Four theater presentations on the theme of plant-wide optimization provided a dramatic explanation of just what is possible in manufacturing today. The series of presentations was given in the exhibit-floor theater at Automation Fair 2009 this week in Anaheim, Calif.
Mike Burrows, Rockwell Automation marketing director, Integrated Architecture, first gave an overview of plant-wide optimization and its impact on time to market, productivity and supply chain, asset optimization, life-cycle cost and reliability.
He emphasized how smart, safe sustainable growth initiatives in process, information and safety can be enhanced by Integrated Architecture. "A core sustainable platform offers performance enhancements and optimum form factors for control, communications, visualization and I/O," said Burrows. "Multi-discipline control expands commonality of systems plant-wide and in new markets with real-time information, converged Ethernet and scalability dimensions. And knowledge integration connects entire systems with reusable intellectual property."
Data is manufacturing's greatest hidden asset because most companies are largely unaware of its existence, said Ted Hill, director of business development, in his presentation on engineering a real-time information architecture. "Data is hidden because it's inaccessible, incomprehensible and incongruent," said Hill. "Data often is difficult to obtain because of security, physical location and protocol. It's not always accessible because of people and distance. And raw data often is buried in complex table structures."
IT convergence has become a frequent topic of discussions in corporate boardrooms, explained Hill. "Chief information officers around the world are faced with similar challenges, all leading from decades of decentralized and disconnected application development. There are real benefits gained by convergence."
He noted the use of standards that today ensure that multiple parties speaking the same language can communicate and synchronize. "Data consolidation allows views across data sources without replicating the data," said Hill. "Workflow management guides and enforces the business process, rather than relying on people to apply the prescribed processes. As time goes on, the topic of IT convergence becomes more and more important, as the cost to maintain existing infrastructure drops among the low-hanging fruit for cost-cutting activities."
In almost every manufacturing company, there is a virtual information barrier between the business workers in the office and the manufacturing floor. This barrier is technical and operational. "Often there are two networks in a manufacturing plant with very high levels of security between them or no connectivity at all," said Hill. "Information needed in the office, by other departments and by management is typically delivered periodically through systems like ERP. And almost all of it is reported weekly or monthly. Direct access to manufacturing systems is almost never granted to office workers, even direct supervisors of manufacturing operations."
The universal problem for these companies is the lack of adequate information needed to do their jobs effectively. "The people in the front office are starved for reliable, timely and accurate information about what's going on in manufacturing," said Hill. "If they get reports, they are typically on work completed, rarely on work in process. They are typically prepared by individuals based on whatever data they can easily obtain."
At the same time, data is piling up in the various manufacturing systems, such as control systems, HMI/SCADA, historians and alarm-and-event systems. And each of these systems often is from a different vendor, each creating its own silo of data because it has its own user interface, data structure, visualization and reporting paradigm. Plus, the information derived from each is intended to accomplish that system's primary function.
"It is not intended to correlate its own data with that of other systems or to provide composite reports beyond the scope of operations," explained Hill. "The barrier is solidified and operations suffer."
Asset utilization has become a key area of focus in today's economy as manufacturers are challenged with getting more out of their existing assets. "Real-time information provides an on-demand window into critical performance data, enabling management, operations, engineering and production personnel to quickly respond to issues affecting yields, product quality and plant uptime," said Hill. "Logix becomes the information-enabled platform feeding relevant data to FactoryTalk applications such as Historian, Metrics, Batch and AssetCentre. FactoryTalk VantagePoint becomes the common presentation layer, integrating this data along with data from the customer's business system to provide meaningful insight into plant operations. This is critical, as you can't improve what you can't measure."
With the right applications and data management framework, manufacturers can dramatically increase transparency. "Information is the next industrial revolution," said Hill. "The connected enterprise has a competitive edge."
Rob Swim, process channels, global program manager, explained in his presentation on achieving flexible operations through plant-wide control that certain pressures are being placed on manufacturers. "Other marketplace demands include improving your time to market and information exchange," he said. "For example, getting new products to market quickly and being able to react to market changes is critical. And customers want orders filled on time every time. These demands put pressure on you to hold, if not improve, your quality standards."