Human element gains importance in enterprise integration

Old news: PCs are invading all areas of the control and automation field and plant floor and business administration systems are growing ever closer. New news: Efforts to coordinate all aspects of a manufacturing enterprise must include the people, intellectual capital, job descriptions, and personnel issues that work in concert with the enterprises' other systems and equipment.


Old news: PCs are invading all areas of the control and automation field and plant floor and business administration systems are growing ever closer. New news: Efforts to coordinate all aspects of a manufacturing enterprise must include the people, intellectual capital, job descriptions, and personnel issues that work in concert with the enterprises' other systems and equipment.

Educating and coordinating an enterprise's human side is vital to alleviating misunderstandings and turf battles that crop up in many businesses today, according to Theodore Williams of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies, Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.). These political and turf issues must be resolved because they prevent enterprises from focusing on competition's true challenges, says Dr. Williams. For example, he adds that setting standards and cross-training staffers will likely be crucial in reconciling conflicts between plant-floor and business computer systems.

In a tutorial at the recent World Batch Forum near Baltimore, Md., Dr. Williams outlined recent work by the ISA's SP95 Enterprise/Control Integration Committee to prepare standards to help integrate control and business software and systems. The committee's efforts fit within the overall enterprise integration concept.

Dr. Williams says, all enterprises follow a "life cycle" from concept, development, and design through construction, operation, and maintenance, and ending in refurbishment, obsolescence, and disposal. These seven steps are part of the Purdue Methodology for Enterprise Integration and the Purdue Enterprise Reference Architecture developed by the university's Laboratory for Applied Industrial Control (PLAIC) with support from 12 industrial firms from 1989 to 1994. ISA's SP95 is currently using PLAIC's Purdue Reference Model for Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) as a starting point for its standards, he adds.

Evolving personnel roles

Although historical mechanization, automation, and the recent surge of PC-based systems and software have replaced increasing portions of human effort, Dr. Williams says people must be ready to perform many tasks in production or administration. Once administrators and planning teams have developed and implemented the enterprise's master plan, they must also be prepared when systems break down, when unanticipated variables arise, and, most importantly, when mounting competition accelerates demand for new innovations.

Dr. Williams says humans have traditionally made decisions on overall enterprise management, planning, and scheduling, while computers have been responsible for some scheduling, supervisory optimization, and advanced and dynamic control and process units. However, as computers have grown increasingly capable, they're assuming more decisions traditionally made by people, and this trend is likely to continue in the future (see table).

Though this shift may worry many people, Dr. Williams says well-informed engineering professionals and other staffers will be needed to help manage and plan those jobs that only humans can perform. These strategy-based tasks are expected to multiply as competition heats up. Consequently, rather than viewing PC-based controls as a replacement for people and traditional systems, it may be useful to see computers as tools that give engineers' more time to innovate.

"The question is how to convince managers that information is only a company's second most important resource," says Dr. Williams. "We need to have the standards will be able to give them good numbers showing this is true."

The tasks most enterprises must complete to function and survive can be divided into human-based decisions supported by computer systems and computer system-based decisions monitored by humans. The following percentages show how decisions are often split between these decision makers in the various levels of the Purdue Hierarchical Model, and how those percentages are likely to change in the future.


% of decisions by humans

% of decisions by computers

Projected % of human-based decisions

Source: Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies, Purdue University, 1998.

Overall enterprise management




Overall production planning, scheduling




Scheduling,of plant's connected units




Supervisory control of process units




Dynamic control of process units




Author Information

Jim Montague, news editor

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