Fifth Year IBM Field Study

By Toyah O’Connell



AIMS: The aim of this field study was to take IBM in Blanchardstown and to examine in detail the manufacturing and service parts of the factory. This is a very broad aim and it had to be broken down into a number of objectives.

(1) To carry out the background research in a number of areas.
(a) the history of computing.
(b) the history of IBM.
(c) the history of the development of the factory in Blanchardstown.
(d) It was also decided to get some Ordnance Survey maps of the area as well as greater maps of the Dublin area.
(2) To determine the location factors that influenced IBM to locate here.
(3) To analyse the manufacturing part of the factory in terms of a system i.e. inputs, processes, outputs. It was hoped that detailed statistics would be available here, showing amount of raw materials , number of workers , size of the plant etc.
(4) To look at the type and structure of the services department within the company and to find out e g. what services are being provided? What qualifications are needed? What training takes place?
(5) To investigate the impact factories have on local communities.
(6) To write up a detailed field study report with aims , methods , results , conclusion and Bibliography.

(1) Aims are important because there is limited time for this project. The class had to be absolutely certain about what they were going to study. Aims give a focus.
(2) Aims also suggest methods. In this case the aims indicated that a questionnaire linked observation and an interview would be suitable methods.
(3) The act as a checklist at the end.

A large amount of preparation needed to take place in the class before we were able to visit the IBM plant. This preparation took place during the first term (especially during Oct/ Nov ) and can be divided into the following areas:
(1) Obtaining maps from the Ordnance Survey.
(2) Construction of a questionnaire
(3) Background research on the history of computing and IBM.
(4) Completion of a letter to IBM Dublin or IBM in the United States.
The first part of preparation involved getting the Ordnance Survey maps. The maps were obtained from two different places:
(1) Riversdale Community College
(2) The Phoenix Park Ordnance Survey office
The school supplied the class with a map from a previous Junior Certificate Examination. The scale of the map was 2cm = 1km. The main office at the Phoenix Park provided the class with a large scale map of the Dublin 15 area.

The questionnaire was first discussed in class on the 15th October 1998.Each question was written up on the blackboard. The running order and sections were then decided. There was a total of twenty questions in this particular questionnaire. These were divided up into five different sections. The following are the headings of each section:
Section (1): General questions about IBM
Section (2): IBM and Dublin
Section (3): Manufacturing at the Blanchardstown factory
Section (4): The Service Department in IBM in Blanchardstown
Section (5): The future of IBM in Blanchardstown and the impact on the local community. The questionnaire was taken down roughly at first and then each student individually designed the structure of it onto A4 pages. On the 24th of October the class typed and printed out the questionnaire in the computer room in the school.
The following are a few examples of some of the questions:
(1) What does IBM stand for?
(2) When and why did you decide to set up in Dublin?
(3) Where do you see the plant in five years time?

The class was divided up into two sections .One section of the class were given the task of writing a letter to IBM in the USA while the remaining section were to write to IBM in Dublin. Students who wrote to IBM in the USA hoped to receive information about the company in general e.g. what does IBM stand for? On the other hand those who wrote to IBM in the Dublin area expected some information on the actual plant here in Dublin e.g. when and why did IBM set up in Dublin? Each student wrote out their own letter roughly in the classroom and on the 23rd of October 1998 the letters were typed and printed out.

