No finger-pointing on MES

Manufacturing worlds have collided – inevitably.


The collision of information technology and engineering is here. Ethernet is pushing onto the manufacturing floor. Microsoft SQL Server is gaining momentum and acceptance in its pursuit of Oracle for dominance in plant floor data collection. XML standards that enable movement of data between back office and manufacturing systems have emerged. Manufacturing Execution Systems are being installed that bridge the IT and manufacturing system divide, enabling a free flow of information exchange.

Manufacturing worlds have collided %%MDASSML%% inevitably.

On one hand, the IT departments are big and powerful: they manage the network and the critical business software, and often dictate the policies of the organization. With security and reliability so critical today, most business decisions cannot be made without the approval of the company’s CIO. And with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act intimidating corporate officers with a fear of jail, networks and systems are now becoming so tight that employees often find themselves severely limited.

On the other hand, manufacturing technology is owned and managed by the engineering department. Corporate heads of engineering remain in operational support roles, often challenged with keeping up with operation’s production requirements. Worse, their systems use open technologies where support engineers scramble to solve immediate production challenges. Security policies are lacking; standards are whatever the last internal project required; and the number of proprietary systems creates incredible support challenges.

The question becomes: who owns these systems that are now merging together?

Nowhere is this issue more apparent than in the world of MES. As a system integrator charged with selling these solutions to large corporations, we often find ourselves in a position of not knowing who is going to make the “buy” decision. MES requires cooperation from both groups, but the fact is that IT would prefer to buy their technology from Microsoft, SAP, Oracle or someone else they know and have used. Similarly, engineering would prefer Rockwell, Siemens or others they have been working with for years.

The key to resolving this conflict may be one of the biggest management challenges that a CEO of a manufacturing company has to overcome in the next few years. It’s a challenge. The two worlds are different and they don’t always understand each other.

This is not the time to be trying to place blame. Peter Fingar, a speaker at this year’s MESA Conference in Orlando, challenged plant managers to “tear down that wall.” We need to move beyond this if the manufacturing community is to reap all the benefits of MES. It takes a tightly integrated set of applications and processes that deliver the capability to execute on innovation and collaboration.

The ANSI/ISA-S95 standard has been adopted by many business and manufacturing software vendors, and the B2MML implementation of the standard makes transactions between business and execution layers easier to implement and manage. This foundation for standardized information exchange and best practices enables system interoperability never before achieved. Instead of developing customized point-to-point interfaces between systems, a common data exchange framework between enterprise systems such as ERP, CRM or PLM and manufacturing systems such as MES, SCADA, MRO, CAPA or LIMS, allows individual systems to quickly change and adapt to manufacturing evolution or revolution.

By eliminating custom interfaces and the inevitable finger-pointing when the flow of information breaks down, companies are able to implement a services-oriented architecture that allows integration with supplier and/or customer systems to enable information exchange throughout a distributed supply chain.

The best advice is to begin forming cross-functional teams now. Making, measuring, managing and monitoring the process requires cooperation at all levels. Start moving toward one department or the conflicts will hold back corporate growth and efficiency.

The story of IT and engineering need not be titled “When Worlds Collide,” but, rather, with the enlightened guidance of people on the plant floor and top floor, “The Best of Both Worlds.”

Author Information

Martin W. Michael is vice president, business development, and John R. Roach is senior system architect for Advanced Automation, Exton, PA.

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