1 April 2005
OMAC moves ahead
Strategy, structure built into new venture.
By Ellen Fussell
Building on established resources is one of the main advantages OMAC–The Open Modular Architecture Control Users' Group sees from its merger with ISA–The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society. OMAC will gain an infrastructure "to help us manage our program," said Andy McDonald, OMAC co-chair and supply chain project manager at Unilever in Trumbull, Conn.
Formed in 1997, OMAC created a venue where companies could work together to establish a repository of open architecture control requirements and operating experiences. The goal was to more quickly merge industry- and government-developed application program interfaces (API) to one set. Collaborating with European and Japanese user groups allowed the group to pursue a common international API standard. The goals then evolved to promote open architecture control development among control builders and derive common solutions for technical and non-technical issues in developing, implementing, and commercializing open architecture control technologies.
OMAC has three main working groups: machine tools, manufacturing infrastructure, which includes architecture and the Microsoft Manufacturing Users' Group (MMUG), and packaging.
The packaging group holds hopes of harmonizing process packaging guidelines into manufacturing guidelines. McDonald said the packaging group has built a strategy, part of which is to leverage the work of the World Batch Forum (WBF) and to work with the ISA-SP88 committee to support industries like consumer packaged goods, he said. "The make-to-pack group is looking at synergies between the worlds of processing and packaging," McDonald said. One goal is to link into the batch standard committee (ISA-SP88) and work toward building standards.
"I think the OMAC group has been pretty successful at developing guidelines around the packaging industry," said Jim Ramsey, packaging workgroup chair and director of manufacturing systems optimization at Hershey Foods Corp. in Hershey, Pa. "We've had a motivated group working on that material for a few years. But what we lack is some of the structure and exposure that ISA can afford us." Ramsey said the working group could also benefit from the "discipline of how to move a guideline into a standard. And if we get to the point of doing compliance testing, I think ISA can bring the capability of getting the message out in different ways, through InTech or through conferences they have that will help broaden our reach."
Since ISA has been more on the processing side, and OMAC has been working on the discrete part of the business, "there are some good synergies to gain a better appreciation for what's happening on both sides of that wall," Ramsey said. "We want to take that wall down. The make-to-pack group is looking at some of the learning we've had through packaging and bringing it back into the processing side." The goal is to take some of what OMAC has learned from the packaging workgroup and what ISA has done in the batch world and "merge that thinking together to bring more definition to the batching standards of ISA-88—the experts," he said.
The focus of the manufacturing infrastructure working group is to develop control system architecture documents to help end users develop strategies. People are getting interested in integration of business systems into the plant floor, which is exactly the realm of ISA-95, McDonald said. "So there's an opportunity to take the ISA-95 work and put that into other industries or to work with other industries like automotive." That also leaves the door open for manufacturing infrastructure groups to leverage ISA-95 work.
The overall working group is the umbrella for the architecture working group and the MMUG, which actively deals with Microsoft related issues. "Now we're talking about possible projects, radio frequency identification (RFID), and how it potentially fits into the ISA-SP95 structure," McDonald said.
The architecture group wants to develop the OMAC architecture, which deals with how the manufacturing plant or environment control systems transfer information back and forth and how to connect from controller to devices or components on the manufacturing floor and interact with IT systems. Version 1.0 of the OMAC architecture document describes the various parts and what industry practices or the future state should be. The architecture group is revising some of those parts.
Microsoft users group
MMUG identified a need to have better security in plant control systems. "That's what the ISA-SP99 committee is all about, so it's only logical we leverage that group rather than reinvent it ourselves," McDonald said.
Bill Cotter, MMUG chair and senior instrumentation specialist at 3M in St. Paul, Minn., said achieving reliability is just one of the committee's goals. "That means working with Microsoft on the operating system and how long it lasts and how to install it properly," Cotter said. "The key thing there is to see if we can have a standard install that will be more identifiable and easier to support and more well-defined so patches can be geared to a more limited set of functions." The group is also working on patch management "to focus on how we handle patches, improving the process, and making sure Microsoft, vendors, and users are aligned," he said.
"I think the industry is cycling through periods of boom and bust. In the last three or four years, people have tightened budgets, so it's harder to get people to spend time on strategic issues like architecture," said David McCoy, Boeing associate technical fellow, advanced manufacturing and quality systems in St. Louis, Mo. "We've gone through periods where industry has leaned down to a minimum number of employees so people take on more work before they're hiring more. I thinking we're transitioning into a new period."
Part of the transition strategy is a vision called picture to part. The idea is you can design a component in 3D, and then take that information and automatically create the program of the computer numerical control (CNC) machine that will actually make the part. Shepherds of this idea include companies such as Boeing, Caterpillar, GM, Pratt and Whitney, and Rolls Royce. It's all part of an initiative called STEP-NC, an extension of the standard for the exchange of product model data (STEP). STEP is an international standard specifying a neutral data format for digital information about a product. STEP allows different and otherwise incompatible computer platforms to exchange this data. STEP-NC is a user-driven workgroup to modernize how to program CNC machines more efficiently. The group standardizes how information about CNC machining can add to parts represented in the STEP product model.
"In this technology, everything is on the table right now. The best practices to CNC could be adapted to process industries there and vice versa," said Sid Venkatesh, the Machine Tool working group chair and associate technical fellow for Boeing in Seattle, Wash. "Right now, CNC is focused on islands of automation in the metal cutting area. But we can take the best practices from the CNC area and adapt them appropriately to the process industry," Venkatesh said.
OMAC is trying to set standards, so the merger makes sense because it helps OMAC more easily disseminate the information they gather. It's "where people would look first," Cotter said. "But the most important thing is access to more people who are interested in discussing architecture," McCoy said.