The following information about the history of computing was obtained from the school and local library as well as the Internet.
From one of our main sources of information the class obtained the following definition: A computer is an electronic device that can receive a set of instructions, or program, and then carry out this program by performing calculations on numerical data or by compiling and correlating other forms of information.
At the beginning of the 20th century the first Analog computers were built. The early models calculated by means of rotating shafts and gears. In the 1940s, a Harvard University mathematician, Howard Aiken, created the first digital computer.
In the 1960s the integrated circuit (IC) was introduced to the market which was followed by the large scale integrated circuit (LSI) in the mid 1970s. Further developments were made when the very large scale integrated circuit (VLSI) was produced. These computers were able to check eight switches \ bits of data at a time which is known as a byte.
The development of processors that can handle 16, 32, and 64 bits of data at a time has increased the overall speed of computers. The total list of operations which a computer is capable of carrying out is known as the instruction set. The size of the instruction set as well as the number of bits of data a computer can handle continue to increase with the ongoing development of modern digital computers.
The following information about the history and present state of IBM was obtained from the school/local library. In particular IBM had an excellent website at http:///
IBM was incorporated in the state of New York on 15 June, 1911. At that time the company was called the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. Thomas J. Watson was President of the firm. He expanded the business to Europe, South America, Asia and Australia and consequently the company was renamed the International Business Machines Corporation or IBM in 1924.During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the company continued to grow while the rest of the U.S. economy floundered.
World War 2 marked IBM’s first step towards computing as the product line expanded to include bombsights, rifles and engine parts for the U.S. government.
In 1952 Thomas Watson passed the title of president onto his son, Thomas Watson Junior. He was just like his father and he foresaw the role computers would play in business, and he pushed IBM to meet the challenge. During his time at IBM, revenue grew from £900 million to £8 billion and the number of employees rose from 72,500 to 270,000.On 7th April 1964, IBM introduced the System/360, the first large “family” of computers to use interchangeable software. This was followed by the IBM 305 Random Access Method of Accounting and Control (RAMAC) which was the first computer disk storage system. In 1971 the floppy disc was produced and it became the standard for storing personal computer data.
A new era of computing began for IBM when John R. Opel was appointed CEO in 1981,and in that same year the company started off the PC revolution when they introduced the Personal Computer. However, IBM lost control of the market when other companies started cloning their PC design. A number of steps were taken to prevent splitting up the company which included rebuilding the product line, continuing to shrink the workforce and making significant cost reductions.
The following information was taken from a letter written by Louis V. Gerstner JR. (the chairman ) telling the shareholders about the state of the company in 1997.The overall message in this letter is that IBM now recognise the mistakes they made in the past and that their comeback is on track.
In 1997 15,000 people joined the IBM services. Software and hardware revenue grew 4 per in constant currency. There was a significant growth in sales of IBM technology and components to other companies, many of them competitors to the company. They announced plans to expand the global network of research laboratories by establishing an eight one in India.
Their aim at IBM is to return to industry leadership. They realise that their customers and business partners are looking for someone to lead and this is what they intend to do.
(2) The college has a few connections with IBM. In September 1998 the college set up a PLC course in connection with the company. Students that took this course spend 1 day a week in IBM Blanchardstown on work experience. So it was easy to get permission to go and see the plant and get information on IBM.
(3) Being indoors and not that far from the school gave us freedom to when we could go and visit the plant without weather conditions being a problem.
QUESTION (3): WHAT WE DID IN THE FIELD? Data was collected in the field in the following ways :
(1) Lecture from IBM management
(2) Completion of questionnaire
(3) Trip to the Storage Systems Division
(4) Chairman’s address
On Friday 29th January 1999 from 10-11 0 Clock a lecture was given in the library by Martin 0 Mara who is the manager of the Micro Electronics Division. He is originally from Vermont in the USA and has been working for IBM for the last 35 years. He was assigned by IBM to find an appropriate location for a new vast technology campus and after researching a number of countries around the world e.g. Thailand, he decided to come to Ireland. Mr. O Mara plans to leave IBM next year however, he stresses that he has no intentions of fully retiring yet.
The lecture itself took the following steps:
(1) Personal details about Mr. O Mara
(2) History and growth of IBM
(3) IBM in Ireland – past, present and future
(4) Martin O Mara”s role in the Micro Electronics Division of IBM
A number of notes were taken by each student during the lecture.
After the lecture time was allowed (approximately 30 mins.) for a questions and answers session. Half of the questions had already been answered during the lecture while the remaining 10 questions were answered during the session. All answers were written on the questionnaire sheet. Mr. O Mara also mentioned the IBM website at http: //www. IBM com. He explained how it was a valuable source to obtain information from and he advised the class to look at the chairmans address to the shareholders for the year 1998 which had just come out the previous day.
The Storage Systems Division is one of five of the existing parts of the factory, each one a separate building. As part of the Transition Year course last year the class visited the Micro Electronics Division. The class were taken through the factory and shown the equipment and different machinery used to test the semi- conductors. The actual semi-conductors are made in the East from silicon wafers. If the semi-conductor passes all the tests and checks , it is then a finished product and is vacuum sealed .
However, the Storage Systems Division is a more hi-tech factory that makes magnetic disks for harddrives. The class visited the SSD on 4th February 1999. Firstly, the manager gave a talk in the boardroom explaining how the factory is run, informed us of the different machinery and equipment used and what the inputs, processes and outputs of the factory are. The class were then taken through the actual factory itself to see the processes in operation. Notes and sketches were taken showing a rough layout of the factory. Afterwards there was a questions and answers session in the boardroom where some refreshments were laid out for the class.
When the class returned to the school further information was gathered through the IBM Website at http : // www. IBM. com.
The class looked at the 1998 chairman’s address to the shareholders which had been released on Tuesday 26th 1999.
The results can be examined under the following headings:
(1) IBM : history and growth
(2) IBM in Dublin and Ireland
(3) The plant at Ballycoolin
A lot of the information heard in the field had already been covered in the background research however, additional information was found, for example:
(1) In 1998 IBM made a profit of £80 billion
(2) There are 20-25 manufacturing plants world wide
(3) IBM operate in every country except India and Cuba
(4) The company employ over 200,000 people world wide
(5) The chairman Louis V. Gestner joined IBM in 1993 after working with Nabisco for a number of years.
(6) In 1998 IBM gave a 2 for 1 stock option to the shareholders as the company was doing so well.
IBM became involved with Ireland when they started selling IBM machines to companies in Cork and Belfast. In December 1996 however, IBM decided to set up a Micro Electronics Division here in Dublin. They had a choice between Dublin and Thailand. The reasons they chose Dublin were:
(1) The IDA offered good tax breaks
(2) Ireland is recognised as being “ business friendly”
(3) The workforce in Ireland are very skilled and educated
The plant has expanded and another 5 divisions have set up on what now is a vast technology campus. Another 2 plants are being built at present.

