Beyond the Pyramid: Using ISA95 for Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing

  • By Dennis Brandl, Charlotta Johnsson
  • Smart Manufacturing (Industry 4.0)

The ISA95 (IEC 62264) standards have an important place in the Industry 4.0 smart factories of the future. The key is an extended ISA95 activity model.

From their inception 20 years ago, the ISA95 Enterprise-Control System Integration standards have sought to solve an important industrial business issue: normalizing integration practices between isolated enterprise and control systems. Now well-established and well-adopted, ISA95 continues to provide, among other things, a functional hierarchy defining activities within a manufacturing organization. That hierarchical model has traditionally taken the form of a pyramid. 

More recently, Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing have arrived. They aim to advance manufacturing through the establishment of intelligent products and smart production processes, as well as through vertically and horizontally integrated manufacturing systems. Can the well-accepted pyramid be changed for another architectural design, such as a modern network-structured architecture, without losing compliance to ISA95? Absolutely. Here is how to leverage your ISA95 knowledge to build an Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing platform to support industrial advances.

ISA95 modeling

Today’s manufacturing activities can be organized into various lifecycles that have at their center a “Make” or “Operate” step (figure 1). These lifecycles, which include supply chain, product, asset, order to cash, and security management, converge in operations. There are other intersections of lifecycles in manufacturing organizations; however, this article focuses on the “operations” intersection.

Figure 1. Manufacturing lifecycles converge in operations, in the “Make” stage.
The ISA95 functional model (figure 2) divides the activities required by a manufacturing system into five levels depending on the time horizon of the functionalities—without consideration of the systems supporting the functionality. Some functions are time critical, such as real-time control with cycles in micro- or milliseconds, and others are less time critical with resolution in weeks or days.

Figure 2. The ISA95 functional model (left) is more traditionally presented as a pyramid.
Even though it is not imposed by the ISA95 standard, one traditional implementation of the ISA95 functional model into a physical architecture is a pyramidal network-and-system architectural structure. Placing the functional model pyramid where the lifecycles intersect at operations, we get the diagram shown in figure 3.
Figure 3. Manufacturing lifecycles intersect with ISA functional model

Tomorrow’s manufacturing

Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing is often presented as the fourth industrial revolution, coming after steam-powered mechanical machines, electrically powered mass production, and electronically/IT-powered automated manufacturing. This fourth revolution promises similar advances in efficiency and will be powered by intelligent products and smart production processes, as well as by vertically and horizontally integrated manufacturing systems.

The improvements are explained by the following definition of smart manufacturing (from ISO resolution 114/2017): “Manufacturing that improves its performance aspects with integrated and intelligent use of processes and resources in cyber, physical and human spheres to create and deliver products and services, which also collaborates with other domains within an enterprise’s value chains.”

The fourth industrial revolution emerges from major recent advances in technology:

  • Data storage is no longer a barrier (cloud storage).
  • New algorithms for processing are being developed (machine learning and artificial intelligence).
  • Computational power is fast enough to process large amounts of data in reasonable amounts of time (big data).
  • Devices, items, and things can actively send and receive data, and can be equipped with Internet connections (Internet of Things [IoT]).
  • Wireless data transfer is possible with the same or better performance as wired data transfer (5G).
  • Standards are being developed that enable interoperability (ISO, IEC, and ITU).

These improvements will make tomorrow’s manufacturing systems more advanced than today’s systems. Ultimately, Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing should result in more rapid product development, facilitated customized production, improved handling of complex production and testing environments, more efficient supply chains, better use of production resources, and more holistic lifecycle management.

Holistic lifecycle management is a central concept; the interoperability between the phases in each respective lifecycle is vital; and the feedback within and between lifecycles is crucial. For example, smart order-to-cash management will interact seamlessly with smart supply chain management; smart personnel management will work seamlessly to provide just-in-time training with smart product lifecycles; and smart security will work seamlessly with smart manufacturing assets.

Evolution of models

Because Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing will result in such profound advances, it makes sense that tomorrow’s manufacturing systems will look fundamentally different from those of today. One assumption is that traditional architecture—the hierarchical pyramid—will be replaced by a network structured architecture (figure 4).

Figure 4. Model evolution: Hierarchical pyramid structure (left) to network structured architecture (right).
Can the concepts of ISA95 that have been well understood and accepted in industry be used in the context of Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing? Yes, by “simply” replacing the hierarchical pyramid with the networked activity model that is also defined in the ISA95 Part 3 standard (figure 5).

