Information Management's New Frontier

March 26, 2009
ABB's Jim Kline Discussed the Role of Information Management in Addressing Manufacturers' Need to Manage Plant Economics and Energy

Promises of salvation through information technology and software are so numerous, old and threadbare by now that many folks might not recognize IT’s simple saving grace when it finally arrives. Poor timing and a lack of appreciation are often the fate of saviors.

For instance, genuinely useful information management (IM) means giving users access to all the specific data they need to make better manufacturing and business decisions literally whenever and wherever they want it. This kind of information management finally gets everyone on the same page, so all the left hands finally know what all the right hands are doing in even the most far-flung applications, projects and organizations.

“Today it’s no longer enough to simply execute a production plan.” ABB’s Jim Kline discussed the role of information management in addressing manufacturers’ need to manage plant economics and energy.

To help usher in this new era, Jim Kline, global business and product manager for ABB’s Collaborative Production Management division, presented “The Next Generation of Managing Information” this week at ABB Automation and Power World 2009 in Orlando. Kline summarized many trends besetting IM and showed how ABB’s collaborative production management Plus (cpmPlus) software can help users handle data moving between the production and business levels. He defined CPM as “a method to unify disparate systems to achieve operational excellence.”

“It still all comes down to money, but today it’s no longer enough to simply execute a production plan,” said Kline. “Economics and energy are now even more key factors across every enterprise, and so they must be constantly monitored, even in the control room. This means everyone is involved, and so they all need the right data, all the time and in every location. This level of collaboration and cross-functional capabilities is vital to success, but they also mean users need their data in minutes instead of hours.”

Kline reported the typical plant functions that CPM and cpmPlus can handle include laboratory information management system (LIMS), optimization, heat and mass balance, performance dashboards, key performance indicators (KPIs), monitoring, historians, yields and inventory, reliability and planning, and scheduling.

“Now, more users want to exchange more of their information, and we’re seeing it happen in industry, mostly driven by oil-and-gas firms,” said Kline. “These users have had separate plant, office, process control and subsystem networks. However, they want more integrated and seamless access to data without replicating it all in huge computers or numerous PCs that will all need maintenance. They want to get rid of all the usual spaghetti between their organizational layers.”

Kline added this vision of a new CPM strategy is similar to what distributed control systems (DCSs) have been doing for years. DCSs place tags on information sources, such as signals, motors, maintenance devices, asset monitors and other components, and then later users can call up whatever tag they need and see data for that device or function. “Users on the other layers want to use this method too so they don’t have to bring up 10 or 15 software applications when they just want some simple data.”

Consequently, Kline reported that developers outside the DCS space are envisioning ways to describe their data sources with unique addresses to enable simplified application and service delivery. They are also looking at ways to model the core concept of a new integration architecture and to accomplish integration that’s inherently important, especially with components from different vendors. “For example, the oil-and-gas industry already has moved from traditional limited-integration processes with self-sustainable fields, specialized onshore units and periodic onshore support to first-generation integration across onshore and offshore facilities and continuous onshore support,” said Kline. “And they’re now looking at second-generation integration across companies using integrated operation center with operators and vendors, more heavily automated processes and 24/7 operations.”

One way to begin to accomplish this lofty goal is to use common communication methods and standards, such as OPC UA, ISA 95, ISA 88, XML, B2MML, Web services and others. However, Kline said these technologies are just the beginning building blocks of the architecture that users want to construct. “For example, some users that employed historians for one task, then begin to use them for everything, but find their maintenance system doesn’t need all that data,” explained Kline. “So they’re beginning to instead use a combination of historians for alarms and high-frequency events, other integration technology to prevent data loss, object models based on open standards for data exchange, security measures for system segregation and protection, operations and maintenance applications for optimization and visualization solutions as portals.”

Kline added that ABB’s cpmPlus can help coordinate these combined functions with its own integrated capabilities. These include its Smart Client, Enterprise Connectivity, industry-specific solutions, common industry functions for energy management and advanced process control. Meanwhile, its information layer, knowledge management and data storage/application platforms tie into lower-level control systems both from ABB and third parties and with package systems and equipment. Also, cpmPlus links with other business systems and other organizational applications.

“For example, cpmPlus Smart Client is closely integrated with Systems 800xA and provides access to real-time and historical process data, creates displays at the desktop, delivers true process values without intermediate buffering, provides contextual trends and doesn’t require programming,” said Kline. “Likewise, cpmPlus Enterprise Connectivity has open technology, a productized approach, no need to rip and replace, and has a lower total cost of ownership due to simpler systems integration.”