Worlds in Collision — or Cooperation?

The major barrier to integrating automation with enterprise systems is nottechnological. True, there are technological issues involved, some quite intricate. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to appreciate the need to leverage real-time data to strategically drive manufacturing performance. The real barrier is no longer how or why, but who.

By Frank O. Smith for Control Engineering August 1, 2006


IT and engineering convergence

Manufacturing strategy

Best practices

Role of the champion

Sidebars: How to ensure good control engineering/IT collaboration

The major barrier to integrating automation with enterprise systems is not technological. True, there are technological issues involved, some quite intricate. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate the need to leverage real-time data to strategically drive manufacturing performance.

The real barrier is no longer how or why, but who .

At a recent user conference, Tom Kopanski, vice president of Siemens E&A, Automation and Motion, recounted a story he’d heard from an attendee: At a meeting of control engineers, he said, when IT was mentioned, attendees booed .

‘IT and plant floor people are from two different worlds,’ he commented later. ‘They don’t understand one another. They don’t talk the same language.’ Kevin Roach, vice president of Rockwell Automation, echoed the sentiment: ‘Automation and IT aren’t birthed from the same place.’

Massive changes in global competition have made what happens on the plant floor strategic to every enterprise seeking to retain manufacturing operations rather than outsource them. And even outsourced manufacturing requires tight communications with inter-connected engineering design and supply chain teams. Where once manufacturing was a black box in which orders were deposited and products extruded at the shipping doors, today the flow of production and information associated with it are of paramount interest to top executives. That’s where they make—or lose—money. That makes plant floor data invaluable. And the push to get at it is what propels the worlds of IT and control engineering to engage.

Engagement has not been easy, as long-standing domain authority has been challenged. ‘I’ve seen very few companies where tension between the two groups doesn’t exist, where it hasn’t taken a top mandate for the chasm to be bridged,’ says Colin Masson, research director of Boston-based AMR Research. ‘IT doesn’t acknowledge or understand key manufacturing differences, and process engineers are largely myopic around the optimal solution for their site.’

Much is at stake beyond turf domains. ‘Every company has to evaluate the role of manufacturing, how good they are: Am I world class, or can I become world class, or do I sell off manufacturing? That’s the reality today,’ Masson says. ‘If manufacturing operates in a silo and doesn’t agree to common measurement… [if you don’t allow yourself] to be benchmarked to become world class, chances are you won’t be working with that company for long, as it’ll outsource its manufacturing. But if you focus on improving manufacturing, I think there will be a Renaissance.’

Pressures to do something are great. ‘Having manufacturing plants, from a Wall Street perspective, is tough right now,’ says Julie Fraser, principal at Industry Directions, a consulting research firm. ‘But a lot of manufacturers have done the analysis and decided ‘we’re good at this,’ that manufacturing is strategic to their company.

‘I see this as a golden opportunity for automation people on the floor,’ she says. ‘They have to recognize that the days of having a private world that nobody can touch are over. But it’s an opportunity for them to get recognized for the important role they play. It’s a great opportunity—but there are big challenges, as well.’

Islands of organization

Looking at the domains of control engineering and IT, few similarities and commonalities readily come to mind, other than that they usually reside within the same enterprise. They have different heritages, cultures, mindsets, and agendas.

Control engineers contend with process control in seconds or milliseconds; IT with process accounting and documentation in weeks and months. Plant engineers like to control the automation destiny of their individual plants; IT much prefers broad scale standardization.

‘In the past, control systems were on proprietary platforms that made it difficult for anyone (outside engineering) to gain access to do anything,’ says Kevin Staggs, engineering fellow for Honeywell Process Automation. ‘If you look at the classic IT business model, it’s based on protecting the intellectual property of the business. At the controls level, the priority is to protect people, equipment, and the environment.’

‘Traditionally,’ adds Peter Martin, Invensys vice president of performance management, ‘we’ve talked about islands of information or of automation. The real problem has been that we’ve had islands of organization.’

Bridging the islands of organization represents the greatest barrier to integrating automation with the rest of the enterprise. ‘The most difficult thing is getting IT and manufacturing together to ask them what information they need to run the business,’ says Kevin Tock, vice president for Wonderware. ‘In most instances, it’s the first time they’ve ever been in the same room together.’

This severe degrees-of-separation makes for interesting and challenging dynamics when integrating automation and enterprise systems. Who owns and drives these projects varies tremendously.

