ProModel and MedModel 2014

Kevin Field

Kevin Field – Sr. Product Manager

In regards to this release, I would like to start out by saying, in the words of Nacho Libre, “It’s pretty dang exciting, huh?

With ProModel and MedModel 2014 we’ve tried to keep our current customers in mind as well as new customers. For current customers, the new logic windows with Intellisense and Syntax Guide should help you build models faster and easier. And being able to import graphics from third party graphic programs like Photoshop, Gimp, Paint.Net, etc. should even be more useful now that you can rotate all graphic types in the application. The improvements to the Debug window are a direct result of our work on the new logic windows.

For our new customers, the redesigned Getting Started panel (formerly known as the Control Panel) brings a lot of model building resources to the forefront. We have added new demo models and refreshed several of our previous ones. Did anyone even know we had a Quickstart video, showing you how to build a simple model and analyze results in 10-15 minutes? The most exciting part might be the How To videos our Support team has been producing for several months now. All of our customers will find these extremely helpful.

In this blog I am going to casually comment on some of the new features with the assumption that you have already reviewed What’s New in 2014 and perhaps even viewed the webinar I gave on this release. If not, you might want to consider doing so, otherwise…you can blissfully continue on with me…

New Logic Windows

It’s amazing what a few simple colors can do to help your logic be more readable. As we were developing version 9.1, I found it more and more difficult to go back to 8.6 and “drag” myself through the dreary old plain black text 🙂 It’s funny how refreshing it was to get back to 9.1! Not only the color but also line numbers really make it easy to quickly get around in the logic.

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And if you don’t like our default color scheme or want to have something a little easier on the eyes, simply customize the colors in the Logic Color Selection dialog.

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We also want to encourage good formatting in the new Logic windows by utilizing white space (spaces, line breaks, etc.) and indentation. Don’t be afraid of it! By automatically indenting and out-denting after begin and end brackets, we hope to make co-workers everywhere more willing to leap in and review your logic with you! Auto-formatting is something we are looking to improve moving forward.

Another thing we have made steps to do is deprecate certain logic elements. Begin, End, and the # comment are the main ones. Don’t worry though, they are not completely gone! They won’t show up in the Intellisense list but they will still compile if used in logic. Begin and End are easier to read and enter in logic if you use the “squiggly” brackets { and } instead. And we want to use the # character for other things like the new #region statement.

In fact, #region is one of my favorite new additions to 2014. I love the ability it gives you to section your logic and collapse it with a label describing what’s inside that hidden portion of your logic. I hope you’ll find it quite useful.

Intellisense and Syntax Guide

These new features are probably the heroes of this release. Intellisense brings every statement, function, location, entity, variable, subroutine (I’m saying every model element!) right to your fingertips. You should almost never have to remember your element names or copy them from one place in logic to another, or even leave a module to go look it up. Besides that, the days of completely typing any logic or element name are gone. This should increase your productivity by at least 10-15% 🙂 Are you with me on this?!

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Intellisense coupled with the Syntax Guide should nearly make the Logic Builder obsolete. There may be a few things we need to add in order to make that happen. Please feel free to share any suggestions you may have. We tried to make both unobtrusive to your logic creation and editing. Because of this, we didn’t add an option to hide Intellisense or the Syntax Guide.

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Debug Window

MORE THAN 3 LINES!! I think that’s all I need to say on that.

Ok, I’ll also say that debugging should almost be a joyous endeavor as you are now able to anticipate what logic may get executed next and better understand where you came from.

Routing Probability

I’m going to refer you to the webinar I gave on this new feature. In it I give a great example (if I do say so myself) of how simple it is to set up a routing probability for scenario analysis. One thing to remember, in order to use an array in the routing Probability field, the array must be initialized through an import.

Getting Started Panel

The new panel that appears when you start the program may primarily be geared toward new users, however current customers may find it just as useful. Access to the How To videos, online Help, and additional training resources (like dates of future ProModel training classes and a link to ProModel University, our online self-paced training).

