Call it convergence: Software strategists raise emphasis on integration


By Paul Studbaker, CMRP, editor in chief

Dec 09, 2008

Allowing information to flow freely among applications and between offices and plant floors isn’t a new concept, but it appears to be reaching a new level of reality, especially for maintenance and asset-management purposes. Recently, it seems that everywhere software is spoken, the emphasis is on what’s being done to make connections, build custom dashboards, enable automatic alarms and notifications, and empower individuals with the information they need when, where and in the context required to help them squeeze out higher productivities, reliabilities and efficiencies.

At the ARC Forum, Oct. 13-15 in Houston, Dow Chemical’s Kevin Bauman pointed out that 42% of company knowledge resides in people’s brains, 26% on paper and 20% in electronic documentation. Only 12% is accessible to software systems as e-knowledge to support decisions, a proportion that needs to be improved through better interaction among systems.

Figure 1. Convergence depends on accessing, analyzing and presenting information at every levels of a typical manufacturing organization. Source: SAP.
Figure 1. Convergence depends on accessing, analyzing and presenting information at every levels of a typical manufacturing organization. Source: SAP.

But it’s not easy, thanks in part to “the morass of standards we’re in right now, due to people not doing the hard work of building consensus and instead, just writing their own,” said Alan Johnston, president, Machinery Information Management Open Systems Alliance (MIMOSA), as part of his Open O&M Initiative and MIMOSA session at the ARC Forum. The many disparate and legacy systems and vendors that have grown over time make the job complex. (Figure 1).

There are too many standards and fractions of standards. Johnston suggested that implementers reference the standards’ use cases and project them forward (Figure 2). “By the time we’re actually doing the job the standards will hopefully simplify and combine, but to get them to change in the best way, we have to use them now,” he said. “Develop your requirements based on the road map and vendors will comply. They have been watching and are ready.”

At Rockwell Automation’s recent Automation Fair, they called it convergence, which Chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch defined as merging manufacturing and production systems with the rest of the corporate enterprise.


Figure 2. The quest for standardized interfaces is heating up - here’s MIMOSA’s vision for a physical asset resource management system. Source: MIMOSA
Figure 2. The quest for standardized interfaces is heating up - here’s MIMOSA’s vision for a physical asset resource management system. Source: MIMOSA

The drivers are globalization, productivity, innovation and sustainability. The enabling megatrend, Nosbusch said, is convergence of control, communication, information and power technologies on the manufacturing floor.

“Imagine a highly linked environment enabled by modern technology and global standards that can flexibly combine and leverage information,” he said.

This manufacturing convergence and the connected enterprise will drive greater productivity, integrate the global value chain, empower innovation and reduce time to market, as well as enable the shift to sustainable production and reduce business risk.

Nosbusch pointed out that the company’s Logix software platform can support convergence because it brings together multiple control disciplines and is scaleable, information-enabled and open. “This is game-changing technology,” he claimed. “The Logix platform is future-proof.”

On the subject of networks, Nosbusch suggested that the future holds universal acceptance for Ethernet and a resolution to the age-old IT-versus-production culture clash. Rockwell Automation is a partner with Cisco Systems on a unified reference architecture for manufacturing and a co-branded Stratix series of network switches.

Nosbusch expects the ability to use standard Ethernet for unified communications: voice, video, mobility and powerline. This, he said, would come from collaboration and provide speed, flexibility, leverage and a lower total cost of ownership.

Maintenance and asset management will benefit from increased access to plant-floor variables such as loads, cycles and speeds, as well as condition information such as temperature, vibration and power signatures. “We’re looking at that area and connecting from where the CMMS now stops down into the control layer and instrumentation layer,” said Matt Bauer, director, Rockwell Software commercial marketing. “Our infrastructure is in place and we’re laying the pipes.”

Rockwell Automation recently acquired Incuity Software, a supplier of enterprise manufacturing intelligence systems. “Incuity is the cornerstone for how we’re going to tie this together, putting the right data in context for the right person,” Bauer said. Connections to enterprise systems will improve visibility of maintenance performance, reliability, OEE and other contributors to ROI.

CMMS/EAM software suppliers also spoke volumes on the subject of information exchange and integration at several user group meetings this fall. “If I have to have information from a work order in an ERP system, that information is going to flow,” said Eric Miles, president and CEO, AssetPoint (TabWare).

David Kotrady, AssetPoint director, product development, is on a road map that calls for pre-built connectors and a standard integration approach for process automation systems, GIS and engineering content management. The company is focusing on Web services with tools to transform data directly to other applications or to an engineering services bus (ESB) such as BizTalk, and standardizing on pre-built connectors to common enterprise systems including SAP, Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS), Dynamics, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards.

Like many others, AssetPoint is harnessing MIMOSA standards, using “Mtelligence” to aggregate plant floor information and serve it up to the asset-management system to track, for example, run time (as opposed to calendar time) and equipment health. Conversely, the maintenance-management system is being made visible to operators so they can see existing work orders and work in progress, and enter new orders.

Arguably positioned to benefit significantly from the packages of its many acquisitions working together, Infor is working on reducing complexity through a new Open SOA for networks.

“Open SOA lets components be added via open, standard interfaces,” said Jim Shafer, Infor chairman and CEO. Making the connections via standard interfaces lets users easily connect to non-Infor applications. “They write XML and Infor manages the flow of information,” Shafer said. Standard interfaces let the packages themselves be updated independently. “Updates can be made continually without disruption, like cell phone systems,” he added. “Infor includes them as part of an annual service contract.”

For example, Infor’s Asset Sustainability Edition can help users “get their arms around energy,” said John Murphy, director, global industry and product marketing, EAM for Infor. “Assets are at the center, so we want to give the opportunity to measure energy at the asset level, analyze the information, do trend analysis and make alerts based on business rules. We bring in the building systems, offer alert management and use energy as an indicator of impending failures.”

Maintenance planning can be integrated into the scheduling of the supply chain, “what we call ‘advanced scheduling,’” Murphy said. Real-time and historical energy information can be factored into repair/replace decisions, help determine what equipment to procure, and be used to compare energy effects of various capital planning scenarios. Energy consumption information also can be used to track carbon and calculate “global asset sustainability,” a KPI comprised of OEE x energy efficiency

IFS put open architecture at the top of its list of key trends in EAM software at its customer summit Oct. 5-8 in Chicago. Other trends include integration with enterprise software, mobile and wireless implementations, and proving ROI.

Dan Matthews, chief technology officer, pointed out that usability is as important as technology and functionality — underutilization is major issue in CMMS implementations — and one important way to increase usability is making it easier for users to bring together the information they need to do their jobs, combine it, analyze it and present the results in ways that support decisions and actions.

The EAM gives costs of material, labor and inventory, but you need more, said IFS Cofounder and Global Industry Director Ulf Stern. To calculate OEE and revenue information, you need to know if the equipment is running or not, or is running slow, or producing poor quality. IFS’s MaxOEE module adds operator and corporate dashboards, automatic data input via MIMOSA/OPC/S95 and integration with EAM systems.

Whatever the cause for underperformance, MaxOEE defines results in terms of lost revenue in dollars. “People react much more to the figures when there are dollar signs,” he observed, “even when they know how much the hours are worth.”

Stern also says it’s important to support RCM, both to improve reliability and as a knowledge-capture tool. “People think it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but that’s not true,” Stern says. One payback comes from reducing ineffective PM activities, typically “an overall decrease of 25% but with increases in some parts of the plant.” The saved time and effort can be shifted to predictive activities.