‘Food and beverage and pharmaceuticals have been collecting information to validate their processes for years due to regulatory requirements, but this is just starting in automotive,’ says Sarah Wiseman, software engineering specialist with Eagle Technologies in Bridgeman, MI. Wiseman designs and helps implements data collection systems for sharing the process automation information of tier one and two suppliers with OEMs. ‘Engineering knows they need to collect the data and may have servers coming that IT needs to support, but they ‘forgot’ to tell IT. Nine times out of ten, when I contact IT, they thank me for bringing them into the loop.’

Typically in such situations, IT scrambles to play catch up. In one instance, however, IT killed the project, telling Wiseman they already had an infrastructure in place, and that’s what was going to be used. ‘I always start by telling engineering: ‘You have to tell IT what’s going on,” she says.

Standardization benefits

Rexam Beverage Can North America sits at the other end of the spectrum. ‘In the past, IT and control engineering were islands unto themselves,’ says Stephen Sefton, IT manager of enabling systems. ‘But we’ve seen a shift in the last few years, with IT working on projects that are more traditionally within the domain of control engineering because of the business benefits of standardization across the company.’

Rexam runs 17 North American manufacturing facilities and is implementing a standard infrastructure that will enable corporate executives to view real time data from all plants on one screen using data collection aggregation technology from Acumence integrated with SAP. ‘Without standardization, it would make it a lot more difficult to do,’ he says.

Seflon concedes, ‘there are still areas where manufacturing facilities want to do their own thing, and bringing IT in to prevent them from doing that creates conflicts.’ But, he says, the business benefits of standardization are often compelling. ‘It enables seeing which plants have best practices in which areas, and then being able to roll them out across the enterprise.’

Expansion by acquisition also plays into the desire for common plant floor systems. ‘Now that you have manufacturing enterprises that are growing by acquisition, it’s more important to replicate systems at the plant level, from maintenance and utilization perspectives, so corporate management can do comparisons between facilities, comparing apples to apples,’ says Marc Leroux, ABB marketing manager for collaborative manufacturing.

Best practices

Communication and collaboration are hallmarks of successful projects. And where they are practiced disciplines, success can be achieved whether control engineering or IT drives the project.

A project to provide managers with better visibility into gas turbine performance at Wisconsin Public Service, a power generation utility headquartered in Green Bay, WI, was originally initiated by engineering. But Rodney Howard, PE, senior engineer, went to IT early, to explain what engineering wanted to do.

‘I deal with controls and HMI, which is a different set of software from what IT typically deals with,’ Howard says. ‘The IT world is built on the LAN. We wanted, however, to host an application we developed with real-time graphic displays that mirrored HMI screens on the equipment, but have the application sit on the LAN where it could be assessed via a Web browser on the desktop.

‘I went to IT early to explain why we wanted to do this. It took several meetings—not because they’re not smart people, but purely because of experience: You can only know what you know. It went much smoother than I expected. I was pretty pleased with how willing IT was to do this,’ he says.

The Wisconsin utility is building a new generation facility deploying Invensys’ new InFusion control system/infrastructure platform. Howard is building on early collaboration success with corporate IT by working together with Tom Vukovich, the utility’s director of enterprise technology who heads up a plant-focused IT infrastructure team with a strong background in controls and instrumentation.

‘We’re at the stage where we’ve been proactively preparing IT at the director level and communicating with IT managers, preparing for the day when they will want more information from the control system. We’re telling them, ‘we only gave you HMI data from the gas turbines. We interface with every PLC in the project. Let’s talk about how we can feed it to you,” Howard states.

‘I’d rather reach across the firewall and shake hands, than have either side pointing fingers, saying this is a nightmare. For it not to be a nightmare, you have to be proactive and talk to people about what you’re doing and why,’ Howard says.

This kind of collaboration represents a great opportunity. ‘It’ll broaden people’s background and create new jobs. It’ll end up reclassifying roles and responsibilities,’ Howard says.

Collaboration can be more problematic among large multi-plant enterprises. Here, it is more common for IT to speak with one mind due to centralization of function, dictating standardization of business systems. But often, each plant controls its own destiny around automation devices and equipment. Increasingly, however, some large companies are instituting centers of manufacturing excellence and/or centralized engineering.

At Rexam, Sefton leveraged the company’s centralized engineering department to pursue automation-to-enterprise integration. ‘Engineering in the plant reported to a central engineering group. We formed an alliance with them to bring everything together. It’s resulted in closer understanding and working relations, which has made things easier around adding devices to the shop floor, coming up with the best designs everybody agrees on.’

The resulting collaboration has been invaluable, he says. ‘IT on its own doesn’t understand all the intricacies of process control and how to maximize efficiencies. Those ideas have to come from the engineering and the control level. But collaborating with multiple plants would be near impossible. So collaboration with central engineering has been key to our integration efforts.’

