1 September 2005
Managing technology's ripple effect
By Steve Ludwig
Like a stone thrown into a pond, changes made to a single machine or production line ripple through all applications connected to it. But when operations rely on a different control platform for each application, including process, motion, drives, sequential, safety, and batch, the ripple effect often sends small waves of data throughout a manufacturing enterprise that are difficult to understand or use properly. Operations with multiple disciplines want to migrate toward a common control platform to improve information flow between applications.
To best match an application's need, from tracking raw ingredients to rapidly packaging the end product, each control environment has historically relied on a different control platform.
The added cost of this silo approach can be steep, but more unforgiving is the lost opportunity to achieve a truly integrated enterprise. Integration is critical as it enables the ultimate goal: Sharing information for real-time decision making.
Up and over
There are two levels of enterprise integration, horizontal and vertical. Horizontal integration involves tying the floor of a manufacturing plant (as well as the business side of the enterprise) together through automation. Vertical integration refers strictly to the flow of information from the simplest sensor on the plant floor to the company's management systems. This occurs via the seamless connectivity of industrial and commercial networks, as well as manufacturing execution system solutions that turn plant floor data into actionable information. The main goal of vertical integration is to increase productivity and customer service by reducing "friction" and gathering information in real time.
Unfortunately, friction and fractured, disjointed business decisions are common. At the heart of this problem is the disparate technology used throughout the manufacturing environment.
In some facilities, operators must view multiple screens from multiple sources and manually tie the information together. Production and supply chain changes are also difficult to accommodate. Should a packaging machine break down and maintenance needs to get a call, the process side may continue to run at full speed, creating an overflow of product.
The drive for maximum productivity and quality at minimum costs is a huge challenge for today's manufacturers. As a result, effective coordination in the factory coupled with better information sharing will become a key requirement for survival.
To meet this requirement, plant managers are seeing the need to migrate away from proprietary control systems. These architectures are expensive to create and difficult to maintain. In most cases, if you need to make a change, a facility must rely on the knowledge base of a single engineer, team, or outside vendor. As a result, DCS systems can not help manufacturers in multi-discipline environments.
Alternate control platforms each have deficiencies of their own that make them unsuitable candidates for enterprise-wide adoption. Meanwhile, the need for a common platform across the enterprise persists. Enter Program-mable Automation Controllers (PACs).
These controllers (January's InTech feature "Welcome PAC"), offer a new type of control. They are essentially PLCs, but with DCS and PC capabilities, including a more modern memory model, stronger data handling capabilities, and key advancements for process control. PACs address a full range of automation application needs, as well as information integration with the rest of the plant.
There are specific requirements that a PAC must meet to fill this role. First, the control platform must support multi-discipline capabilities, including process, sequential, motion, safety, drives, and information platforms. It also must be able to support all languages in a common programming environment. The platform needs to provide connectivity to existing hardware to minimize switching costs and provide network connectivity for vertical integration.
With a common control platform, you can unify an enterprise with a single, integrated architecture. Sharing actionable information, in a format that best suits the purpose.
A common, open platform in a multi-discipline environment reduces engineering and implementation time, response times, maintenance costs, and downtime.
Behind the byline
Steve Ludwig is the marketing and business development manager for Process Systems business of Rockwell Automation in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. He has been a member of ISA since 1986. His phone number is (440) 646-5000.
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