March 2009

Special Section: Networking/Ethernet

The grand convergence in manufacturing

Switches, routers, and Ethernet sure; the melding of standards, IT/control, and cultures no less important


  • Network convergence aligns technology with business goals.
  • Proactive manufacturers have moved on from an "us vs. them" mentality.
  • Technologies and networks unite so manufacturers deploy a host of best practices.
By Dan Knight and Brian Oulton

Manufacturers face unprecedented challenges as global economic forces drive competition and open opportunities in new markets.

Flexibility and efficiency are required to quickly develop and manufacture an increasing number of products to meet rapidly changing demands.


At the same time, manufacturing companies are becoming more complex and globally dispersed, accelerating the need for increased collaboration, visibility, and efficiency.

Chief executives recognize that to achieve these business objectives and be competitive in a global manufacturing environment, their organizations need to do a better job of getting the right information to the right people at the right time, in the right place, in a usable, integrated format in order to make quick, smart business decisions.

The organization must become more responsive to changing market and operational conditions without sacrificing efficiency.

Aligning business, technology

Ultimately, network convergence helps align technology with business goals. These goals typically include increased agility and responsiveness, a cost-effective strategy for business process transformation, and enterprise-wide visibility.

However, challenges exist to this alignment. Manufacturers have many systems and layers that may not communicate. Information needs to move quickly between supply chains, distribution chains, the people, and equipment on the manufacturing floor and the company's decision makers.

Development and integration of applications and systems can be costly and time-consuming without ample coordination. Moreover, silos in organizational structures between IT and manufacturing can result in poor information exchange and resource allocation, and integration challenges.

Enter the convergence trend. In simplest terms, the deployment of Ethernet has pulled IT and manufacturing professionals together, often creating turmoil, but often creating opportunity to improve efficiencies, drive company-wide best practices and provide transformational change that improves the competitiveness of manufacturers.

Increased business pressures, along with wide deployment of standard, unmodified Ethernet on the plant floor and across the enterprise, help drive the convergence of manufacturing and IT technologies, organizations, and cultures.

Typically, the first step in the model, technology convergence allows standard technologies and skill sets, more flexible systems, and simplified integration between multiple systems.

Establishing a robust foundation on which to deploy and integrate applications helps manufacturers achieve scalability. Additionally, technology compatibility helps protect the investment.

Forward-thinking manufacturers use standard, unmodified Ethernet to mix commercial, business, and industrial networking technologies to solve business problems differently, which helps drive innovation and competitive advantage.

Integrated, connected networks share information and run multiple applications over the same network. Network convergence allows integration of business and manufacturing systems, and helps lay a foundation for more innovative business models.

By converging networks, manufacturers benefit from remote access and support, fewer networks to maintain, as well as the visibility and integration of technologies and communications.

Manufacturers use recommendations from multiple internal and external organizations. Collaboration among IT and manufacturing groups and standards bodies helps establish best practices and requirements around system architecture design, security, and service and support models.

We need to consider the entire system of people, networks, applications, and devices to best understand impact to an organization. This includes incorporating machine builders in system design, alignment of technical design with business needs, and strategic thinking around the role of technology in solving the ultimate business objectives.

While technology and network convergence have occurred within many manufacturing companies, the bigger challenge is often organizational and cultural convergence. This convergence is essential to truly break down barriers and eliminate silos of information and isolated systems. Only then, can a manufacturing organization align technology with its business objectives and become more responsive and efficient.

A number of different challenges need addressing in order to achieve organizational and cultural convergence.

Based on familiar technologies and requirements from past experience, manufacturing and IT often rely on, utilize different models, and experience in designing networks.

The requirements to support enterprise networks-including data, voice, video, and mobility-often are different from automation networks.

While many existing skills and best practices can work in a converged networking model, we need to address some important disparities. For example, IT and manufacturing professionals often use the same words to mean different things, and use terminology specific to-but unfamiliar to those outside of-their practice area.

In terms of support expectations, automation networks tend to run nonstop and plant floor operators need to respond quickly to issues. These require different service levels from a typical office-level network.