Making the most of different areas of expertise can result in better systems. John Ditter, product specialist for Wago, says, ‘It has to be a team effort, because there are different skill sets between IT and control. You have to work together to maximize the skill levels of both to get the information you need: Specification of equipment on the floor typically resides with control engineering, but interfacing it with the enterprise falls to IT.’

Wanted: a champion

B&R Automation produces PLCs, HMIs, industrial PCs, and components for a number of industries at its Eggelsberg, Austria, plant. It is, in essence, both manufacturer and user of automation. When seeking to integrate production automation equipment on its own plant floor with IT systems, the first thing it did was to create an integrated project team. ‘We had two people out of each department,’ says Helmut Kirnstoetter, U.S. sales manager at B&R. ‘Their working together went well because the focus was on functionality. They decided what the targets were, how to set them up and realize them, and presented them to management to make the decision.’

Larger organizations may require a more complex structure, suggests Martin of Invensys: ‘It doesn’t matter which side drives it as much as that it involves a multi-disciplinary project team with a strong leader who holds to tasks,’ he says.

Wago’s Ditter says, ‘In large organizations, I think you need a champion at the corporate level to work with both IT and control engineering.’

Mike Yost, GE Fanuc marketing manager for Proficy agrees. ‘You definitely need champions who understand the landscape, who can ask tough questions and make sure the projects are funded, that stakeholders are brought into the process early, because you’re crossing boundaries, and you need sign-off by various departments,’ he says. ‘You need someone who can navigate those waters very skillfully.’

Joe Jablonski, president of Acumence, says the champion doesn’t have to be from either IT or control engineering, but ‘needs to be an IT-savvy person who understands manufacturing.’ As an electrical engineer who’s worked as a control engineer with major plant responsibilities before switching to IT, Jablonski has a unique perspective—and a career path of increasing merit for engineers.

As for the champion, he says, ‘it needs to be someone who can bridge the gap between the two, someone who can drive and shorten the gap, and overcome the conflicts that naturally arise because of the differences.’

For more on this series of articles and other discussions of enterprise integration, read this article at , August 2006.


Automation Vendors Adapt to IT’s Seat at the Table

“Until three or four years ago, historically we didn’t know that IT existed,” says John Dyck, director of marketing for Proficy for GE Fanuc. “We basically ignored their influence. Now, we not only treat them as influencers, but as buyers.”

GE Fanuc, like the other automation vendors and the control engineers who have been their traditional base, have had to adapt, both in market messaging and in sales. GE Fanuc is hiring sales representatives who have experience in both worlds, and the company has also recrafted its marketing to address “quadrant pairing” of corporate and plant people with manufacturing and IT people to derive value propositions specific to each. (See graphic.)

“These are the groups we have identified as key stakeholders in buying systems, and each has unique requirements,” says Dyck.

“The plant manufacturing and control guys, for example, understand the problem better than anyone else. The plant IT guys may not specify, but they’re definitely gatekeepers,” he says. “They have to be kept in the loop for how supportable solutions are in the environment they have to maintain. They don’t want to support 100 different applications: they want to support 10– or two, or one. The corporate manufacturing people are very high level, focusing on standardization, large-scale rollouts and higher justification based on corporate initiatives.”

And don’t forget, he adds: “Corporate IT plays a key role in controlling total cost of ownership.”

Related reading

Part 1: Business Technologies Boost Engineering, Feb. 2006

Part 2: Building Bridges to the Enterprise, May 2006

MES: from Device to Decision, Sept. 2005

For the monthly Control Engineering column, “IT & Engineering Insight,” search Brandl atop any page at and look under “News, Departments….”

How to ensure good control engineering/IT collaboration

‘In a word —communicate.’ Sarah Wiseman, Eagle Technologies

‘Bring IT in early and engage with them upfront.’ Rodney Howard, Wisconsin Public Services

‘Welcome the opportunity to learn new skills.’ John Ditter, Wago

‘You have to understand security and infrastructure in a different context.’ Marc Leroux, ABB

‘You have to understand secure IP network routing, how it all works together.’ Joe Jablonski, Acumence

‘Learn from IT how to lobby the corner office to get money to fund projects.’ Julie Fraser, Industry Directions

‘Don’t have a narrow mindset. Think about the entire organization.’ Sarah Wiseman, Eagle Technologies

‘Become a part of the manufacturing enterprise strategy.’ Colin Masson, AMR Research

‘Operations needs to align with the right business objectives so they can track to the right metrics in real time.’ John Snodgrass, Chemtura

‘Success requires close collaboration between control engineers and IT.’ Stephen Sefton, Rexam