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Engineers developing and specifying packaging lines are facing mounting pressure to provide production information to enterprise business systems, connect to process manufacturing in order to make overall manufacturing move more smoothly and collect information for analysis of operating equipment effectiveness (OEE) for continuous improvement of the packaging line.

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No longer can the packaging area hide as a “black box” in the system.

Effective connectivity requires standards to reduce the engineering effort to make different machines, applications and systems communicate. OPC, a communication standard, is one of those technologies that many love to privately disparage but that is actually widely adopted. OPC is essentially a standard way of digitally describing information that can be sent from a device and then understood by another device or software application. The latest iteration, OPC-UA (for Unified Architecture), is built upon standard Web technologies such as eXtensible Markup Language (XML) that play well over the other industry networking standard—Ethernet.

Speaking of Ethernet, manufacturing’s adoption of a standard network built on the same foundation as the prevalent business network expedites this necessary connectivity. Enterprise software applications were sold on the basis of providing visibility into manufacturing operations. Without this connectivity, those promises will never be fulfilled. The industry is still feeling its way toward this standard connectivity. Ethernet in manufacturing comes in a few “flavors,” but clearly the connectivity is growing. This will make manufacturing a more integral piece of the company.

The 2009 edition of the Packaging Automation Forum is fast approaching. It will be held on March 31 in the suburban Chicago area. Check out the details at See you there.

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