More top down view of the enterprise looks at us

It is indeed fascinating to be standing on the other side of the DMZ between the plant and the enterprise and look over the wall at the plant. Once again, TEC ( has published a great article that describes how the enterprise looks at us, and what they are thinking. Written by Joseph J. Strub (Author blurb: Joseph J. Strub has extensive experience as a manager and senior consultant in planning and executing ERP projects for manufacturing and distribution systems for large to medium-size companies in the food & beverage, chemical, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) process industries. Additionally, Mr. Strub was a consultant and Information Systems Auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers and an applications development and support manager for a Fortune 100 company. He can be reached at it is required reading for any enterprise IT manager or operative who wants to really understand the issues involved in actually constructing a realtime performance management system. Strub says: Process manufacturing has unique requirements differentiating it from other types of manufacturing. When selecting software for the process industry, special attention and emphasis should be placed on these requirements to ensure that a company can operate at optimal levels, consistent with how it does business and not with how the software lets the company do business. Be aware of both large software vendors, who try to be all things to all companies, and niche vendors, who lack the deep pockets to continue the product line and meet future needs. This article defines process manufacturing; discusses its formulation, packaging, and pricing issues; talks about interfaces; and provides cautions and caveats. Furthermore, these characteristics should be at the top of any software evaluation list. Other words of wisdom include: Even with today's all encompassing ERP software, external interfaces are inevitable now or in the future. Making this requirement more critical is the movement back to "best-of-breed" software. Consequently, satisfying user needs outside the confines of ERP software will become more commonplace. Typical interfaces, that should be considered, are a virtual alphabet soup of systems. Warehouse management systems (WMS), manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource management (ERM), advanced planning and scheduling (APS), computer maintenance management systems (CMMS), electronic data interchange (EDI), supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), and radio frequency (RF) are just a few. While the number of interfaces required for process manufacturing is not necessarily greater than those for discrete, the same cannot be said for the degree of complexity. Consequently, it is critical that you can comprehend, at least at a conceptual level, the data model and structures. When assessing process manufacturing software, it is important to appreciate what is involved in designing and installing interfaces. Even if you are planning to use vendor or third party consultants, the ongoing maintenance costs may not be trivial. Including interfaces in this primer does not mean to imply that only process manufacturing software has this characteristic. However, it does imply that process manufacturing interfaces are usually a way of life. These interfaces are complicated and usually go through a labyrinth of data mazes and screen maps. Mix in what we talked about above"”formulas, scalability, pack recipe, various UOMs, complex pricing algorithms, and hang on for a bumpy ride. Finally, Strub gets to the real nub of the issue. As we process automation pundits have been pointing out for years, automatic ledgers don't cut it. Back-office systems such as the general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivables do play an important role in process manufacturing software. They just do not play a decisive role. Back-office systems don't make history; they record history. Particular emphasis should be paid to the systems that will either generate revenue or reduce costs. Back-office systems should be used in tiebreaker situations where two ERP packages appear to be equal in the areas of production, inventory control, customer service, and order processing. Last, Strub reports the truth about discrete and process manufacturing that CONTROL discovered over 17 years ago: they are different and they don't overlap much. That's why we have two magazines, CONTROL and Control Design to cover the automation marketplace. He says, "Just like the products that they produce, discrete and processing manufacturing software have different focal points and solve different problems. Just as you would not put the proverbial square peg in the round hole, don't expect to be successful using software geared toward discrete, or even a hybrid, to work smoothly in the process manufacturing setting. Even process manufacturing software, purported by salespeople to talk and chew gum at the same time, needs to be investigated. Critical aspects such as formulation, routing, ingredients, unit of measures, and pricing must be evaluated relative to your business." Despite the unmistakeable whiff of condescension toward the actual processes of (ewwww!) making things, these consultants are finally coming to see what is really true: Real Time Process Optimization starts on the plant floor, not in Accounting. What do YOU think? Walt