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If you haven’t taken advantage of your M&S contract and utilized our Technical Support team then perhaps the Getting Started panel will help facilitate this. They are a tremendous resource to assist you in understanding different techniques for modeling aspects of your systems, troubleshooting your models and helping you get out of the paper bag you may have coded yourself into, or just a friendly person to talk to 🙂 We like to call them your “ProModel Friend”.

Speaking of the Support team, they have done a tremendous job of generating a lot of How To and Solution videos for quite some time now. The short videos range from 2-5 minutes and offer useful insight into modeling techniques and other useful software tips. Let us know if you have any suggestions for more videos!

New Graphic Libraries

A final word about our new graphic libraries. In order to create new libraries containing EMF (vector-based) files, which scale nicely when zoomed, we had to support the rotation, flipping, and sizing of these image types within ProModel. This makes it so you don’t have to generate an image for every possible rotation or flip you need to have for your animation. This reduces the size of the graphic library and thus your model footprint as well. So with this new capability, you should be using a third party graphics program like Photoshop or Gimp (which is free) to create your graphics. (Or perhaps get your coworker to do it, just don’t tell them that I suggested it.)

I can’t talk about the new graphic libraries without mentioning Laif Harwood, a member of our Support team. Laif gets credit for creating all the new graphics in the libraries. And a fine job he did! So if you want any tips on how to do it for yourself, give our Support team a call!

Well, that’s all I have steam for yammering about today. Remember…you have a ProModel Friend that’s just an email (support@promodel.com) or phone call away (888-PROMODEL).

 

The ProModel Training Experience

RPriceHere at ProModel we realize that successful use of our tools usually begins with great training. To that end, we have a variety of training options available. The course you choose will depend on your product and situation. These options are described on our Training page. This post is about our classroom based trainings, our facilities, and what you can expect if you choose to join us! Regardless of your experience with business travel, it’s usually nice to know what to expect when you reach your destination.

We have regularly scheduled classes held in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Orem, Utah. These classes usually last two or three days (depending on the course) and run from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm local time, with an hour break for lunch.

Our classrooms are set up with a computer for each student and a projector screen at the front. Your instructor will demonstrate and explain new concepts and then allow you time for hands-on implementation of the exercises on your training computer. If you bring your own laptop or wireless device, you are welcome to use our classroom Wi-Fi connection to access the internet during breaks.

Usually we have between three to six students in a class at a time, so you’ll have plenty of time and attention from our instructors, as well as an opportunity to get to know other ProModel customers and hear of their experiences and applications of the tool. We provide drinks and snacks throughout the day, but then “set you free” to grab lunch on your own. Frequently students will explore new restaurants together, but we understand that some clients need time on their lunch hour to catch up with business at the office.

We’ll start with a walkthrough of the Orem Training Facilities. You’ll want to fly into the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC). Our office is less than an hour south of the SLC airport. For a Google map with directions to our office (and other local amenities), click here. You know you’re in the right place if you see this building:

It might be white and covered with snow, but don’t worry about the weather, that just means good skiing in the mountains. Seriously, though, Utah is well prepared for snowy conditions and getting around in winter weather is not usually a problem. The snow typically melts within a day or two in “the valley” (where we are) and sticks around up in “the mountains.” Our offices are in the east side of building C. You can take the elevator or the stairs to the third floor. As you exit the elevator (or stairs), you’ll be in our lobby. The entrance to our Orem training room is right there in the lobby.

The training room is equipped with computers for each student.

And a beautiful view out the window of Mount Timpanogos (which rises to 11,749 ft):

Allentown Office

If you plan on joining us in Pennsylvania, you can view a Google map with our location and surrounding amenities by clicking here. If flying, you may want to consider flying in to Lehigh Valley (ABE) – a very short drive to the office, Philadelphia (PHL), or Newark (EWR).

