Automation Team: Becoming A Must-Have Application

The core concept of Automation World is the “automation team.”

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No one discipline dominates the automation landscape any longer. The road to building this team is not at the end, and there have been many bumps along the way. The economic downturn currently buffeting the industry is prodding more companies to look at the need to bring the team together. Many roles comprise the team, including operators, maintenance technicians, engineers, managers, plant management, division management and enterprise management—all playing their important roles.

All the players must make correct decisions in real time in order for manufacturing to succeed. To do this, they must have the same information base provided in the way that helps each role make the decision required. It’s much like a perfect transition play in basketball where one player grabs the rebound and sees the outlet player. That player surveys the defense and decides to dribble or pass. The ball gets under the basket, and then that player makes the last pass to the open shooter for a three-point shot. Each player has a role and knows where to go and what decisions to make to help the team win.

A software application often called enterprise manufacturing intelligence, or EMI, has evolved to provide a near-real-time picture of how manufacturing is performing. Giving all the players a role-based view of the same information, not surprisingly, is, in the words of Doug Lawson, vice president of Incuity Software, a Rockwell Automation company, “no longer a nice-to-have application, but is now a must-have in the minds of our customers.” Or, as Greg Gorbach, vice president of collaborative manufacturing for analyst firm ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass., put it, “EMI started with the pioneers and visionaries. It has since moved into the mainstream. A few years ago, there was much distrust about technology among executives. But in today’s economy and with growing understanding of technologies such as the Web, portals and integration, it’s more accepted.”

Simon Jacobson, research director at analyst firm AMR Research Inc., in Boston, says, “It’s about how the whole facility operates. Intelligence looks back at plant characteristics and makes them visible. For example, if a valve died, it means one thing to the operator who must get the process continuing or back up. It means something else to executives such as supply chain managers who need to plan if the batch will be late or ruined. People are using intelligence tools today to help achieve multi-plant efficiencies.”

According to Maryanne Steidinger, MES/EMI marketing program manager at Wonderware, a Lake Forest, Calif., software supplier, many companies already have manufacturing execution systems (MES) and historians, but accessing all the information these applications contain may not be easy. Therefore, they need a manufacturing intelligence application to sit on top and extract that information. Adds Christian-Marc Pouyez, Wonderware product marketing manager, “The key area is around metrics and performance. EMI gives the ability to measure performance, building from different data sources, and make the metrics available to users.”

“Decision makers are scattered around an organization, but all need to react to changing conditions,” adds Incuity’s Lawson, “so the ability to create actionable information from disparate data dynamically for decision support is key. Executives use it to make internal and external supply chain decisions, such as where to manufacture a sudden large order or how to juggle operations if a major order is cancelled. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a plant I know where they determined three metrics for production-line performance and put large monitors up at strategic locations to display real-time performance vs. goal for everyone to see.”

EMI brings the entire automation team together to focus on the important goal of making manufacturing efficient, effective and profitable.

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Automation World’s Editor in Chief.

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