Bottom up or top down?

So should you incorporate a bottom-up or top-down philosophy for information integration, as part of your open-systems strategy? Microsoft .Net strategies have been seen as a bottom-up approach, reaching from the plant floor into higher-level enterprise systems, sometimes through middleware, provided by IBM and others.

04/01/2003


So should you incorporate a bottom-up or top-down philosophy for information integration, as part of your open-systems strategy?

Microsoft .Net strategies have been seen as a bottom-up approach, reaching from the plant floor into higher-level enterprise systems, sometimes through middleware, provided by IBM and others.

Sun Microsystems and Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based development tools—used with larger, legacy enterprise systems—enable companies to reach down to the plant floor from above, also through middleware.

More limited connections also can be made using point solutions at key junctions in the process.

To bridge the gap between plant-floor operations and enterprise IT, ABB, Accenture, Intel, and Microsoft announced an alliance March 3 at National Manufacturing Week (NMW) in Chicago, offering computing diagnostics, solution design, development, and integration services. ABB's Industrial IT has certified more than 30,000 hardware and software products; Accenture designed and produced an integration layer based on Industrial IT and Microsoft BizTalk Server to enable real-time data exchange between enterprise and plant-floor systems. Intel architecture enables modular IT infrastructure with wired and wireless communication.

"People want seamless integration," says Charles Johnson, Microsoft managing director, Manufacturing Solutions, Industry Solution Group. That means connecting automation to manufacturing execution systems to the enterprise without a lot of R&D costs to make it work.

Strengths of a top-down approach should not be ignored, contends David Naylor, president of starthis inc., part of the Sun Microsystems pavilion at NMW. He says iTapestry middleware from starthis offers easier connections to enterprise IT systems, less overhead traffic than through an OPC-based server (although the software can exchange information with an OPC server), and, by using Ethernet/IP, more-direct links from enterprise systems to PLCs, such as Rockwell Automation ControlLogix. Mr. Naylor calls iTapestry the only J2EE-based industrial automation middleware. The largest manufacturers, because of their widespread need for integrating with legacy IT systems, prefer a J2EE-based enterprise approach, Mr. Naylor says.

As a third option, point solutions on the plant floor can feed information at critical points in the process to and from higher-level systems. Mitsubishi Electric Automation offers Java Platform Controller as a gateway from native device protocols to XML. The embedded device has serial inputs, compact flash memory, Ethernet, and a real-time operating enviornment. "Many [vendors] make gateways; most don't speak XML," says Dan Roth, manager of eBusiness for Mitsubishi.

Whether it's IT calling the plant floor, or process experts establishing better communications outside their realm, delivering knowledge that matters will keep your department relevant inside and beyond your immediate organization.

Deciding if it should be a bottom-up or top-down approach may depend upon expertise, dollars, and influence. It also might be that the first to propose the business benefits of greater information flow will lead the project and budget. (Don't let your friends on the other side run the show.) For more 'Wide Open...' discussion, see the open systems article in this issue.

Mark T. Hoske, Editor-in-Chief MHoske@cfemedia.com





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