Study: IT / controls engineering convergence shows progress

Manufacturing companies are making progress with a convergence of their information technology (IT) and controls engineering organizations, and the ones well along the path are realizing major benefits.


Manufacturing companies are making progress with a convergence of their information technology (IT) and controls engineering organizations, and the ones well along the path are realizing major benefits. This is the conclusion of a study released by Rockwell Automation in November 2007. Benefits include higher efficiency, increased reliability, shorter project timelines, and better business continuity.

Responses from more than 300 control engineers and IT professionals representing a cross-section of manufacturing industries showed those companies with more integration between functions experience less conflict and are more optimistic about the future of convergence.

“These findings confirm many of the performance advantages that we had long suspected come from stronger collaboration between IT and controls departments, and we’ve uncovered a few new ones as well,” said Kevin Roach, vice president of software, Rockwell Automation. The study identified management involvement as the most effective driver of convergence. In more integrated companies, 90% of respondents indicated that senior management is “promoting change” or is “somewhat involved.” In companies where IT and control engineering is less integrated, 40% described senior management as “uninvolved in driving change.”

Those with IT responsibilities tended to be more aggressive toward seeking and initiating progress toward convergence. This correlates with differences in how the groups evaluated the advantages, with 67% of IT respondents indicating that convergence had more advantages than disadvantages, compared to 39% of control engineers.

Unexpected benefits
The survey revealed unexpected benefits of convergence, including improved security, improved visibility across multiple plants, improved disaster recovery, and reduced system complexity due to improved designs. Other findings targeted the positive impact that convergence has on manufacturing processes, and programs. Initiatives where convergence showed the most impact were information and Internet protocol availability and security, lean manufacturing or lean enterprise, real-time manufacturing, and total quality programs like Six Sigma.
“Just as manufacturers realize the strategic importance of integrated information, many are now beginning to realize the need to create an integrated environment where plant-floor and IT functions are managed in a collaborative, synchronized manner,” Roach added. “This converged framework allows teams to collaborate better to assess current manufacturing and IT systems, and begin to set standards for integration, data management and future technology investments.”

The objective of the study was to gain insight into convergence trends and identify barriers and best practices. The results support recommendations outlined in a whitepaper commissioned this year by Rockwell Automation authored by analyst firm Industry Directions and consultant firm Systems Innovation Management. A summary of the study’s key findings titled, “Come Together: IT-Engineering-Manufacturing Convergence Furthers Success” is available. It presents conclusions from a series of in-depth interviews conducted with manufacturing and IT professionals earlier in the year.

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-- Renee Robbins , Control Engineering News Desk
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