Figure 5. Manufacturing lifecycles supported by a network structured architecture.
The ISA95 activity model defines the specific activities that must occur in a manufacturing organization, but without reference to systems that implement the activities. For example, a smart physical asset may include sensors, actuators, real-time control, recipe management, optimized scheduling, internal data analysis, and reports. An alternate implementation architecture may support these activities in separate devices. The activities are consistent, while the systems that support them will change and evolve over time.

Therefore, to successfully implement a network-structured architecture, it is helpful to have an extended ISA95 activity model as well as a smart manufacturing reference model. Smart manufacturing reference models are used to describe crucial aspects of Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing and indicate how the aspects relate to each other. 

The reference model RAMI 4.0 from Germany consists of a three-dimensional coordinate system and includes aspects from ISA95. Other models, originating from other nations, include the Scandinavian Smart Industry Model (Sweden-Norway), Smart Value Chain Initiative (Japan and China), and the NIST-model (U.S.). 

Extended ISA95 activity model

The “activity models” shown in figures 6 and 7 illustrate an extension of the ISA95 activity model, which covers all the activities that must occur from the sensors and actuators used to control the physical equipment to the activities that interface with order-to-cash and supply-chain management activities. Each oval in the figures represents an activity as a set of tasks that need to be performed. These can be performed manually, or they can be automated in a smart manufacturing environment. There may be multiple devices and systems implementing some, all, part, or even overlapping parts of the activities in a network of systems and devices.

The physical systems supporting the activities operate in the “new networked architecture” illustrated in figure 4. That networked architecture includes edge devices that implement the fast response activities, and may also support other, less time-critical activities. The devices communicate using accepted and robust communication standards that enable plug-and-play interoperability.

Figure 6. This networked reference architecture for operations in a manufacturing organization is an extension of the ISA95 Activity model. Each oval represents an activity as a set of tasks.
Figure 7. The networked architecture often includes low-level sub-activities implemented in edge or IIoT devices.

Final thoughts

This article aims to provide information concerning the use of ISA95 in an Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing context. The ISA95 standards provide users with a functional hierarchy defining the specific activities that must occur in a manufacturing organization. The hierarchy indicates the relative time horizons for the activities but gives no indications of how they should be implemented nor what architectural structure should be used. 

Traditionally, the activities have been implemented through a hierarchical pyramid architecture, but this could be changed for another architectural design, such a modern network-structured architecture, without losing compliance to ISA95. 

Our belief is that, through the ongoing global collaborations spanning companies, organizations, and nations regarding both the ISA95 standard and smart manufacturing reference models, it will be clear how users can leverage ISA95 knowledge to build Industry 4.0/smart manufacturing platforms.

More information

For more about ISA95, smart manufacturing, and Industry 4.0, refer to these resources: 

  • Acatech (2016) “Industrie 4.0: International Benchmark, Options for the Future, and Recommendations for Manufacturing Research”
  • Dotoli M. et al. (2018) “An overview of current technologies and emerging trends in factory automation,” International Journal of Production Research
  • IEC (2015) “Factory of the future” whitepaper 
  • ISO/IEC (2013) “ISO/IEC 62264-1:2013 Enterprise-control system integration Part1: Models and terminology” ISO standard
  • Johnsson C. (2004) “ISA95 – How and where can it be applied?” whitepaper
  • Johnsson C. and Brandl D. (2017) “Introduction to Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0” whitepaper
  • Lu Y. et al (2015) “Current Standards Landscape for Smart Manufacturing Systems” NIST, NISTIR8107
  • MESA (2016) “Smart Manufacturing: the landscape explained” whitepaper #52

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About The Authors

Dennis Brandl is the chief consultant for BR&L Consulting, specializing in manufacturing IT and flexible manufacturing solutions. He has been involved in MES, batch control, and automation system design and implementation in a wide range of applications over the past 30 years. Brandl is an active member of the ISA88 Batch Control System committee, the ISA95 Enterprise/Control System Integration committee, and the ISA99 Cyber System Security committee. Brandl has a BS in physics and an MS in measurement and control from Carnegie-Mellon University, and an MS in computer science from California State University.


Charlotta Johnsson is a professor in the department of Automatic Control at Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, Sweden. Her research focus is manufacturing operations, industrial IT, and smart manufacturing. Johnsson is also the chair of ISO TC184 SC5 (industrial interoperability) and is involved in several standardization activities, such as ISA95 and ISA88. Since January 2021, Johnsson has been the dean for Campus Helsingborg, Lund University.