January 2008

Web Exclusive

Convergence of IT, Automation

A united front between the two departments could lead to big manufacturing gains

Fast Forward

  • Lack of a clear definition of who is responsible for what in the organization inevitably leads to dysfunction.
  • Organizations remain frozen in the 1980s: IT reports to finance; Automation to maintenance.
  • Categorize MES as information automation technology-at the point where IT and AT converge.
By Constantino Seixas Filho and Vitor Finkel

When companies find it hard to implement their improvement programs, or to sustain their projects to enhance their assets performance, a governance problem usually lies underneath. 

This issue usually lies in the foundation of the organizational structure. The lack of a clear definition of who is responsible for what in the organizational structure and errors in the functional aspects within the business may lead to dysfunctional problems, sometimes only corrected by surgical means. In these days of multidisciplinary behavior and extensive cooperation among the diverse systems that implement the business, the number of interfaces between disciplines is quite large.

Meanwhile, most companies keep an organizational structure frozen in the 1980s model.  All companies keep an active IT structure, connected to the top of the management organization. In most cases, the IT infrastructure usually reports to the finance department. The automation area, when so defined, often falls under the umbrella of maintenance, and that means connected to an industrial or production management system, segregated from IT. This configuration makes it virtually impossible to implement an integrated production management environment as proposed in standards such ISA95. The basis of ISA95 goes under the concept of good integration between manufacturing and corporate systems integration.

Aligning the business

A modern business process must flow smoothly. In the usual scenario, a client asks about the supply of a certain product within a certain time frame. Then the end user checks the client's credit; planning and production controls verify the client request and accepts the client order committing to quality and schedule. The manufacturer receives the order and then purchases, receives, verifies, and stocks the prime materials.

Make to Stock processes are simple and based on market requirement forecasts.  Today, most manufacturers try to follow a Make to Order model, where production only starts after the order is received, or Engineering to Order, where a design must be completed before the beginning of production starts.  An example of the last process model is a bridge crane purchase.  Before starting to cut steel plates, the drawings have to be generated; and only after mechanical and electrical design, does finished production begin. 

Production models
Complexities of a manufacturing process, per ISA95.

The manufacturing process starts from left to right.  Prime materials transform into more complex products, approaching a client's specifications. Several intermediary products and parts come together, and the manufacturer stocks them in piles (minerals), tanks (chemicals), or warehouses to integrate into the final products.  This first interaction axis is the supply chain (consumables, cpg, chemical industries) or production chain, (mining industries) depending on the type of industry. Cooperation between people and systems is important. A manufacturer needs to manage prime material suppliers; products and services; stocks through warehouse management systems; planning systems and production control that would check the production system's ability to accept or reject a client's order, and the client's satisfaction. An important performance indicator associated with this axe is the fulfillment ratio of delivery schedules that represents the percentage of production orders delivered in-time.

A second interaction lies on the business and manufacturing path. Manufacturing management systems, such as MES or Collaborative Production Management must communicate with the ERP and other systems. This path often defines the boundaries between IT and AT, or automation technology. A common mistake is to assume that below this path, the actions belong to AT, while above it to IT.  In several instances, the product considered as the domain separator is the historian or Process Information Management System (PIMS). The automation domain, according to this definition, would go to (and include) PIMS.  The trouble with this approach is MES, the main level 3 system, would then fall under the IT system, while it is a transition system, between Business and Production domains. In fact, it is really a production system, meaning it deals with production, supplying real time info for its target audience, such as production, maintenance, quality, and environment managers.  Most IT departments have no specific focus or understanding of production processes.  Whoever defines MES functions should understand process constraints at the production level. MES should be better classified as an information automation technology (IAT) system, meaning it is where the IT and AT technologies converge. There is no doubt: MES belongs to level 3, as the ISA95 standard says, but who takes care of level 3 systems [MES, PIMS, Asset management, LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System] Corporate IT, or the Automation area?  Who has the competence to fulfill the job?

