Manufacturers taking notice of production software

While ERP and SCM fill most IT industry pages, technology advances in production software is making manufacturers sit up and take more notice. Alan Johnson reports.

Once low on most manufacturers’ IT agenda, production software, including MES, SCADA, CPM and MI, are now playing a far more important role in improving a company’s bottom line.

Schneider Electric’s Riccardo Ten­aglia (Manager, MES Enterprise Solutions) is optimistic about manufacturing in Australia and the industry’s uptake of the latest technologies.

“We are now seeing signs of growth and vitality that we haven’t seen in a long time. And it’s not just coming from the large multinationals investing in existing infrastructure.

“We are seeing organisations, backed by Australian investors, taking advantage of the climate we are now in with a reduced Australian dollar, and becoming far more active and building brand new processing plants, for example.

“We are seeing strong investment in our dairy industry, such as the A2 milk company’s new production facility in western Sydney, and surprisingly following on from the Government’s manufacturing transition program.”

Tenaglia said the recently-released list of companies receiving grants showed there is a large number of multi-million dollar investments by Australian organisations in Australian manufacturing.

“It’s fantastic to see, with success breeding success. Manufacturers who have been waiting in the wings are now making their move,” he said.

“The underlying theme we are seeing is innovation and technology, with Schneider playing a leading role.”

Tenaglia describes MES as the enabler for organisations to manufacture in today’s environment.

“But what is key to any MES software implementation is having a foundation, what we call an infrastructure layer: Systems Platform.

He said this infrastructure layer is very important because it needs to host a truly integrated historian, which is important when reporting on areas such as water, air, gas, electricity and steam.

“But as an MES enabler, that software layer needs to understand the plant environment in which the manufacturer is, and model the plant and processes.

“It is this modelling and the concept of standards and developing common models of production lines, or pumps, or steam processes, for example, that really gives companies the strength.

“Once companies have that understanding at their infrastructure layer, they can then literally plug in the different MES modules.”

MES complexity

Tenaglia said Schneider breaks MES complexity down to four key areas of understanding how a company maximise their plant’s potential.

“First we have performance, which encompasses OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness).

“No matter where a company manufactures in the world, this is an essential tool to have when it comes to understanding the key metrics associated with delivering performance value.

“Secondly, and probably the most important, is a transaction engine, which for us is called MES Operations, which leverages that model that companies built in their infrastructure and allows them to understand the transactions between different machines on a production line, for example.”

Tenaglia said once companies understand those transactions, and they can impact on those transactions, they can build up a genealogy of what products went into the final product, where they came from and where they went to.

“This information can be vital when companies have to carry out recalls on a product, which can be very costly,” he said.

Tenaglia says the third area is quality and how companies are producing products compared with manufacturing specifications.

“The fourth, and probably the most complex area of MES, is integration up into an ERP system.

“However, we are seeing how that can now be simplified using XML standards that allow for and describe the way any MES systems communicate with ERP systems.”

He says the standards have come a long way, with some of the larger multi-national companies well ahead of the pack in defining what those messaging instructions need to be for their business so they can very quickly roll out those applications.

“One organisation we are working with, who has 486 plants world-wide, has developed their standards to build their models with our software. Then they are able to do a five-day deployment of the performance module within a plant, which traditionally for MES was unheard of.

“But if companies can get their standards right, build the right objects for their plant and processes, then they really do simplify a lot of that complexity,” Tengalia said.

Historian critical

With this explosion of data, he says an integrated historian is critical to capture that data in context of a plant.

“For example, before when controlling a motor, all an engineer needed to do was to be able to stop and start it, but now with modern motor controllers there 30 to 40 bits of data that are available. The SCADA system probably needs a handful of those, the rest are very valuable, but to other people in the organisation.”

Tengalia said the value from all this data comes when companies plug that controller into their historian, which captures the data in context of their plant model, and that’s the way that they start to enable not just the traditional operators down at the manufacturing layer, but also the operations people who can very quickly analyse and make sense of all that data that is sitting within that historian space.

“And with more and more younger, less experienced people within organisations, it is important production data is shown in a multitude of different ways.

“Mobility is key, so one of the things we have done to address this is to make sure that the plant visualisation in the infrastructure layer is typically in HTML 5. Because users can develop a graphic in HTML 5 that can be used on an iPad, on a surface tablet, and a traditional PC. Companies are not locked to any one particular device.”

With machines becoming smarter and smarter, Schneider is developing modules that support PacKML, which is an XML language that allows machines to talk to each other and understand the different states machines are in.

“The more we can embrace those types of standards, the easier it becomes for companies who are setting up packaging lines, making it almost like building Lego.”

Tengalia said with PacKML, companies can buy their filling machines and packing machines from different vendors and simply plug them in.

“They can talk to each other in the same language and understand each other straightaway – impressive.”