September/October 2011
Web Exclusive

OMAC Packaging Workgroup sets practical goals for automation standards

Fast Forward

  • Nestlé takes lead of OMAC Packaging Workgroup.
  • PMMI machine builders' association backs OMAC effort.
  • ARC report calls OMAC Packaging Workgroup "re-invigorated."
By John Kowal

OMAC, the Organization for Machine Automation and Control, is revving up for action again. Two major events occurred in early 2011. First, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) made the decision to provide vital staff services to OMAC. Second, the global automation and electrical engineering manager of Nestlé took a leadership position as co-chair of the OMAC Packaging Workgroup.

web 1OMAC is known in the manufacturing and machine tool industry for its initiatives such as MTConnect and STEP NC. In the broader manufacturing arena, the Microsoft Manufacturing Users Group helped engineers navigate through the pioneering days of Windows on the factory floor.

Because I am deeply involved in the packaging machinery community, I have naturally been most involved in the OMAC Packaging Workgroup (OPW), which brought us PackML and a modular approach to programming that led to the Make2Pack collaboration between OPW and WBF, the Organization for Production Technology (formerly known as World Batch Forum). In turn, that resulted in ISA-TR88.00.02-2008 - Machine and Unit States: An Implementation Example of ISA-88, where the PackML state model, modes, and tag naming conventions reside.

It used to be no one knew what PackML was, despite press coverage on its development and early adoption. That has changed. Packaging machine builders and users know what PackML is now. The next challenge is to achieve "main street" implementation, as it is still in the "early adopter" phase.

Moore's Law versus dog years

That makes sense, at least to me. While Moore's Law states processing power will double in power and halve in price every 18 months or so, mine says industrial controls innovation takes dog years. That is, what takes one year to be accepted in IT or consumer electronics takes seven years in industrial automation.

Think about it. We all knew Ethernet was the way to go for industrial networks by about 1997, even as fieldbus wars were just settling down. About seven years later, give or take, and all the major buses began porting over to Ethernet.

Being ultraconservative is really not such a bad idea if you want a machine to work 15 or 20 years straight and its control system to be supportable. The good news is we are hitting the "dog years" mark for PackML.

Happening now

As part of Nestlé's blockbuster announcement that it was changing its packaging automation specification from brand- to standards-based, Nestlé has embraced not only PackML but what amounts to the OMAC Packaging Guidelines, calling for IEC standard networks and programming as well.

In a recent ARCView report titled "Re-invigorated OMAC Packaging Working Group Needs Your Participation," ARC Advisory Group states "Without standards … packaging operations will become increasingly difficult to maintain or improve. … The reinvigorated (OPW) … represents a major step forward."

In addition, they would like to prevent the next "fieldbus wars," which are getting ready to play out in the realm of integrated safety networks-one for each flavor of industrial Ethernet. And they would like to see a functional, standards-based specification that can be used around the world, neither Euro-centric nor U.S.-centric.

That is how you jump start a standards-adoption process.

And the venue for all this, ladies and gentlemen, is the OMAC Packaging Workgroup. Bryan Griffen, the Nestlé global automation engineering manager, recently held the first OPW web meeting in about two years to a group of about 40 interested parties. The purpose of the meeting was to plan the big face-to-face meeting at PACK EXPO in Las Vegas.

So, what did the agenda look like?


The PackML committee should review the recent harmonization of PackML 3.0 with ISA-TR88.00.02-2008 - Machine and Unit States: An Implementation Example of ISA-88. The committee should work with PMMI to conduct more how-to workshops in conjunction with PMMI technical events, such as their risk assessment and lean workshops to efficiently leverage the PMMI events' existing logistics tail.

The committee should continue to encourage automation suppliers to publish implementation guides. And, an OEE-driven PackML cost savings calculator is needed to analyze the benefits of modularity and common look-and-feel in controls projects, startup and training, and Total Cost of Ownership.


