Think Again: Time for automation system integration

Gain efficiency through tighter control system integration. Ensure you're doing all you can to work effectively with system integrators.

12/16/2010


Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaIntegrating disparate control systems can deliver easier apples-to-apples comparisons, parallel metrics, and less complicated information integration from manufacturing through the enterprise and supply chain. If you don’t have enough engineering resources on staff to do the integration within or across cells, lines, or plants, find the control system integrator with the appropriate skill set to help get the job done.

Integration moves data more efficiently (such as timely data transfer as with real time control systems), lowers costs of managing software that translates data or the hardware that facilitates translations, and lowers overhead without sacrificing large amounts of CPU power to perform translations. That’s especially important when that time, effort, and CPU power could be better spent for actual production or process control, as the cover story, “Integrating Disparate Control Systems,” explains.

Tools like OPC Unified Architecture, common physical layers for communications (Ethernet), even if many protocol choices remain, continue to make integration easier. “Integration is still not a clean and simple process,” observes Jeanine Katzel in the article, although “enormous strides have been made. Look for more to be made in the future. Manufacturers must recognize that innumerable options and alternatives exist and exercise care in making connectivity decisions. There are as many ways to bring control systems together or push data to the enterprise are as there are manufacturing facilities.”

And at your facilities, and even through your present partners, you may not have the expertise required for the optimal level of integration, or to assess what kind of return on investment might be available. For that task, you may find it useful to use automation system integrators in the Control Engineering Automation Integrator Guide.

At www.controleng.com/integrators online (and a subset in print), find the best skill set from among more than 2,130 integrators using a multi-parameter search. Perhaps most useful in this case, select one or more engineering specialties, such as computer hardware, computer software, data processing/management, factory automation, information systems, MES, networking/communications, process control, PLCs, SCADA, and web technology, among others.

While those projects are launched and underway, automation system integrators advise end users to track what’s happening at every stage of an automation project. Here how to ensure you get what you want, explains Vance VanDoren, in one of the Automation Integrator Guide’s articles:

  1. Collaborate on a plan with all-around buy-in;
  2. Communicate effectively; and
  3. Stay in the game until the final score is tallied.

Share your integration experiences at www.controleng.com/events-and-awards/ce-tips-and-tricks.html.

- Mark T. Hoske, Content Manager, Control Engineering, www.controleng.com