Computers in Commerce, Trade and Industry

Computers in Commerce, Trade and Industry.
by E.C. Wright, Member.
At the Durrington Community Centre, 18th October, 1989.
Mr. Wright, in a talk illustrated with line diagrams and sample components, began by summarising the history he gave last year and set out the parts of a computer, viz.

(a) Memory.
(b) Control Unit.
(c) Arithmetic logic unit.
(d) Input device.
(e) Output device.

Input, Output and Backing Storage Devices.
Input and output devices are singular in nature and perform a specific function. A backing storage device can run data and programs into and out of the computer’s memory thus optimising the use of hardware and, indeed, of the memory itself. Mr. Wright then explained how backing storage devices, e.g. magnetic tapes, are loaded into their respective drives, and their relevance to “data banks”, where hugh quantities of data can be stored and accessed as and when required. There followed a description of data flow between terminals where instructions and data on High Tech, Programs, e.g. COBOL, are keyed in.

The instructions keyed in have the form WRITE READ GOTO NEXT etc: they cannot be acted upon by the computer as it can only respond to binary numbers; an object code/machine code is needed. The ASCII Code (American Standard Code of Information Interchange) was described; it employs 7-bits using the binary numbers 0 and 1. Data flows between terminal and computer with translation taking place through, compilers. The flow being from Machine Code/Object Code to High Level Languages and back again. Two definitions were inserted here:-
“Bit” is an acronym derived from Binary Digit.
A “Byte” is formed from a number of Bits
e.g.. 1001000 is a 7 bit byte.
10010000 is an 8 bit byte.
The byte is used for quantifying magnetic data storage on tapes, discs, floppy discs etc. (k-bytes or m-bytes). For Floppy Discs,
size, dia. inches: 3.5, 5, 8
Storage Capacity kilo bytes: 50, 100, 300

The databases of to-day’s information technology were the filing cabinets and file libraries of yesterday. Mr. Wright explained how database use enables the many branches of a large organisation to have access to a database in a central position, ultimately avoiding any duplication of information. He went on to describe how databases are now developing as a service industry, and mentioned the order of charges being made. Examples given included Gateway’s Services and Telecon Gold.

Data Transmission
Next there was reference to the transmission of data over communication lines and the use of modems for the modulation and demodulation of binary signals and voice signals, together with the use of multiplexers. The terms “simplex lines”, “half duplex lines” and “(full) duplex lines” were defined in relation to data transmission. In passing to practical applications, it was shown how data could be transmitted to the computer by such means as:

Magnetic ink character recognition (MICR)
Optical character recognition (OCR)
Optical mark recognition (OMR)
Bar Code Readers.

Applications of MICR, OCR, OMR, Readers.
Documents utilise various printing “Fonts” to enable data to be read and transmitted to the computer. Examples given included.
E 13-8, CMC-7, OCR-A, OCR-B.
and their use on documents such as bank cheques, luncheon vouchers, Postal Orders, Giro documents etc. were shown. The production of a fully readable machine document from a bank cheque with the MICR E 13-B font using pre-encoding and post-encoding was covered.

Stock Exchange Computers.
The Stock Exchange computerised settlement system is known as Talisman, an acronym for Transfer Accounting, lodging for Investors and Stock Management for Jobbers. SEAQ is the system which came into operation at the time of the “Big Bang.” It is an acronym of Stock Exchange Automated Quotation. The three Computers used are DEC 8600 series machines. SEAQ was fully operational subsequently for 2-way prices for mere than 3500 stocks, and has a process capability of 70,000 transactions per hour. Computerised trading via the SEAQ system covers three types of stock, known as alpha, beta and gamma.

Electronic Mail.
After describing Electronic Mail (E-Mail) Mr. Wright pointed out its present advantages and possibilities for the future. The manner in which E-Mail will be originated and computer stored until required by the receiver was highlighted. E-Mail was compared with the present FAX (Facsimile) system.

Point of Sale Terminals.
POS Terminals or E(Electronic) POS Terminals now taking over from ‘Tills and “Checkouts were described. Items passing through POS Terminals include
Plastic Cards – Access, Barclaycard, Diners Card, Stores own Credit Card.
Cash, Cheques, Credit Notes, Bar Coded Items, Kimball Tags, Magnetic Stripe Tags.
All the information passing through the POS Terminals in all the branches of all the stores in an organisation permits a full analysis of finances to be made at the end of each trading day when referred to the data processing centre. At the same time data extracted from Kimball tags, Magnetic Stripe Tags, etc. enable an up-to-date and efficient
Stock Control System to be maintained.

POS Terminals provide a type of “backroom” management through cash and stock control giving advantages in:
Optimisation of stock in hand
Maintenance of low level (minimum) of stocks
Money saved by the above becomes available for profitable investment.

Larger firms can raise efficiency by using computerised branches in conjunction with computerised warehousing where automated robots are employed.

Computer Aided Design (CAD)
Examples dealt with were:-
Electronic circuitry, Aircraft, Autombiles, Ships, Building, Manufacture.
It was pointed out that CAD can be accompanied by test simulation during design development.

Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) Machine Tools.
CNC machine tools can carry out operations such as turning, drilling, shaping, milling and forming (e.g. embossing, bending, shearing, punching). Computers in processes such as these can contribute to the precision of tool control and movement of work piece between sequential operations. These actions result from written computer programs with reference to file data concerning machining of various parts.

Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM)
CNC Machine tools form part of the arsenal of CAM. Some CAM machines can be driven directly by CAD created data, thus minimising time and cost. In addition cohesion can be achieved in the areas of processing, assembly, inspection and test, and transport when CAD CNC and CAM are co-ordinated.

Quality Control
Automatic quality control can be introduced into certain areas of CAM. Development of vision systems with sensors now assist – components can be measured without removing them from machine tools or conveyors.

A number of points about computer “viruses” were raised during the discussion when we learned that reliance was normally placed on copy files held in a secure vault. There is also a “Datavet” programme which provides some protection against “wipe-out” by a virus.
In reply to a question, Mr. Wright said that clearing banks appeared to update customers’ accounts about twice weekly – overnight. One member pointed out that Modems had uses outside computers, – e.g. in tele-communications systems and there was general agreement that computers are “not only for the young”.