You know you’re in the right place when you see this building:

Our offices are on the third floor (just like in Orem–we must like the third floor). Just head down the hall and you’ll see the entrance to the Allentown training room on your left.

In both offices we have kitchen facilities you are welcome to use, including a microwave, fridge, K-cup coffee machine, and complimentary snacks.

We hope this information helps you feel welcome and excited for a visit to our training facilities. If you have any questions about travel, accommodations, training content or schedules, please don’t hesitate to call or email.

General Training course information can be found here and additional company facility and travel information can be found here.

Rochelle Price, Director of Training Services

rprice@promodel.com

801-223-4667

ProModel on The Lean Nation

ProModel’s Bruce Gladwin (V.P., Consulting) and Dave Tucker (Director, LSS Initiatives) join web and radio host Karl Wadensten on “The Lean Nation” to discuss the benefits of ProModel Simulation in lean initiatives.  Enjoy!

More with Less and the Value of “Simulation”

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Robert Wedertz – NST Program Manager, SME

A close friend of mine recently sent to me our Chief of Naval Operations’ “Navigation Plan – 2014-2018”.  It is a vehicle for our Navy to provide “a vision, tenets, and principles to guide our Navy as we chart a course to remain ready to meet current challenges, build a relevant and capable future force, and enable and support our Sailors, Civilians, and their families”.

Not surprisingly, the key constraints in implementing the navigation plan are challenges associated with a Continuing Resolution and the onset of Sequestration.  Warfighting, forward presence, and readiness cost money.  Our military is the better part of 11 years “boots on the deck” in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are redirecting our focus to the Asia-Pacific region, and other parts of the Middle East (Egypt and Syria) are embroiled in pseudo civil wars which may or may not bring about our involvement.  Confronting our nation’s challenges on a shoestring budget, coupled with future uncertainty with respect to out-year budget allocations, has confronted our Department of Defense leadership with a conundrum likely unprecedented.

In order to confront the realities of that uncertainty, the DoD has more and more turned to simulation, but not the traditional kind – like battlefield mock-ups, operational flight trainers, etc.  I am referring to what I call “Course of Action” simulation.  Leveraging software-enabled predictive analytics, advanced modeling algorithms, and customizable simulation programming, the DoD is taking advantage of “sandbox” decision support tools which provide users the ability to run multiple COAs in a zero-risk environment.  For example:

“What if the Operations and Maintenance budget is cut by 5%, 6%, 10%?  How does that affect our warfighting ability?  How does it affect readiness?”

In the simulated environment, users have the ability to “turn the dials” and measure and present the outcomes to those that have the ultimate obligation to make decisions.  In an environment where the only certainty is uncertainty, decision makers are afforded opportunities to investigate distinct outcomes based upon methodical manipulation of inputs, constraints, and scenarios.

This is precisely the type of environment ProModel has created with the Naval Synchronization Toolset.  Our software development team has designed and implemented a customized web-enabled tool which allows its users to build, test, and present courses of action which source Navy Squadrons to Air Wings, and Air Wings to Aircraft Carriers.  The result is a Master Aviation Plan (MAP) which bridges 30 years of sourcing decisions and is “THE” plan for Naval Aviation to support the CNO’s Navigation Plan.  Additionally, we have provided an integrated decision support tool to the FA-18 Class Desk for effectively managing the aircraft inventory well into the future.

The Aircraft Inventory Management (AIM) tool provides the users with the forward-leaning ability to move individual aircraft between squadrons in order to extend the life of legacy FA-18 aircraft (A-D) and proactively manage the current and future compliment of FA-18 E/F aircraft 30 years into the future.

NST is a “sandbox” which allows users to continually refine COA’s in order to support the strategic needs of the Navy while considering constraints imposed by budget uncertainty, unplanned contingency operation demands, and the “rudder” of our Navy’s key stakeholders.  Through harnessing the power of simulation we have provided a decision support tool that is proactive, not reactive, is risk-free, and ultimately provides decision makers a tool to
“navigate by”.

