How Far Up the Hierarchy Should Automation Vendors Go?

In the previous post I postulated that successful investment by automation companies today is closely related to the process. Vendors like SAP and Oracle have not pushed downward beyond a certain level and the success of automation companies pushing upward, so far, has been limited. The question this post will address is should an end-user consider buying business software like Financials, HR or sustainability software from an automation company instead of a traditional business software supplier? If only it were so easy to answer yes or no! The reality is that the interconnection of functionality when one takes the systems view means there is a direct thread from the process right to the payroll system. It is pretty obvious that the ability to monitor the operating parameters of a piece of equipment can provide insight as to when that equipment might require preventative maintenance. So it is logical an automation application and an asset maintenance application should be tightly integrated. Since a maintenance technician will be doing the actual maintenance and there will likely be materials required to perform the maintenance having the maintenance application tightly integrated with the stores/inventory system for materials and a staff scheduling system is logical. The next link then is to ensure the right person is available and the the materials that are not in inventory are purchased which of course means knowledge of the technicians certifications and skills as well as their availability. Likewise issuing a purchase order and recording goods receipt should be automated and integrated, which implies linkage to accounting systems. And of course recording a person’s actual activity associated with the maintenance activity could be used to trigger a payroll action, ad infinitum.

So to simplify life buy everything from a single vendor - not! The reality is that while almost every activity in a manufacturing plant is related to and impinges on another activity/process you do not need a single tool to manage it all. There is a $1350 Wenger Swiss Army Knife that has 85 tools and can supposedly handle 141 functions. How many of us would attempt to maintain a plant or even our own homes or auto using that instead of a collection of hand tools that we acquired over time from specialized vendors. We are far more likely to buy Crescent adjustable wrenches, ChannelLock slip joint pliers, Craftsman wrenches and screwdrivers, ViceGrip locking pliers, Stanley wood working tools and other best-in-class tools. So the reality is the best manufacturers build the skills and competence in their organizations to use a collection of purpose built tools to accomplish a task and not try to rely on a one-size-fits-all tool that does everything.

Dan Miklovic is blogger contributor for Control's blog Manufacturing 2010. You can email him at or check out his Google+ profile.