Manufacturing informatics—What you need to know

Applying information technology in manufacturing is becoming a vital part of many control and automation engineer's jobs, but it is often difficult to communicate the multiple skills required to manage. Other engineering areas can be more easily described: instrument engineering, control engineering, or electrical engineering.


Applying information technology in manufacturing is becoming a vital part of many control and automation engineer's jobs, but it is often difficult to communicate the multiple skills required to manage.

Other engineering areas can be more easily described: instrument engineering, control engineering, or electrical engineering. When information technology is added, engineers must also have knowledge of computer science, software engineering, and statistics. 'Informatics' applies information technology and statistical techniques to the management of information, so 'manufacturing informatics' (MI) can be defined as the application of information technology to manufacturing.

Here's some of what you need to know to improve yourself and better explain to management the skills needed for 21st century manufacturing; please let me know other knowledge areas you have needed for applying MI.

Starting at the lowest level, MI requires a sound knowledge of IEC 61131-3 programming languages (ladder and function-block diagrams, instruction list, structured text, and sequential function charts). IEC 61131-3 also implies a system architecture that is fairly common across PLC and DCS systems. Knowledge of object-oriented programming models and of higher level languages, such as Java, C++, C#, and Basic, also is required. An understanding of source code control, configuration management, defect tracking, and software project lifecycles is also needed.

Next level up requires knowledge of device and control system communications. Today this is largely based on the OPC standard ( ) and various fieldbus technologies. A good knowledge of the IEC 61512 or ISA-88 Batch Control ( ) standard also is needed, because it provides a structure (units, equipment modules, and control modules) for well-designed 61131-3 code. The top level of the manufacturing side is defined in the ISA-95 Enterprise/Control System standard that defines information flows and functions for operation of areas and sites that layer on top of the ISA 88 structures. Automation security considerations are described in the ISA-99 technical reports and these contain basic knowledge for industrial automation security.

A good knowledge of relational databases and SQL (ANSI/ISO 9075) is required, with by knowledge of UML (Unified Modeling Language), as defined in the ISO/IEC 19501-1 UML specification, XML ( ) and XML Schema Definitions (XSD). MI engineers should be able to: create and read UML specifications; define, normalize, build, and query databases using SQL; and read and understand RSS, XML, and XSD documents and know how they can be used in system integration.

Knowledge of networking includes best practices for network infrastructures using a hierarchy of switches, routers, and VLANs to isolate control networks and provide robust and resilient solutions. This also requires knowledge of network services, such as domain name services (DNS), DHCP, NetBIOS, and network protocols (TCP/IP, UDP/IP, and others). Some knowledge is required of Access Control Lists (ACL), Microsoft Windows Server tools, Active Directory Domains, and Linux tools.

Engineers should be knowledgeable in the manufacturing science of their industries—the body of scientific knowledge, regulations, and principles for the transformation of materials, energy, and information into products. Manufacturing science informatics (MSI) is MI plus knowledge of analytical tools and techniques for collecting, storing, and analyzing manufacturing data. This includes real-time data historians, SPC for process control, SQC for quality control, standard statistical analysis techniques, Pareto analysis, fish bone diagrams, 6-Sigma study techniques such as the define-measure-analyze-improve-control cycle, design of experiments, and multi-variant analysis.

Online Extra
Additional security constructs are available from British NISCC ( National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre ).

Author Information

Dennis Brandl, , is the president of BR&L Consulting, Cary, N.C., which is focused on manufacturing IT solutions.

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