Myself and Mitch Todd (Sr. Software Architect for NST) touring aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Norfolk VA.

Myself and Mitch Todd (Sr. Software Architect for NST) touring aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Norfolk VA.

ProModel’s DST Summer Tour

This summer ProModel has been out on the road offering up training to Army soldiers and civilians looking to manage the distribution and redistribution of Army equipment with ProModel’s custom made Lead Materiel Integrator- Decision Support Tool (DST).   Subject matter experts from the Army Sustainment Command (ASC), the Logistic Support Activity (LOGSA) and ProModel, have been conducting materiel management training and exercise (MMTE) events around the country.  Army users are leveraging the power of DST to predict Army requirements over time and help make more cost effective decisions on distribution of equipment.

The team kicked off the MMTE at Fort Bragg, North Carolina training 150 users from United States Army Forces Command, United States Army Special Operations Command and the United States Army Reserve Command.  Other training sites so far include JBLM Washington, Fort Campbell Kentucky, and Fort Belvoir Virginia.

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Training at JBLM Washington

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Training at JBLM Washington

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Training at Ft. Campbell Kentucky

Fast Food Drive-Thru, 2 lanes faster than 1?

Dan Hickman

Dan Hickman – ProModel Chief Technology Officer

Have you noticed that many of the new fast food restaurants have 2 drive-thru lanes.  My first experience with one I thought “wow, really?”.  I found myself frozen with confusion.   My wife saved me by pointing to the left lane.  Similar to choosing a restaurant or a movie, I now can blame her if the car behind me gets the food first.

My car reached the ordering sign.  I am terrible at ordering fast food.  Even though I drive 99% of the time, my wife will lean over me and shout the order through my window.  There are just too many details my over-indulged kids care about that the make the process too complicated.  Have you ever communicated the perfect order only to be replied with “sir, can you repeat that?”.  AHHH.

To my surprise, I noticed all cars converge on a single “pay” window.  2 lanes should be faster than one, right?  I thought it would be interesting to model the typical fast food drive-thru process comparing 1 versus 2 lanes.

Results

The poll results and comments are very interesting. Most people feel 2 lanes versus 1 makes no difference but not all agree. This validates why I wanted to build a simple model and see what I could learn. I created this model to have fun and encourage readers to not take the results too seriously. I do think the model is a great start to an iterative approach of building a much more complex drive thru model though. You learn a lot in building a process model and I have come to appreciate the subtle details necessary to fully model a drive thru.

Here is a video of me running the model and comparing 2 lane versus 1 lane on average time to get your food.

Inputs and Assumptions

My goal was to see how quickly I could capture the general flow of a drive thru and only add details as needed. The model is data driven and a user can easily change the following:

Parameter Default
Number Of Lanes 2
Order Time In Seconds U(30,15)
Percent Pay By Cash 50%
Pay By Credit Card Seconds U(15,5)
Pay By Cash Seconds U(30,5)
Pull Ahead Threshold Seconds 45
Pick Up Food In Seconds U(15,5)
Vehicle Arrival Frequency Minutes E(1)
Vehicle Arrival Quantity 1

Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but I feel representative of the types of things that determine a drive-thru’s process performance. Just to get reasonable defaults I recorded my wait times through various fast food drive-thrus. I also recorded other driver’s times while I was there. Anyone know if drive thru times are publicly available?

I used a Google Map image of a real drive-thru and the distances are to scale to accurately model the impact of vehicle length. The vehicles move 1 mph as they move though the drive-thru queue.

When picking up the food, if the model determines it will take greater than 45 seconds, the car is told to pull ahead and not block the vehicles behind them.

