Book Review: IT and Automated Manufacturing

Book Review: IT and Automated Manufacturing

Covering numerous aspects of integrating IT and automation for multiple industry applications, this new book provides details on topics ranging from software engineering and practical programming to database development and cyber security.

As connections between plant floor automation and enterprise-level business systems becomes the norm across the manufacturing industries, the necessity for manufacturing engineers to better understand IT systems moves from being information that’s “good to know” and into the realm of “must know”. The book, “Plant IT: Integrating Information Technology into Automated Manufacturing” by Dennis and Donald Brandl, was written to give engineers this “must know” information.

All in all, this a very solid book that provides automation engineers with a good grounding in the most relevant issues that impact IT and plant systems integration. Though the book does not provide detailed how-to programming and design information, that’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to provide practical advice and guidelines to engineers on how to understand and intelligently approach the intersection of IT and plant automation systems. And on that count, the book delivers.

One of the nicer things about this book is that each chapter stands on its own. So if you need information on a particular topic, such as database development, you can go right to the chapter addressing this topic without having to worry that you won't understand it because you haven't read the preceding chapters.

Much of the book focuses on helping engineers better understand software engineering since it is the foundation of IT.  The authors note that software projects are distinctly different from traditional engineering projects, thereby explaining the book’s heavy focus on software engineering methods.

In the first section of the book, the authors state: “One of the harsh truths about manufacturing software is that it is not developed by software engineers or computer science majors. We would not regularly ask an electrical engineer to design a mechanical system, or a chemical engineer to design an electrical system, but we often ask mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers to design and develop software systems.”

To help manufacturing engineers with the task of software development, the book details the TRUST method used by software engineers. At its core, the TRUST method involves: T – Trying Out Prototypes; R – Defining Requirements (user, functional and design); U – Defining Use Cases (operating methods and error conditions); S – Source code, standards, scripts (developed only after understanding R and U); and T – Testing Cases and Scripts.

Reminding readers of why software engineering tools can be of use to manufacturing engineers, the authors point out that, “When manufacturing engineers think about PLCs and DCSs, they tend to focus on the control system aspects, but they should remember that control system programming is still programming” even if it only involves use of IEC 61131-3 languages. “Even though engineers typically do this kind of programming, they should still use software engineering methods to define, monitor, evaluate, and improve their work.”

Beyond numerous helpful insights on software engineering, the book also provides advice on:
• Practical approaches to designing systems and support organizations that can handle the long lifetimes of manufacturing IT systems;
• Creating enterprise service buses and manufacturing integration buses to provide a centralized mechanism to handle the complex communication paths normally involved in large system integration projects;
• Using USB thumb drive diagnostics to root out a variety of computer maladies;
• Cyber security and construction of DMZs between mission critical production systems and less-critical systems;
• Database administration and the need to involve corporate IT in this process;
• Cutting costs with manufacturing IT standards, for example: reducing automation project costs by 30 percent, cutting plant-to-enterprise integration costs by 70 percent and reducing maintenance costs by 10 percent;
• Using virtual systems and the hypervisor concept;
• Using service-oriented architectures to minimize the complexity and number of interfaces between applications; and
• How to keep workers from drowning in paperwork with Enterprise Search  (it’s estimated that anyone using a computer spends up to 20 percent of his or her time trying to find the records needed for daily tasks).

One of the book’s authors, Dennis Brandl, will be presenting at The Automation Conference in Chicago, May 14-15. His presentation on “IT Essentials for Automation Engineers” will explore concepts presented in his book. Don’t miss this chance to interact with Dennis at the conference and get a free copy of his book (which currently sells for $99.95 on Amazon). The first 12 paid registrants to enter the code FREEBOOK on page 3 of The Automation Conference’s online registration form will receive a copy of Brandl’s book along with their conference registration. Register today at

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