Editorial: A Harmony of Purpose

When you distill the critical factors, you realize that timely and accurate information transfers are the key tasks within any organization

 
THERE'S STILL MUCH TO BE DONE 
before the industrial networking priorities of factory and plant automation engineers are in reasoned and reasonable harmony with those of their company IT counterparts.

I won’t demean our collective intelligence to tell you that we’ve reached a point where everyone should be able to hold hands and sing kumbayah around the company servers, rather than wanting to set them on fire. I can, however, see evidence that we’re finding ways to bridge the expressway-wide seams in the process that have hindered, frustrated and angered both camps.

This month, our cover story takes an important look at the work now in progress around our digital networking community-- primarily by professionals like you--that can begin to close those gaps some.

In addition to the tales told in the article, I heard from a few other folks about the results of successful integrations.

Automotive tier one supplier Integram--St. Louis Seating now has a way to meet its scheduling and production goals after connecting a new control system to its front office databases.

“Chrysler gives us a number every day that tells us how many vans they are going to build, and our production schedule is based on that number,” says Gary Fischer, controls engineer at Integram. When the company received a contract for the new model year, its existing assembly line lacked the speed and flexibility to meet Chrysler’s delivery demands.

Fischer settled on a Rockwell Software RSSql transaction manager to link plant floor systems to enterprise systems, centralizing data storage and creating a common access point for production reports. An extensive automation and software network also was used to link two separate manufacturing plants, giving Integram significant gains in production speed, efficiency and accuracy.

“We’re collecting about a half-a-million data points a day,” says Fischer. The ultimate advantage, adds Integram controls engineer Brett Mook, is that all the relevant data, including cycle times, build schedules and throughput, now is instantly available in real time on the company intranet. “And it’s easy to run queries for documentation and troubleshooting purposes. This is important for pinpointing exactly where problems are, and showing how well we’re running,” he reports. The compiled information also helps Integram make production decisions. “To justify improvements or process changes, we can set up a benchmark and track progress based on the data to see if we’re achieving that goal,” Mook says. “This gives us a way to actually look at it from a raw data aspect and see how we’re doing--all the data is right there in the database.”

We even heard from Houston-based oil and gas explorer Apache Corp. “The challenge is getting accurate information to the right person in a timeframe of that person’s choosing,” says P.D. Moller, Apache’s process control system advisor.

Now, on the surface, a plant floor has few similarities to the E&P business. “However, when you distill the critical factors, you realize that timely and accurate information transfers are the key tasks within any corporation,” says Greg Ostendorf, Apache’s Director of IT.

Most of Apache’s operations take place in remote locations, so they don’t have the luxury of high-bandwidth connections. “Neither, can we justify expensive infrastructure build-outs, due to the volatile nature of our business,” adds Moeller. “Instead, we chose to use products that operate efficiently within a limited bandwidth, while still providing the solution to our information goals.” Apache recently standardized on some of the best practices of service-oriented architecture, using XML transaction management to provide transparency between systems. “We are pushing our process and SCADA systems towards that same level of transparency,” adds Ostendorf.

The Apache folks made a point of emphasizing success revolved around a fundamental initiative: everyone is results-focused, so the overall goals of IT and production personnel are generally well-aligned.

Reasons, I think, to be optimistic. Have a story of your own? Send it to me for the story telling around the ol’ campfire.
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