The whys and hows of enterprise integration

CONTROL's Senior Tech Editor Rich Merritt reports on enterprise integration, who's doing it, how well it is going, and how information is provided from the process control system to enterpise-level software.

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Connecting the EnterpriseBy Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor


CONNECTING YOUR process control system to enterprise software (ES)—enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, management execution system (MES), maintenance and/or supply chain management, to name a few—can be a difficult and expensive job. Is it worth it? Perhaps a new version of an old joke explains it best:

A control engineer comes home and announces to his wife: “We finally finished that enterprise integration project!”

“Did you get a big raise?” she asks.

“I did even better than that. I saved the plant and kept my job!”

In this article, we’ll cover why you do enterprise integration, how you make the connection, and how it helps you keep your job. Also, we found a government mandate that may give you the legal incentive you need to finally integrate your enterprise (Of course, it also might just be another ISO 9000/Y2K-type enterprise integration boondoggle that will annoy you and cost a fortune in consulting fees for dubious benefits.) 

Acronyms R Us: From ERP to ES
Since ERP first landed in our industry, we’ve heard disparaging words from control engineers and vendors. Way back, when ERP first hit the scene, one anonymous plant manager resisted it at all costs, figuring that ERP was just a way for upper management to figure out which plants to close. He was probably right at the time. ERP never did anything for you, but it sure closed a lot of marginal plants.
People still complain about ERP today. “ERP never really worked anyway,” said Dave Shook, marketing manager at Matrikon, in “Serving Up Asset Management,” CONTROL, Nov. ’05, p. 44. “The dirty little secret of ERP software is that it’s used for financial and ancillary functions instead of driving manufacturing decision-making,” he says. “In process manufacturing, ERP has been a pretty big bust.”

As you can see in an ERP view of a plant (See Figure 1 below), all ERP software seems to care about is the “goesintas” and the “goesoutas.” These are numbers that you already know about, and probably gather for the ERP software.

SAP R/3 System View of a Refinery
Here’s how an SAP R/3 system views a refinery. It cares about what goes in, what goes out, and what gets consumed. Source: Honeywell. (CLICK on image to enlarge)

Before going to work for Yokogawa Corp. of America five years ago as a productivity consultant, Fred Woolfrey was an end user, who still remembers ERP’s early days. “I worked on integration between SAP and plant operations,” he remembers. “The integration went from SAP orders, daily receiving, and daily shipping information through planning and scheduling models, and onto the desks of plant personnel responsible for plant schedules. The system included notification back to SAP about daily information on the actual shipments and receipts, and on changes made to the recommended schedule. The link from the plant schedule to the plant control system was accomplished manually.”

Many of you probably remember such a scenario in the “bad old days” of ERP. For this article, we’ll lump ERP, maintenance and/or supply-chain management, MES, asset management and similar software together under ES.

It’s what ES does with these numbers that has gotten better over the years. “Manufacturing or plant operations is right in the middle of the plan-source-make-deliver supply chain for most manufacturing companies,” says Mike Paulonis, technical associate at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn. “If communication and integration between various entities comprising the supply chain is poor, there will be inefficiency, waste, and problems. Companies at the leading edge of integration benefit from lower costs, higher productivity, higher quality, greater customer satisfaction, and higher profits.”

Paulonis explains plant-to-enterprise integration isn’t fueled by accounting. “It's not driven by benefits to plant constituencies either,” he adds. “It's driven by a company-level need to improve productivity, lower costs, and compete in the global marketplace.

“Plant folks have a legitimate complaint about being whipsawed by changing demand forecasts and changing production plans,” he notes. “If the plant has greater visibility to demand and planning information, then fewer surprises and last-minute changes will result. Most in plant operations would like to help the bottom line, and bring recognition to themselves by minimizing production costs.

nfortunately, it may not be obvious how to do that without enterprise-level information. By bringing real-time cost information down to the plant floor, better minute-to-minute and day-to-day decisions can be made to optimize profit.”

So, what does all this mean to you, out in the plant? Refer to the joke above, and understand that if you don’t optimize profit, minimize production costs, and secure all the other benefits Paulonis is talking about, then your accountant-managers might close your plant and move it to a third-world country. Therefore, you want to accomplish enterprise integration to keep your job. 

Benefits of Enterprise Integration
Marc Leroux, product marketing manager at ABB also echoes Paulonis’ comments. “To date, the vast majority of the connections have been limited to production requirements and costing information. This is a start, but certainly not what CEOs envisioned when they invested millions of dollars in ERP implementations. To execute on this vision, the manufacturing organization must become ‘transparent.’ As companies focus on improved customer service, the demand for much tighter integration will become higher than we can presently envision,” he concludes.

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