The third area under consideration is product lifecycle management, or PLM. The activities here begin with the definition of the business case, conceiving and delineating a project, and verifying its feasibility. It then goes through design, installation, and pre-operation of a production unit, through assets maintenance (the lasting activity), and ends with the unit deactivation at the end of its life cycle.
Most of the interaction between automation and maintenance occurs on this axis. Today, automation makes available several applications that allow for on-line monitoring of instrumentation, control loops, rotating machinery, network assets, computational assets as servers, and client stations. It also allows for several classes of process equipment such as pumps, compressors, heat exchangers, tanks, boilers, filters, and exhaust fans. Automation is responsible for implementing condition-based maintenance, which brings resources to the equipment that will supply accurate diagnostics to minimize downtime.

Interaction between business and manufacturing has come a long way from when ERP companies first entered only offering a connection between technologies. Today, manufacturers have a total integration and synchronization platform between both domains, involving operational dashboards, connectors, and an application development platform in level 3.

Synchronization means creating production planning, sending the production orders to MES, and getting from the MES all events related to business control, such as actual usage of goods and prime materials, total production, energy consumption, real production time, and actual capacities of production equipment. In most ERP and MES implementations, the production order concept does not exist; therefore systems can not operate in a synchronized way. In this situation, what happens is just a periodical data exchange between ERP and MES. This kind of model may derive from a deficient ERP implementation. Or, it could be the result of independent modeling of both domains, due to governance problems. Sometimes the manufacturing level condition is so bad, the idea of integration between ERP and MES ends up being the ultimate utopia.

A good example of the necessity of cooperation can be seen as one of the basic functional aspects of any MES application: Managing production shutdowns. Using screen reports, one should be able to analyze all unplanned downtimes and classify the responsibilities along each stage according to several dimensions. What shutdowns occurred due to mechanical, electrical, operation, or automation problems? In which production shift are they concentrated? Which downtime took more time to come back up? What downtime causes were the most frequent?  Downtime identification, weather simply declaring its symptoms (first level of perception), or the determination of its root cause is a complex activity involving several agents, field operators, control room operators, and maintenance personnel. To assure this activity proceeds correctly, there must be a high degree of collaboration between the involved personnel and systems. 

Operation levels
Systems hierarchy and functions per ISA95.

Level 3 evolution

In order to take advantage of this strong interaction between the levels, all the major automation system suppliers introduced MES system suites.

Automation engineers already working with product from those companies learned how to configure and install the systems. Nevertheless, the ideal profile to develop the activities related to MES is not the purely reliant on IT or AT, but, rather, a mix of both. This new professional, called an Automation and Control Engineer (A&CE) started to pour out of the universities about six years ago. An A&CE is versatile enough to cover subjects associated with automation as well as with IT sciences. This covers control theory, protocols, and industrial communications standards such as OPC and SNMP used for asset management, object oriented concurrent programming, and database application development. They have also good knowledge in industrial process principles and in production engineering. At the same time, electrical and electronics engineers began to look for programs to learn IT basics. It is essential to generate a new professional, proficient in IT and AT, dedicated to industrial processes.

Implementing IAT

A company would need to create an organizational structure that covers the changes needed to obtain a modern quantitative management structure, based on actual indicators, generating actionable information. The company would need:

