Honing a network into a competitive edge

Integrating plant-floor data collection with other non-IT applications can offer increased efficiency.

By Steve Jones

Building a lean, mean enterprise integration program represents a positive effect on your competitive edge. Recent trends in enterprise integration have enabled the use of technology and Web services to connect business processes with information technology. The typical approach to integration has been one of using the IT infrastructure to collect and view data. But, critical component of the process aren’t limited to one department and have expanded to include operations across the company. The enterprise integration concept now extends to technology that collects data from non-IT services in factories and manufacturing settings and an ability to collect building and environmental data and transmit it directly to the IT department. One way to increase organizational efficiency is to examine the enterprise management processes in the IT department and to maximize the use of information that’s available throughout the company’s technical infrastructure.

Contemporary strategies for integrating systems are more aggressive in terms of the types of sensors and devices, the locations where data is collected and the departments included in the information routing. Primary factors to consider are the information flow from the factory floor to the enterprise IT systems (enterprise integration systems), the management and monitoring of infrastructure equipment installed in buildings, and the management and monitoring of building environments (building automation). These have traditionally been in the IT domain and are becoming a critical component of the infrastructure that supports factory automation systems.

For example, the ability to read the output from a sensor or monitoring device on the factory floor and transfer the reading to the management device, which analyzes it and defines the response, eliminates the need to dispatch a technician to a remote location in response to a process alarm. The ability to collect, analyze and respond to information that is being collected across multiple systems brings a more streamlined approach to problem solving and resource allocation.

A good way to work with system integration lies in developing the ability to capture data from a building automation system using an open system protocol. This allows data sharing among various disparate systems regardless of brand, model or manufacturer. Such software provides a more cost-effective route to system upgrades by avoiding the need to replace a functioning system that’s perfectly suitable for the intended purpose. One example is a router running on an embedded PC and is installed on a bus. The router opens the network and identifies the data collection points and locations to where the data is to be transmitted. This produces a leaner system because it can link old equipment with newer equipment. It’s the very definition of an open system.

Most process control and factory automation systems are migrating to Industrial Ethernet as the underlying infrastructure to support manufacturing systems and processes. In addition, the successful operation of UPS systems, generators, HVAC systems and many other industrial subsystems is critical to the manufacturing process. Managing and monitoring critical infrastructure of this sort can improve manufacturing process uptime and significantly decrease the mean time to restore operations should an infrastructure component fail.

The router technology brings flexibility and cost savings to any building automation system. It’s the gateway to third-party product integration and seamless integration with Ethernet infrastructures. It introduces cost saving in virtually every upgrade, maintenance or replacement activity taking place on the router bus. Based on core routing technology, it enables "mix-and-match" capability for your building automation systems.

Steve Jones is the managing partner at The S4 Group, Ogden, Utah. Contact him at sejones@thes4group.com and 801-621-1970.

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