May 2008

Consortium for interoperability

Similar to ISA's wireless and security compliance institutes, a new institute is in the making for industrial interoperability, focusing on communication between systems (production scheduling, processing, material information, and equipment information) in industries such as food, pharmaceutical, and automotive.

As the new kid on the block under the Automation Standards Compliance Institute umbrella, the Industrial Interoperability Compliance Institute (IICI) will consist of a consortium of suppliers, users, and consultants and integrators to ensure product compliance with established industry standards. The project will start with WBF's business to manufacturing markup language (B2MML) standard, based on ISA88, to develop a compliance system, which could entail setting up a test bed to see whether product meet standards or not, said Bob Crigler, ISA's business development manager. This means connecting a product to an internet-based test bed that will send it commands or information or requests for information to see how it responds. If it responds with the right information in the right format, then it is compliant.

"Currently, anyone can say their products meet any of the standards they want to, and there's no independent way of verifying that," Crigler said. "So when people actually start plugging systems together, they might find out that's not the case. If not, there's no recourse, and you just have to start building patchwork systems to overcome all that. So by having a compliance institute and testing and having certification that goes along with the product, you'll assure the end user systems will work together." The long-term goal of the project is to lower the cost of integrating systems to give end users more flexibility in the products they can buy as opposed to buying all products from the same company.

"We are also working closely with the WBF, Open Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Initiative and the OPC Foundation," said Charlie Gifford, chief manufacturing consultant, 21st Century Manufacturing Solutions LLC, Hailey, Ind.  The OPC and the WBF are advisory members of the Technical Advisory Board-in charge of writing the business plan and membership prospectus released at the WBF conference in Philadelphia in March. "Over 30 companies have already pledged support to the IICI once it is formed or once the first compliance services are brought to market in Q4 2008 or Q1 2009," Gifford said.

The technical advisory board met in February to define the organization, scope, and initial compliance test deliverables for IICI. "Now we are in the sign-up phase, and we will schedule the initial Governance Board meeting as soon as we reach the critical number of founding members. The initial compliance test deliverables will probably be the most heavily used B2MML schemas, production schedules, production performance, and material information," said Dennis Brandl, president of BR&L Consulting in Cary, N.C. "IICI will be chartered under the Automation Standards Compliance Institute and will be recognized by WBF as the compliance testing organization for the WBF's B2MML and BatchML schemas," he said.