Convergence Connects the Manufacturing Dots

Nov. 18, 2008
Manufacturers Achieve Higher Levels of Business Performance

There’s no such thing as a silo in a manufacturing company’s organizational structure anymore. Manufacturers must find, use and master all available tools if they want to thrive in a global economy and hold off the competition. To do this, they must learn to leverage manufacturing convergence, merging traditionally separate functions and systems to create unique new capabilities.

"We got capability, we got integration. The new cry is a need for simplification." Jim Wetzel, director, control and information systems, General Mills, offered a reality check on the subject of Manufacturing Convergence.

That was the focus of a two-part panel discussion at Rockwell Automation’s Manufacturing Perspectives event, held this week during the run-up to the company’s Automation Fair in Nashville, Tenn.

The premise: With people, processes and technology working in unison, manufacturers can achieve higher levels of business performance, turn resources into assets and discover unique opportunities for competitiveness.

Manufacturing convergence clearly touches all segments of the manufacturing organization. Value can be realized from blending plant-floor with enterprise systems. Now, the panel speculated, imagine how much more value could be gained by extending Manufacturing Convergence to connect more dots.

Briefly, the drivers of manufacturing convergence as outlined by panel members representing the automation technology suppliers from Rockwell Automation, Cisco Systems, Dassault/Delmia and Microsoft are improved productivity, globalization, innovation and sustainability levels that can be achieved by merging manufacturing and production systems with the rest of the corporate enterprise.

Panel members representing manufacturing companies defined these influences in terms their own organizations.

Lance Fountaine, manager, manufacturing solutions, Alcoa, said that to the automation engineering and IT groups convergence means, “It’s no longer a case of us versus them.” He said the organization has a primary CIO/Director of Process Control Solutions who has both an Enterprise Information Systems and Strategy position and a Global Manufacturing and Process Control position reporting to him. “That was a big step change for us,” said Fountaine. “There’s been more consolidation from an expertise and skill-set perspective.”

Fountaine said embracing the architectures as defined by ISA95 was a big enabler for defining an understood manufacturing architecture and business architecture. “What helped us address the needs of manufacturing convergence was the convergence of technology around Ethernet and Windows,” adds Fountaine. “It got us away from the finger-pointing” that he said came from differing technology use in the factories versus the office.

For Paolo Scarabelli, manager, automation and line integration for TetraPak, integrating the elements of the equipment train and the factory system of the customer drives the need to operational convergence. “We’re not just an OEM packaging machine manufacturer,” he said. “There are our suppliers, ourselves, our customers, the retailers, consumers and even society itself. We have to address them all.”

As a result, said Scarabelli, “we shifted from mechanical to electronic design schemes and had to think about deployment, support, key suppliers and to think in terms of product life cycles all of which are affected by all the business sectors.”

Rob Schlafer, director of engineering, PepsiAmericas, explained some of the steps needed to begin the move towards a more convergence-based organization. He said, “IT tended to be focused on selling,” so convergence was something of a distraction at first. “We found that we needed to create the business case and find an ally within IT.”

He said his company also realized it needed to get better at hiring personnel who could use these wonderful new toys to more of their potential.

Jim Wetzel, director, control and information systems, General Mills, offered a reality check, saying that defining the value that convergence can create is fine. “Now how do you actually do it?” he added. “That’s the real question.”

He feels companies such as Rockwell Automation, by using standards-based tools, lets everyone play with the same tools in manufacturing and IT. “It helps IT understand the term ‘mission-critical’,” he added.

Now it’s time for simplification,” said Wetzel. “We got capability, we got integration. The new cry is a need for simplification.”

Along those lines, Fountaine reminded the audience of the large amount of legacy equipment in operation that complicates the process a bit as one looks at some of the obstacles to be dealt with in the future.