Enable floor to enterprise integration

Think Again: Automation and controls increasingly are being integrated with enterprise-level applications through the manufacturing execution systems (MES) and manufacturing operation management (MOM) systems.

By Mark T. Hoske November 18, 2013

Plant to enterprise integration and other issues related to Control Engineering and Plant Engineering were among topics discussed when Dennis Brandl, chairman, MESA Americas board of directors, and Michael Yost, president, MESA International, spoke with CFE Media’s Steve Rourke and Mark T. Hoske about system integration and manufacturing efficiency.

Probably 70-80% of companies still could benefit from more effective use of enterprise-level applications through the manufacturing execution systems (MES) and manufacturing operation management (MOM) systems, Brandl said. Those not effectively using MES/MOM may be using spreadsheets or customized connections between the floor and enterprise systems. Using standards-based architectures and best practices is key to efficient and effective integration to get the best corporate value, he suggested.

Brandl said that perhaps 70% of companies could be applying tools that use ISA 88 (batch control, also good for broader modular software applications) and ISA 95 (plant to enterprise) standards. Many know they have a problem, but don’t know that a solution is available. Many hear that they need lower cost solutions for analysis of “big data” analysis, though perhaps not necessarily enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. On that topic, “I think we’ll see some movement within the next 9 months,” Brandl said.

Yost expects to see a greater push toward understanding the return on investment (ROI) for MES and MOMs. At present, most connectivity from the plant floor to the enterprise and beyond is very narrow, addressing a particular problem or perhaps a broader issue by application. This can lead to the next step, increasing the scope of application.

Brandl said another approach has been more of a strategic directive rather than tactical problem solving. Bigger companies have productivity issues related to spending $500 million or more on ERP systems when the data needed to make ERP valuable just isn’t there.

Solutions providers are adding it all up and helping customers to get that value back, which can be substantial. Brandl said examples include Cargill, Merck and Johnson & Johnson. Often, the solution isn’t installing 50 ERP terminals, but using MES effectively to put data where it needs to be. The ISA 95 effort focused on the integration of data from programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCSs) with business level systems, Brandl said, with MES serving as the magic in between.

“Initially the problem was that we needed to integrate plant floor and business systems to fully understand the whole value we were getting. Value comes in automating workflow, reducing error rates by half, cutting rework, while increasing quality and customer satisfaction,” Brandl said.

Some buy MES because they put in an ERP system. Only part of custom systems can be replaced by ERP software, Brandl said. ERP systems aren’t designed for things like obsolete inventory, weighing, and dispensing. Others have very specific issues, such as trying to track equipment for regulatory reasons. Regulatory compliance can be the biggest push, once ERP is installed.

MES makes ERP productive

MOMS and MES are ERP’s interface to the real world, Brandl said. Consider it a 10%-15% tax on the cost of the ERP system to make it more effective and get past the lament: “They told me we could do everything with this.” The ISA 95 standard applies the MESA models, to plant, lab, maintenance, and other manufacturing operations, providing site level details. Laboratory information management systems (LIMS), tank farms, automated warehouse systems, and broader operations all can be integrated components.

Brandl said that in recent MESA meetings in Copenhagen, those gathered discussed the changing role of information technology (IT), cloud, big data, and bring your own device (BYOD), and what these trends mean for manufacturing.

Cloud connections

The cloud will continue to transform computing into a utility, just like water, power, or an electric or gas utility. Whether local or public, it will just be there and have the uptimes associated with current utility services. Smaller companies may avoid buying servers entirely. Others may need local services to decrease risk of disconnection. The cloud changes how companies specify, order, and deal with software needed at this level, Brandl suggested, and in the future, IT will be split into groups that understand software and those that understand servers and networking.

While there’s a lot of talk now about big data, process and manufacturing facilities have always had “big data” issues, Brandl said. Dow Chemical, for instance, produces 23 gigabytes of data daily, and that’s compressed. Big data without context, however, cannot provide information. Workflows and recipes of MES provide context that helps transform data into information. Software provides analysis to get information from data via automation, historian, workflows, recipes, and batches.  

Yost said some companies are collecting all the data they can, because memory is relatively inexpensive, but without structure, it’s just random data. One machine tool manufacturer collected 13,000 downtime reason codes, and Gigabytes of data crashed the system. Those involved pared that down to the six most critical error codes they should collect.

