Switch to SOA spurs trends in IT/automation convergence

Automation is an engineering discipline. Automation products exist in the physical world, and the results they deliver are fairly easy to measure. Software is an information technology (IT) discipline. Users buy something that, ultimately, they can't lay their hands on. Measuring the benefits of collaboration or flexibility can be difficult.
By Jim Fulcher, contributing editor April 1, 2008

Automation is an engineering discipline. Automation products exist in the physical world, and the results they deliver are fairly easy to measure.

Software is an information technology (IT) discipline. Users buy something that, ultimately, they can’t lay their hands on. Measuring the benefits of collaboration or flexibility can be difficult.

Yet on today’s plant floors, automation and IT go hand in hand. Automation vendors, given their conflicting impulses to become more “software company”-like or stick to their automation knitting, have taken distinctly different commercial approaches to automation/IT convergence.

Invensys Process Systems, Siemens Automation and Drives, and Rockwell Automation see themselves as spanning both disciplines while applying selectively the resources appropriate to each. Others, including Mitsubishi Electric Automation, know they must have IT solutions for their automation customers, but look to partnerships as the preferred delivery method.

While individual approaches differ, seemingly all automation and IT vendors believe corporate IT departments have growing influence on plant investment decisions.

Ease in enterprise integration

Production at the PepsiAmericas bottling facility in Des Moines, says Dave Bramow, production manager, was highly automated, but paper and pencil were used to collect performance data from the can line—including shift throughput and downtime events.

The company created a “start-to-finish” picture of what was happening on the plant floor by deploying the Rockwell Automation Line Performance Solution, including pre-integrated software and services that are part of the Rockwell Software FactoryTalk production and performance management software suite. (See sidebar for case study details.)

Manufacturers are turning to comprehensive plant-floor information solutions applied across multiple sites as a means to reduce costs and improve production and performance management.

FactoryTalk is one of several competing plant application suites being introduced to the manufacturing industries by major automation vendors. Plant operations software suites leverage features associated with service-oriented architecture (SOA). The architecture eases work involved in extending and deploying software applications.

“Rockwell adopted SOA as an approach before it was a term, and it’s central to FactoryTalk,” says Darren Riley, product manager for software and applications, Rockwell Software. “Because the products all speak the same language, manufacturers can rapidly deploy functionality, easily integrate with existing investments, and lower the cost of training as well as total cost of ownership.” Says Chris Will, CTO of plant operations solutions vendor Apriso , “We see the real benefit for SOA and Web services to be the way it eases integrating the plant and ERP. It’s also easier to make process changes.”

Mitsubishi’s IT strategy

Another characteristic of automation markets is that when it comes to PLCs, Siemens Automation and Drives dominates EMEA, Rockwell the U.S., and Mitsubishi Asia. Moreover, the fieldbus and field networking standards subscribed to by each vendor also tend to dominate in their respective regions.

But while Siemens and Rockwell have spent the last several years on a software acquisition binge, “We will stay focused on hardware,” says John Browett, product marketing manager, Mitsubishi. This focus has allowed Mitsubishi to lead with its new generation of programmable automation controllers (PAC), called iQ Automation, which combines the full range of process, logic, and motion control in a single unit, and a backplane with bandwidth sufficient to accommodate high-speed inter-processor communication.

Trayton Jay, director of special projects for Mitsubishi, believes customers need end-to-end systems. That’s why iQ Automation also is the basis of Mitsubishi’s eFactory initiative and architecture, which seeks to “information-enable” production facilities.

Production at the Pepsi
Americas bottling facility in Des Moines was highly automated, but until recently, paper and pencil were used to collect performance data. The company achieved a “start-to-finish” picture of what was happening on the plant floor by deploying elements of a production and performance management software suite.

The initiative, says Jay, is being piloted in North America in preparation for global rollout in the near future. It relies on the open architecture, increased performance, and capacious information bandwidth provided by iQ Automation; as well as extension of its CCLink network architecture, called CCLink IE.

Mitsubishi says it will continue to partner with IT and software vendors to ensure customers have necessary capabilities.

For example, In January, Mitsubishi, IBM , and ILS Technology agreed to develop a reference architecture for easy device-to-IT connectivity, and to bring an integrated manufacturing platform to the automotive industry.

ILS takes an appliance-based approach to device-enterprise connectivity, and has been accepted into the IBM Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) Specialty.

Sandy Carter, VP of IBM SOA and WebSphere, says using ILS deviceWISE technology to achieve seamless communication between intelligent devices and enterprise applications will generate a detailed view of the production environment, and facilitate responses to operational issues in real time.

