person to set up and write programs to support plant operations, connecting AAF’s Oracle system, which was used for purchasing and accounting, and Visual Fox Pro, which supplemented Oracle and was used for production planning and sales orders. For years, Bob managed the interface between these two platforms. He also was part of the new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) platform implementation team, which replaced Oracle and Visual Fox Pro. Putting this platform in place ensured smoother operations.
Currently, Bob is part of the ERP implementation team for the Aire Filter Products (AFP) facilities in the western United States. The Whittier facility in California was the first AFP facility to transition to this system. Bob and Jena Wise are helping the facility personnel use the ERP platform and have created all of the documentation. Bob understands that in using a new program for the first time, facility personnel will inevitably have questions, so he makes sure to be available for phone consultations. That way, these facilities will get started using the platform on the right foot.
Bob will continue to visit all of the AFP facilities to roll out the ERP platform. Once that is completed, Bob expects to support the Flanders ERP platform integration.
What set Bob on the journey he’s taken was his curiosity about the machines that wound up becoming an integral component of all AAF Flanders’ processes, as well as a determination to understand new technology. Bob’s knowledge base and flexibility have proved vital to the company’s success during his 50 years at AAF Flanders, and he intends to continue supporting Operations wherever possible.