Greater visibility

Brandl said BYOD is the visibility piece of the puzzle, where mobile devices are evolving to be assistants with awareness of what you want, even before you know it. People will carry around situational awareness, workflows, standard operating procedures (SOPs), event tracking, and logging, appropriate for the person who walks up to machine. Devices and the software that power them increasingly will hear and see things before we do, with major impact on people’s productivity. Vendors are working on such interfaces. Software becomes even more important as hardware functionality becomes more of a utility. With corporate level systems in place, Brandl explained, MES and MOMS can feed the needed information, and the relevant details can remain hidden. Site level details are needed more on the plant floor, so there will always be requirements for localized knowledge.

Yost said things have changed, as business leaders generally no longer believe ERP vendors’ promise that ERP software can do everything. MES/MOM firms are having the same discussion. IT and operations are often divided and in trouble. They must force conversation about what the ultimate objective is and work together to align the appropriate technologies and solutions, Yost said. Are MES/MOM vendors experts in their domain? Yes. Are enterprise vendors experts in their domain? Yes. Can they be experts across both domains? Together, however, they can be.

While MES/MOM systems can improve ERP, and manufacturers are glad for it, given the investment in ERP, it’s not the primary function of MES/MOM systems, Yost explained. “However, the two worlds have their own, unique value propositions. A challenge manufacturer’s face is knowing where and how to draw the lines between the two worlds and who to trust to help them do that. That’s another challenge the MESA community embraces and helps companies solve.”

Yost said, “MESA is preparing to launch a new Guidebook within the next few months specifically around ROI and cost justification to help address this challenge.”

Often MES solutions are put in while those involved are kicking and screaming, although most issues, Yost said, are not technical but more operational, educational, or political. Language can get in the way, as chief information officers (CIOs) get varied messages from different groups. The same terms can mean different things for operations and IT. Quality management may not mean the same things to each.

Education, collaboration

MESA, founded in 1992, continues to educate and help members and others integrate systems to get the best value from existing systems and data, Yost suggested. Those working under the MESA umbrella, Yost said, have a charter and purpose to collaborate. Plus, outside of their plants, it’s not IT versus manufacturing. Brandl said the MESA Americas board is trying to bring the needs seen in marketplace into the MESA organization, and MESA offers a unified voice for the best practices and approaches for addressing those need.

Brandl said both sides need to know something about manufacturing. To help with that, MESA is evaluating offering “IT for Manufacturing” and “Manufacturing for IT classes”, as well as industrial cyber security―how to set up policies, procedures, and training, capturing best practices along the way.

MESA also offers white papers and talks geared to helping manufacturing and IT understand each others’ needs. For instance, IT needs to understand they cannot reboot a plant floor system just to fix it. More dialog needs to take place, so each understands the others’ values, issues, reasons, structures, and policies.

Yost said the MESA Global Education Program (GEP) helps IT and operations to better understand the other’s perspective. That cooperative vision also is apparent with MESA working groups, allowing discussion on important issues that might not be addressed in the same plant. With MESA, IT and operations can, in a less threatening environment, share best practices, have discussions, and return to their company better prepared for changes that will benefit each.

In addition, MESA offers libraries of standards and best practices, Brandl said, with more than 800 documents in the MESA library, including guide books and talks resulting from the merger with World Batch Forum (WBF) 2 years ago.

Yost said all that information is available for premium members, and the organization plans to continue to grow that. Those who join now begin on a foundation of 21 years of collected experiences, bringing new experiences and topics to a proven foundation of methodologies and people who have had a few bloody noses along the way, Yost said.

A new area for MESA is enterprise recipe management, building on WBF efforts, defining industry best practices, helping major companies and other members (https://www.mesa.org/en/aboutus/aboutmesa.asp) roll out new products more quickly.

Yost said one of MESA’s goals is to help companies provide justification for the kinds of investments to make them more productive and profitable more quickly. One company was working for months on justification for an MES investment to help with asset performance maintenance. IT purchased a huge number of Apple iPads for use in the plant, less of a solution than the right MES installation would have been, and funding for the MES project went away.

MESA membership is available at the basic level for individuals, and premium company memberships are scaled by company size―small, medium, and large. Premium Manufacturer/Producer Company dues provide credits against educational costs. “We’ve put a model together to make this relevant to businesses. More manufacturers are getting involved at the leadership level,” Yost said. MESA is renowned for being noncommercial. Brandl added, “We’re all trying to make the pie bigger,” rather than argue over the size of the slice.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

Key quotables

  • Using standards-based architectures and best practices is key to efficient and effective integration to get the best corporate value.
  • Big data without context cannot provide information. MES provides context that helps transform data into information.
  • The same terms can mean different things for operations and IT.
  • Mobile devices are evolving to be assistants with awareness of what you want, even before you know it.


The article above expands upon what appears in the November print and digital editions. Also read the cover story about plant to floor integration–see the article links at the bottom of this post, along with additional links about MES, MOMs, and related topics.


Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.