What about software for managing your manufacturing operations?

An effective relationship with your software vendor can result in developments that put you ahead of your competition.


In this post, I would like to share ideas relating to operations management and software development within the problem domain of manufacturing. For this discussion, I will draw on my experience in an industrial / manufacturing engineering capacity within various discrete manufacturing organizations, as a quality engineer for a leading HMI vendor, and as a software developer for control system firms. The ISA 95 specification can assist in this discussion.

As many are aware, the ISA 95 specification encompasses the modeling of the maintenance, quality, logistics, and production aspects of a typical manufacturing process. ISA 95 subject matter, referred to as manufacturing execution system (MES), and more recently manufacturing operations management (MOM), is defined as being at Level 3 of the ISA model; Level 0 being electrical, Level 1 the control system, Level 2 the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and Level 4 enterprise resource planning (ERP). The ISA 95 model is literally detailed to the point where a seasoned software development team could produce a solid software package from the level of detail provided by the specification.

Following that approach, the resulting development effort would be an ISA-compliant system suitable for a typical manufacturing operation. Of course there is no such thing as typical manufacturing operation, but most importantly, this specification affords manufacturing stakeholders a mechanism to facilitate communication. This is exactly the strength of the ISA specification – a vocabulary for expressing requirements necessary to improve our manufacturing operations through software.

All successful software projects begin with well defined requirements. In software circles, this is known as requirements analysis. During the requirements capturing phase, terminology from the ISA 95 model can be leveraged to ensure stakeholders from vendors and customers can communicate specifics without being privy to tribal knowledge terms specific to a particular firm.

Any manufacturing organization striving to be best in class will have one or many continuous improvement initiatives, such as six sigma, lean, ISO 9001, TQM, quality circles, and so on. It is in the framework of continuous improvement efforts that many high-value requirements can be captured. A high-value requirement will have a relatively large return over investment ratio. Many may refer to a high-value requirement as low-hanging fruit. As continuous improvement teams learn to speak the language of ISA 95, the quality of their ability to communicate game-changing requirements will increase.

Manufacturers typically enter into long-term partnerships with vendors in an effort to “stick to the knitting” or merely to save money. Software-vendor partnerships are helpful in allowing internal expert analysis to couple with best-in-class software development processes. The end result of such synergy can be game changing in a firm’s ability to outwit its completion.

With control and ERP systems reaching very mature states, and their respective technical teams living in their silos of separation, addressing the problem domain of operations management is a must for the best-in-class manufacturing evangelist.

This post was written by Nick Schleich. Nick is a senior consultant at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.

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