Positioning for the shift

For some time now, Control Engineering has devoted considerable ink to the convergence of engineering and IT in manufacturing. Now it appears that vendors are doing more than simply offering products, such as intelligent devices, remote monitoring, and manufacturing execution systems (MES), to address this merger of technologies and departments.

06/01/2005


For some time now, Control Engineering has devoted considerable ink to the convergence of engineering and IT in manufacturing. Now it appears that vendors are doing more than simply offering products, such as intelligent devices, remote monitoring, and manufacturing execution systems (MES), to address this merger of technologies and departments. Aligning their businesses with this marketplace direction seems to be the order of the day.

Most noticeable among companies doing this is Siemens, which in the fall of 2004 joined its distributed control system (PCS 7) and MES (Simatic IT) businesses within its automation and motion division, under the direction of vice president and general manager Tom Kopanski. The company moved farther in this direction in early May 2005 when it combined its Process Automation Systems and Simatic IT conferences for the first time.

"Mainstream technologies are being applied to industrial applications, blurring the line between IT and control engineers," says Nic Gihl, vice president, Industrial Automation and Control North America, for Schneider Electric, speaking at the CSIA (Control and Information Systems Integrators Association) conference, also held in early May. "Ethernet allows a common network from automation to MES, which is driving a move away from specialized infrastructures toward global infrastructures to contain costs through standardization, reduce downtime through Web-based diagnostics, and secure interplant communications."

As IT and engineering technologies merge, engineers should focus on the key area of device relationship management, Gihl says. Why? Because the business advantages of remote diagnosis and repair, increased availability and uptime, and reduced service costs will lead to all devices becoming "smart" in the not-too-distant future for management via the Web, Gihl predicts.

Three main business drivers pushing manufacturers toward increased acceptance of IT and engineering integration are: risk of current systems failure, discontinuation of legacy system technology, and competition, according to Stacey Jarlsberg, product manager, process automations systems, Siemens.

Supporting this perception in the process industries are reports from ARC Advisory Group that indicate $65 billion in legacy process automation systems have reached the end of their lifecycles and are due for replacement.

As an engineer working amid this shift, your job is to be as involved as possible in any decision-making surrounding automation-to-enterprise projects at your facility.

"MES workflow tools help define operations, and if you're a part of the MES implementation, you can ensure it's configured correctly, Siemens' Kopanski says. "Ally yourself with an executive sponsor who will support engineering's viewpoint."

David Greenfield, Editorial Director

dgreenfield@reedbusiness.com





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