I spent the day in Dallas, visiting a division of Northrop Grumman - their IT solutions group. These guys have a very cool Cincom Smalltalk (VisualWorks) manufacturing support application they call MES (Manufacturing Execution System).
It does a ton of stuff to manage the quality and execution of jobs in what they call "slow manufacturing". In this case, that means aerospace and ship-building (as opposed to assembly line car production, where things move very quickly. Cars roll off the line fast - a modern naval ship can take years to build. Airplanes, helicoptors (etc.) take less time, but are still much bigger (and slower) jobs.
They started building this application a long while back, in VW 3.0. They are just now getting it migrated to the latest (7.4) release - and they are very pleased with it. They gave me a tour of the application, and peppered me with questions about our roadmap - I didn't have time for the plant tour (our marketing person, Suzanne, got one - I'm jealous!). It would have been very cool to see BlackHawks getting put together, with all the shop floor PC's running their Cincom Smalltalk application.
Funny thing is, they told me there's quite a market for this kind of thing - an awful lot of shops are still heavily paper and spreadsheet bound (shades of what other customers have told me about financial services applications). They are also investigating some nifty handhelds - Rudy Morales, the project manager, showed me one of the military grade ones - by throwing it onto a table! Very cool device, that one.
Fun day, even if it started off way too early. next time, I'm making time for the plant tour :)