Modular Automation Allows for Food Manufacturing Flexibility

From the PC to the Internet Revolution, Standard, Modular Software Objects Are the Key to Easier Manufacturing Agility and Integration

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BatchML is an implementation of S88 using web-friendly XML documents called schemas. It originated with WBF, formerly the World Batch Forum, now the Organization for Production Technology (

PackML, from members of ISA, WBF and OMAC (, the Organization for Machine Automation and Control, is a "packaging machine language," using S88's framework for interfacing with packaging machines. It's not Internet technology-based, but includes "tags" to enable modular integration with other systems.

Quantifying the benefits
Modular, object-based reusable software objects enhance flexibility by reducing engineering efforts to help the manufacturer speed implementations and achieve faster time to market.

Chappell, who chairs Make2Pack (, a group promoting the efforts of WBF, OMAC and ISA, says Douglas Machine (, Alexandria, Minn., was so gung-ho on the idea of S-88-based modular objects, the company programmed its own before there was a complete PackML standard. Four years ago, Douglas announced its results at a packaging automation forum: "It reduced by 80 percent the amount of time, effort and cost it takes to deliver a new machine," recalls Chappell.

Similarly, one of Chappell's automation associates at P&G, Rob Aleska, notes that automation designs based on PackML have slashed control program writing from 20 weeks to three weeks when code was re-used for a second machine; and three weeks to 10 days upon repeated use.

The benefits and competitive advantages to OEMs include shorter machine development cycles and easier upgrades and addition of new features, because it's no longer necessary to reinvent the wheel by programming and re-programming mundane tasks for oft-used components. This enables the project team to focus on higher-level innovations that add value to the product.

The learning curve is easier, too, when OEMs and users are speaking a common language. Standardizing on a modular automation platform goes far to alleviate the pain of having a key engineer retire, taking years of experience and intellectual property with him or her.

The industry is far from united on standard, modular tools. Still, Brandl says, "Many large OEMs are making data from their control boxes much more visible now, but it's still on a machine-by-machine basis." This represents "the first phase of achieving the flexibility you need, where you can get everything you need out of key pieces of machinery, and you can start to improve your process."

The second phase, he adds, "occurs when you can tie all those machines together so you can determine how the machines are working together at the line level," which brings a higher level of optimization, for instance, using data for rapid debottlenecking.

Moving forward, S88-based XML schema are moving toward integration with other standards. One is the ANSI/ISA-95 family of standards for plant-to-enterprise interaction, such as the WBF-derived B2MML, a business-to-manufacturing XML implementation. And a new "106" standard is under way to add a bit more standard "glue" between the 88 and 95 models.

In addition to his membership on the PackML committee, Svendsen says Arla "uses a lot of B2MML. It's just an XML schema with a standard structure that lets me exchange a process order between SAP and my MES layer. And because it's standard, when I say 'B2MML' to another MES supplier, they know what we're talking about. It has been working out very well as a common language."

While vendors tend to dominate the making of automation standards, end users play an important role in development by their mere presence. In the development of XML schema, Arla has been joined by representatives from Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Frito-Lay, Mars/Masterfoods, brewers Coors, Miller and Martens, and others. Chappell's three decades at P&G saw him representing Folgers, Pringles, Jif and other brands.

As engineering, IT and business management leaders converge on common Internet standards for the systems they use, we can only guess whether they'll start to get along and really start to benefit from modular automation and a new level of manufacturing flexibility.

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