Ending gaps and latencies

Automation vendor Yokogawa Electric Corp. recently introduced its next-generation distributed control system (DCS), which has its own distinct approach to automation/IT convergence.

With Centum VP, Yokogowa says it is taking a unified platform approach across process control, production and information management, and maintenance. Unifying these and other disparate functions leads to clear efficiency, safety, and agility benefits.

Since installing a line-performance solution for automated data collection to identify line interruptions and corrective actions, PepsiAmericas achieved a 6-percent increase in efficiency, which equates to more than $120,000 annual savings.

VigilantPlant is a Yokogawa initiative and an automation concept for safe, reliable, and profitable plant operations. Centum VP will be the flagship platform for VigilantPlant. The goal is empowering plant personnel who are watchful and attentive, well-informed, and ready to take actions that optimize plant and business performance.

Going beyond the traditional DCS function of controlling and monitoring a plant, Centum VP integrates plant information management, asset management, and operation support functions to achieve a unified operating environment. It all happens by means of a single, real-time database across those functions, which eliminates inherent gaps resulting from a patchwork of disparate systems in place to accomplish the same tasks. Change management, for example, is especially streamlined.

As process industries become of increasing importance to the health of the global economy, enterprises will work with IT vendors to make automation/IT convergence an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Metric-based approach delivers hard-won efficiencies for PepsiAmericas

Despite a strong record of operating efficiency, unexplained interruptions on the canning line at the PepsiAmericas bottling facility in Des Moines were causing downstream bottlenecks. The result was downtime, which meant the beverage maker couldn’t meet its high throughput goals. Moreover, an hour of downtime equaled $300 an hour in lost labor costs, and $10,000 per hour in lost product.

Besides finding a fix, PepsiAmericas also wanted to gather production data from its beverage-making processes and present it to management in a format that enabled better decision-making. The manual process in use—besides being unreliable and cumbersome—gave management little insight to what was really happening. Operators logged information about significant downtime events, but often ignored more transient, but potentially significant, ones.

And there was never any indication as to why an event occurred, says Dave Bramow, production manager, PepsiAmericas.

“It was a tedious, error-prone process that couldn’t give us the information we needed to correct the problems causing the downtime,” Bramow says.

PepsiAmericas partnered with Rockwell Automation , which also supplies automation products it uses in process control, Bramow says. Leveraging existing Rockwell control systems, PepsiAmericas used FactoryTalk Metrics, a Microsoft Windows-based software application to measure performance of critical production assets; FactoryTalk Historian to collect, analyze, and report production data via Web-based reporting; and FactoryTalk Integrator SE transaction manager to deliver efficient data transfer between the controllers and the server. Together these systems extract manufacturing data, allowing PepsiAmericas to review current and historical performance information.

Since installing Rockwell’s Line Performance Solution, and using automated data collection to identify line interruptions and needed corrective actions—including training and incorporation of best practices—Bramow says his team has achieved a 6-percent increase in efficiency, which equates to more than $120,000 annual savings.

Now playing: An enterprise-resource approach to manufacturing intelligence

Enterprise/plant-floor integration can be achieved other ways besides the comprehensive operations suites promulgated by automation vendors.

One alternative is by means of a relatively new type of plant-floor application, for “manufacturing intelligence.” The term connotes use of Internet and other type technologies to aggregate data from a wide range of plant-floor inputs, combining time-series and transactional data to derive key performance indicators and analysis of the results.

Manuvis offers what it calls “enterprise resource intelligence” software. Its Factory MRI solution comprises a “universal connector” that delivers actionable information based on data from factory-floor equipment made available to enterprise systems. In other words, the solution improves the planning responsiveness of ERP based on real-time status reports for production and capacity. Demand is met more profitably based on a clear idea of available resources.

Dave Scott, Manuvis president and CEO, says at least a couple of things differentiate Manuvis from similar solutions:

The solution runs in-house but can be accessed by anyone with a browser.

Connectivity is achieved using an “operator control station” that noninvasively connects to PLCs, or directly to machine devices such as thermocouples or limit switches. Any IP-addressable device can be accessed, or the OPC integration standard can be used.

The solution uses Progress Software database tools, which, says Scott, gives its customers a distinct advantage. “The Progress embedded database is the best on the market. We can use the same software code, regardless of whether the solution is installed on a Microsoft or Linux server; and the Progress Sonic product is the standard for SOA messaging.”

While these type capabilities have been delivered as tool sets, says Scott, “We deliver an application and solution. We’ve got the technology leg, and bring Six Sigma and lean expertise to every project. We understand customer requirements, and drive that out in a prototype. Then we roll it out as a platform that can be extended. After installation, we bring expertise to bear that recognizes the resulting opportunities for productivity gain.”