While there is no universal solution, within some organizations, manufacturers have achieved success with the following best practices:

• "Cross-pollination" between IT and controls teams: Manufacturers move people between groups through formal and informal cross-training programs.

• Co-developed architectures and standards: Collaboration helps establish best practices, requirements, and recommendations.

• Clear ownership definition and procedures: For example, manufacturers define ownership of equipment, access rights, and decision parameters.

• Defined service-level agreements for manufacturing: Manufacturers should understand requirements as well as get upfront buy-in and documented procedures from the support group.

• Flexible organizational structure: Although several may work, including combined and hybrid structures, it is important to define the working relationship and make sure groups are collaborating.

• Including suppliers and partners: They are a vital part of the ecosystem.

Business model makeover

Several real-life examples exist of these converged manufacturing organizations. Some organizations have created virtual support groups in which subject matter experts support production systems and networks in real time, from anywhere.

By integrating Radio Frequency Identification and location-based services, manufacturers track product and asset status as well as location in real time. This information can integrate with business and asset-management applications. The mobility of workers and applications like human-machine interfaces (HMI) extends access from outside of a control room.

Other manufacturers demonstrate collaborative manufacturing by sharing real-time data across the enterprise and value chain as well as having real-time inventory visibility across the supply chain. Regardless of location or device, real-time information extends access to data, voice, and video to anywhere desired, with the appropriate security controls. Real-time data also allows quality improvements, Six Sigma practices, and up-to-date inventory.

Manufacturers can integrate the shop-floor system with ERP for scheduling, product delivery confirmation, and quality tracking. To track personnel, contractors, and analyze and correlate events, manufacturers integrate physical and virtual security. Converged manufacturing organizations also leverage predictive maintenance and remote support.

Proactive manufacturers have moved from an "us vs. them" mentality of individual organizations to an approach with combined objectives, blended jobs and organizations, and a new agility that helps transform businesses.


Dan Knight ( is industry solutions manager at Cisco Systems. Brian Oulton ( is director, networks business at Rockwell Automation. 


ISA88 and ISA95: Standards wield power of intelligence

Manufacturing plant control encompasses many tactical and operational functions that address several types of manufacturing related operations.

These functions range from the receipt of raw material to the shipping of finished goods, from production itself to equipment maintenance, through inventory movements and material quality tests, from customer order lines to work dispatching in addition to controlling the manufacturing operations themselves.

These functions fall under different responsibilities, though they must operate collaboratively under effective business management directions.

The role of information in a manufacturing company is enormous. Considering the three main flows (material, money, information) crossing an enterprise system, it is easy to understand the specific importance of this information:

  1. Material flow constrains money flow (no payment until delivery)
  2. Information flow constraints material flow (no delivery until shipment documentation is issued)
  3. Information flow constrains money flow (no payment until invoice is issued)

A manufacturing information system is therefore an enabler to reaching higher levels of financial performance. Conversely, a poorly designed and tuned information system definitely hurts the plant's ability to serve the company's goal of sustaining and increasing profits.

Today's ideal information systems are flexible, invisible information infrastructures that constantly adapt themselves to the actual resources, products, business, and decision processes of the enterprise.

They are no longer a constraint to developing a differentiating, winning strategy.

Attaining the ideal information system implies reaching the highest level of maturity in development and maintenance, minimizing the effort needed to:

  • Add, cancel, extend, or improve existing capabilities in real time
  • Capture existing constraints influencing the bottom line as user requirements
  • Implement and support continuously improving manufacturing and business processes
  • Benefit from the technology as it is available, when and where appropriate

ANSI/ISA-88 and ISA-95 standards provide a set of models considered as best engineering practices for industrial information systems in charge of manufacturing execution.

  • ISA-88 for describing functional and informational aspects of physical and chemical transformation processes and tasks
  • ISA-95 for describing functional and informational aspects of operation management processes and tasks.

These two standards offer a common vision, terminology, and framework for addressing the entire manufacturing system support.


SOURCE: Jean Vieille is an associate with Control Chain Group. He wrote Manufacturing Information Systems: ISA-88/95 based functional definition, which is in The Hitchhikers Guide to Manufacturing Operations Management, ISA Press, 2007.