Potential Next Iteration

Even with black boxing the “Get Food” window with a simple, single time distribution, 2 lanes ended up being faster. Had this not been true, I was planning on modeling what specific items a driver orders. I would actually model the kitchen area and the cooking of that restaurant’s menu of items. Drivers would have to wait for their specific ordered items to actually be cooked and ready.

Check Out Dan’s Blog – “Dan’s Green Shoes”:

http://dansgreenshoes.com/

Software User Feedback: Seeing outside of the technical writer’s cube

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Jay Wisnosky – Technical Writer

Rock Island Arsenal is on the Mississippi River between the cities of Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA.  It was first established as a government site in 1816, served as a Civil War prison camp to over 12,000 Confederate prisoners, and now provides manufacturing, logistics and base support for the Armed Forces.

From 15 January through 18 January 2013, Rock Island Arsenal was the training location for ProModel’s Decision Support Tool – Sourcing Module (DST-SM), with the focus trainees being a group from the United States Army Materiel Command (AMC). AMC is the primary provider of materiel to the United States Army. DST-SM is a web-based software application developed by ProModel and designed to assist AMC and other logisticians in the Army to plan the best possible decisions for materiel distribution across the world. As the technical documentation specialist for DST-SM, it is a collaboration with which I am very proud to be associated, so I welcomed the opportunity to attend these training sessions.

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to interact with the customers of one of our products. If you are a technical writer, you know that much of the interaction and feedback from customers comes filtered through your company’s support team, consultants or other subject matter experts. It sometimes takes a journalist’s tenacity, a quality assurance analyst’s patience, and a politician’s handshake to get information about the technical details of your product. The end result is typically a user manual, which if done well, is quietly referenced and met with very little acclaim.

So on the first day of training at Rock Island Arsenal, I sat as a quiet observer in the back of the training room with notepad in hand, ready for class to begin. By 8:30 a.m., a blend of enlisted soldier and civilian trainees had taken their places behind secure computer monitors. The DST-SM trainer introduced the guests, a mixture of contractors and ProModel employees, to the classroom.

When he introduced me, I felt a rush of fear and pride swell in my chest. He stated my name and title and then added a note, informing the class that I was the author of the previous bound copy of the user manual that was distributed to many of them with the summer release of DST-SM. He added that with this new release the user manual was now online as a new feature and view-able at any given moment from the Help option in the main menu. I felt their staring eyes turn in my direction for a moment, before the trainer continued to his first segment of the session.

Whatever fear of scrutiny I had slowly disappeared as I watched several students reference the online help throughout the course of the training session.  In addition, the trainees regularly turned to me to ask questions about a certain function or screen. Their questions ranged from process-related questions to inquiries about the tool’s usability and performance. Though I couldn’t explain to them how to perform their job, I felt confident helping the trainees navigate the application.  I saw new users of the tool gain confidence and experienced users pick up on the new features with relative ease.

Perhaps one the most beneficial aspects to being a technical writer in the presence of users during a training session was hearing their suggestions, concerns and obstacles. I took this unique chance to interact with the AMC trainees as a golden opportunity to absorb as much as I possibly could about the usability of DST-SM, as well as the effectiveness of my help documentation. Often, a major oversight in developing, testing, and documenting any application is how close we grow to our own process and application. However, through the fresh eyes of a new user, using the tool in a manner familiar to their specific job, you get to see where gaps in the documentation exist and where room for usability can improve. So as we were helping them do their jobs, they were helping us do ours. As the morning progressed, I saw the many hours of hard work by DST-SM developers, product managers, program directors, and testers, finally coming to fruition.

I considered the experience both gratifying and inspiring. The AMC trainees used the help in accordance with the trainer’s instructions and in conjunction with the practical exercises at the end of each session.

The inspiring part is about moving forward with an added perspective and incentive. There’s no doubt having that kind of experience will lend to a stronger, more useful product on the page and in the application. Observing how investments in money, time, and effort are manifest in real world scenarios outside the walls of my cubicle is something that every technical writer imagines, but rarely gets a chance to witness.