  • To establish an automation department or similar structure responsible for automation within the company. This department should not go under the maintenance umbrella, but parallel to the IT area, under the same director, which we now call the IAT Director.  The Automation sector drives all actions belonging to this specialty, implementing strategies, deciding on required abilities, standardizing technologies, vendors, products, and service providers, managing the knowledge and best practices, defining benchmarks, generating projects targets and directives, and managing interaction with interfacing areas.
  • Automation specialists that answer to those areas can be kept under the operational structures, but following corporate directives from central automation. This scenario is far from ideal, but is achievable and easier to implement in companies that do not have a strong central automation team. Cooperation between Automation and maintenance is too large, so all automation technicians working in asset management will have a double subordination. The functional subordination will be with the area manager, such as the melting shop, rolling, and plate finishing. The same team is subordinate to AT, while responding to product selection, standards, and team training. Automation technicians should focus on automation issues.  Mechanical and electrical issues bring a higher risk of causing plant shutdown than instrumentation problems.  This leads to the person responsible for maintenance being able to prioritize the greater impact services, leaving instrumentation to a secondary role. That makes it virtually impossible to collect the measurement data required to fully automate the plant operating procedures.  With weighing systems and some instrument and measurement out of operation, it becomes impossible to implement advanced process control, to implement production accounting, to produce mass balances, and even to maintain conventional single loop control in operation. Superior information systems such as PIMS, MES, and asset management are ruined if not fed with correct data. It is impossible to sustain optimized process conditions when most sensors, transmitters, and actuators are not working properly. This requires a specialized, efficient, and dedicated maintenance effort.
  • Intensify Interdisciplinary training. The profile of IAT Engineers demands people having good automation and computer science knowledge. For an automation department to answer well to level 3 challenges, it must have a good supply of professionals with IAT profile.
  • To raise IAT coordinators with the abilities and vision on both areas to be able to negotiate with final users as well as with AT or corporate IT specialists. Those coordinators must be able to manage level 3 projects and define integrated systems architectures that cover from plant floor to ERP interfaces.
  • To grow healthy interfaces between IAT and operation and maintenance. IAT may organize the collection of important KPIs for operation management. A modern vision of governance demands a definition of asset management, energy centers, and operational intelligence centers built by IAT specialists, but operated by the Maintenance and Production personnel. Without an intensive cooperation between IAT and operation areas, it is not possible to attain an integral operation.

Different levels

A novelty in the manufacturing operations schedule is the segregation of Production Chain Management (PCM) and Supply Chain Management (SCM). PCM can be a level 3 activity, under the auspices of automation.  What is then PCM? It is the synchronization of all the entire production chain in certain industry branches, like mining where you need very few complementary prime materials to produce, since the main raw materials are property of the organization itself. This process ends up being a series of transformation and transportation phases from the mine up to port and final destination. It begins with the mineral extraction from ore mines, size reduction, and concentration processes in plants, usually located next to the mines and transportation effected by railway or pipelines up to the port, where new industrial operations may occur (producing iron pellets, for instance) or just piling for export. Thus why should PCMs be a level 3 activity?

According to ISA95, everything that affects plant operation, its performance, process reliability, or constitutes a critical function required to achieve legal, quality, or environment compliance are manufacturing processes and therefore belong to level 3.

In a mining production chain, synchronization of processes between mine-plant-railway-port is critical to operational success as a whole. If the ship arrives at the port, but the ore has not been produced and transported on time, and therefore is not ready to load, we have a significant performance loss and profitability decline, besides delays, stocking area managing problems, and other issues due to lack of conformity to planning, changes in ship loading schedules and sequence, large demurrages to pay due to ship loading delays. A business like this operates as a large geographically distributed plant. 

What then constitutes a SCM level 4 activity? Suppose a company sold minerals to a client in the Asia-Pacific region. Which of the company`s facilities should produce and deliver the product? After closing the sale, you will need to contract out a ship, you must plan production and train transportation in order to optimize global logistics, in a business where transport costs may be larger than original product value. Production optimization is level 3; logistics optimization belongs to level 4.

The industry needs to create a strongly structured automation organization, hierarchically highly positioned within the company, if possible sharing the same status and parallel to corporate IT.  Within automation, a team of level 3 systems specialists, named IAT, remains dedicated to production management. IAT would manage the MES system. While corporate IT handles ERP, CRM, HR, and the corporate enterprises, automation would care for all production processes.  Precise role definition will guarantee governance and reinforce cooperation among all departments. That cooperation will ensure availability, resources usability, performance, and sustainability goals.


Constantino Seixas Filho is an electronics engineer, M.Sc. Computer Science and R&D Director of ATAN Sistems, Belo Horizonte - MG, Brasil. His e-mail is seixas@task.com.br. Vitor Finkel is a member of the InTech Editorial Advisory Board and the principal at Finkel Engineering and Consultants, Rio de Janeiro RJ Brazil. His e-mail is vfinkel@attglobal.net.