The importance of a process functional ecosystem

The process functional ecosystem consists of a methodology for viewing the different functionalities that are utilized in most production areas.

By Randy Otto September 29, 2022
Randy Otto is the CEO of ECS Solutions and brings more than 25 years of experience in diverse industries, including glass fibers manufacturing and custom assembly machine manufacturing. Courtesy: ECS Solutions

Companies who operate in multi-step, multi-ingredient batch processing operations employ a combination of complex procedures, business and operational systems, and communications. The range of tools and machinery used to process a potential vast array of ingredients and process steps are what it takes to make processors successful. Entire working cultures emerge from these operations that foster a focus and achieve positive outcomes.

The internal operations systems of the systems integrator (SI) should mirror the structure and key roles within a processor’s organization. Processors should find a complete ecosystem that addresses the equipment, processing steps, and layered data flow aspects of manufacturing. The SI’s leaders should regularly receive and then deliver training that drives every member of their team to understand considerably more than just physical automation.

The more specialized the market and operation, the fewer number of people who operate within that domain. This often prevents regular interaction with a broad spectrum of manufacturing peers, leaving individuals and organizations feeling they are so unique that they are relatively isolated. They frequently feel little confidence people outside their close-knit internal group can effectively understand, let alone support them. The possibility exists that they are rare, but they are not entirely unique, and outside firms exist that are closely aligned and, in fact, true peers, as well.

Consultative SIs exist in the batch processing community who can serve in this role.  They have established a collective corporate consciousness that is aligned with the DNA of their core clients: batch processors. They immerse themselves in the behaviors and characteristics of these clients and it is reflected in nearly every aspect of their operation.

The relationship between a true partner SI and their batch processing clients is like a patient in need of specialized medical care. A patient can communicate with a broad spectrum of physicians, and common threads would be revealed in conversations with nearly all of them.

However, when a specific need arises, the most effective means to a successful end is to engage quickly and deeply with someone who functions each day in the required specialty field. The involvement of a trusted expert SI provides assurance that the best possible experience is involved with the planning and execution of projects. Moreover, they approach each project as a partner with a client’s long term needs in mind.

Systems designs should reflect physical processes which are modeled and converted into operational steps. These steps may include both automated equipment and manual operations. Designs should highlight equipment capabilities and manual work which are arranged into procedural models. All this work related to the physical operations should be examined within and aligned to the data flow requirements for business planning, manufacturing operations management, and manufacturing control. The entire team at the SI should approach each project and modules within them with this in consideration.

Experienced batch processing professionals may recognize alignment within this description to International Society of Automation’s (ISA) ISA-88 and ISA-95 standards. This is not a coincidence because batch-focused SIs weave these standards into their internal systems. This allows them to purposefully approach the evolution of each of their teammates in a manner that constantly drives towards homogeneity with their clients and further establishes their expertise with each passing collaboration, large or small.

Every client interaction is streamlined by this aligned approach to both communications and operations within the firms. Every opportunity and situation should be approached and then problems are solved without having to first establish baseline understandings between the SI and the client nor within the SI’s team itself: results should happen efficiently. Client personnel from each layer within the model should benefit from the connection to the SI’s team, from operators, engineers, production management, to IT.

Some batch processors initially have no exposure at all to business modeling in this manner and some are deeply rooted in the methodology. No matter which case, a high quality SI’s aligned understanding should support effective establishment and/or expansion of this for their clients.  Their experience and methodologies help them to navigate today’s challenges and pragmatically plan for future expansions. Much as batch processing is not new nor the standards that govern the most efficient business operations, these specialized firms are also not new and can provide this crucial role for manufacturers in this space.

Author Bio: Randy Otto is the CEO of ECS Solutions and brings more than 30 years of experience in diverse industries, including glass fibers manufacturing and custom assembly machine manufacturing. Before joining ECS, Randy spent 10 years managing the delivery of assembly equipment for Integrated Systems Manufacturing and process control systems for Premier System Integrators. For most of the last 18 years, he has managed business development and sales for ECS and more recently as a part of his duties as CEO. Randy graduated from Purdue University with a degree in electrical engineering technology. He has an MBA from the University of Southern Indiana.