The site at Ballycoolin was chosen because as the map shows:
(1) There is plenty of available land
(2) The site is close to the M50
(3) It is also close to Dublin port and to the airport
(4) The local estates offered a workforce.( see map )
The Storage Systems Division
The manager of the Storage Systems Division is Arno Helgen. The building was completed on 1st June 1998. In 1997 the company employed a total of 40 people and by 1998 staff numbers rose to over 265. In the Storage Systems Division they are manufacturing drives for mainframes and microcomputers such as laptops. The plant is divided into a number of sections including a clean room (West Side ) and the production support area ( East Side ). The clean room is considered to be very significant because the production of disks must have sterile conditions, otherwise data is lost and the disk is damaged. There are a number of processes involved in the coating of the magnetic disks for harddrives:
(1) Batching: large numbers of raw aluminium disks are put together in blocks.
(2) Prewash: disks are washed in chalised water solution that prepares them for magnetic coating.
(3) Sputter: this is an important process. Disks are coated in ionized metal and carbon , which are evaporated onto the disk itself.
(4) Post wash: disks are cleaned again
(5) Lube: the disks put are into a lubricant bath
(6) FTP: the disks get a final polish
(7) Testing: there are two stages in this process:
?  (a) the lazer test
?  (b) the visual test where a computer takes photographs of the actual disks.
In their first half year of business the Storage Systems Division made £1/2 million, by the year 2000 the company hope to make a profit of £32 million. The plant itself is very sufficent.
From our studies the following can be concluded:
(1) IBM was a good choice for a field study as it was an excellent case study of a manufacturing industry.
(2) It was learnt that IBM are a very significant company worldwide with an increasing profit of £80 billion a year.
(3) The class also learnt the complexity and variety of location factors that determined IBM’s decision to set up here.
At present the company have a huge impact here in Ireland, employing over 2,000 people. Another important factor is that IBM have made a promise to the Irish government that they are here for the long term which may result in more jobs and could help boost the Irish economy.
QUESTION (5) (one of the following)
(1) A huge problem the class encountered was the lack of information on IBM in both the school and local libraries and what they did have was out of date. The class overcame this particular problem by writing to IBM in both Dublin and the United States, consequently receiving information by mail. The class also searched on the Internet on the IBM site at http:///www. It proved to be a valuable resource.
(2) Because IBM are exceptionally busy we had to wait until it suited them before we went to visit the plant. This timetable problem was dealth with by completing the entire initial work i.e. background research, letters etc. during the first term. This meant that we were ready in January when they called.
(1) Do the exact same field study in 2, 3, 5 years time and compare it against the results of the 1998/1999 field study.
(2) Do the same field study on a different company such as Symantec and compare its manufacturing and impact on the local area and how many they employ.
(1) I learned how to construct a questionnaire and how to carry out a survey in the field.
(2) I learned how to carry out background research.
(3) I learned how to write up a geographical field study with aims, methods, results, conclusions and I also learned how to put together a bibliography.
(4) I learned a number of computer skills for example using Windows 95/98, as well as software such as Microsoft word and word pad (these were used to type up the letters and reports).