OPW has been contacted by the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA) keeper of the CIP-based network platforms. ODVA wants to play a more active role in OMAC. The PackConnect committee will coordinate this activity and invite the other industrial network associations to participate.

Recent network initiatives for the committee to investigate include wireless Ethernet, safety networks, network security (ANSI/ISA-99), and the applicability of MTConnect to packaging systems.


PackSafe is a new initiative that would leverage a new, IEC conforming open safety protocol that can run on the application layers of the various industrial Ethernets. Nestlé and a number of machinery builders are supporting the open protocol, known as openSAFETY, and a number of announcements by other packaging machinery users are expected in the near future.

The PackSafe committee benefits from PMMI's active involvement in machine safety trends, regulations, and its risk assessment workshops and annual safety conference.


The PackSoft committee is expected to open new dialogues with PLCopen to review their latest developments and consider adoption. Either the PackSoft committee or the PackML subcommittee should reopen the dialogue with OPC Foundation to review their latest developments, such as OPC UA.

Other emerging technologies for the committee to investigate include UML, and simulation and automatic code generation could be of interest to the OMAC Machine Tool Workgroup as well as PackSoft.


The PackML World Tour began when some packaging machinery builders who'd implemented PackML wondered why their customers were not embracing the standard. These OEMs were hoping to gain first mover advantage, so they were motivated. This led to the "World Tour," a cooperative initiative between PMMI and OMAC, beginning last year.

In the current PackML World Tour model, packaging machine OEMs visit business unit managers at consumer goods companies to communicate the business-as opposed to technical-benefits of specifying PackML.

It makes sense for the World Tour to now be coordinated by the PackAdvantage committee.


A new subcommittee of PackAdvantage will be tasked with assuring OPW initiatives are adopted worldwide. OPW has already begun communicating with packaging machinery associations representing French, German, Italian, and U.K. builders.


The PackLearn committee provides a central contact point for support of the growing number of educational institutions supporting mechatronics curricula-including Purdue Calumet and Villanova.

PackLearn can also benefit from coordinating its activities with the PMMI Workforce Development and Education Committee, and can leverage PACK EXPO's new education pavilion at upcoming shows.


Another new committee, PackAbility will investigate upcoming sustainability and energy conservation standards, including ISO 50001 and a possible U.S. Machinery Star program to assure any new regulations and guidelines include comprehensive and practical measurement of a total system's carbon footprint.

PMMI currently sits on the ISO 50001 committee and has actively promoted sustainability advances in machinery and packaging materials.


Defining an actual OMAC specification would greatly simplify adoption. In the past, the combination of network, programming, and interface standards was simply referred to as the OMAC Packaging Guidelines. No attempt was made to organize them into a cohesive specification. With PackSpec, machine builders could offer a single, vendor neutral, functional specification based on international standards, assuring interoperability and commonality.

A repository of international electric codes, wiring specifications, etc., would also help clarify local requirements that cannot be standardized worldwide.

Where do we go from here?

Progress will be as swift or slow as the number of well-intended, motivated participants in the process. Most automation practitioners are proponents of standards, innovation, and productivity. And inevitably, inexorably, these must be the pillars of future controls specifications.

We need to make advanced automation technology more accessible wherever manufacturing takes place, developed and emerging economies both. This is where OMAC is heading, and specifically where the OMAC Packaging Workgroup is taking the food, beverage, home care, personal care, and pharma businesses.

If you would like to be part of it, your company should become a corporate member of OMAC and get in at the ground level. You are more than welcome to drop me a line.


John Kowal (, an ISA member, is Market Development manager for B&R Industrial Automation and on the OMAC Board of Directors. He started the association that brought IEC 61491 to North America, was instrumental in forming the OMAC Packaging Workgroup, and from Make2Pack through the recent PackML "World Tour" and the current openSAFETY movement, he has been a steady proponent and active promoter of standards.