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OMAC reorganizes, focuses mission

Responding to the success of the Packaging Workgroup and its popular “Plug-and-Pack” initiative, the OMAC Users Group has reorganized and re-focused its mission.

Stepping into top leadership positions are Andrew McDonald of Unilever as Technical Co-Chair and Richard Witkemper of Maximum Spindle Utilization as Administration Co-Chair.

Forged in 1997 by engineering managers from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler (now DaimlerChrysler), the Open Modular Architecture Controls committee (www.omac.org) was driven by the need to reduce costs of implementing new automation. Its goal was to define a standard for open architecture controllers that would avoid the perceived costs of being locked into one supplier’s products. The general idea was to make different brands of controllers as interchangeable as personal computers (PCs).

The trouble was that technology providers perceived the OMAC group as dictatorial. In their view, it was trying to tell them how to build their products with the danger (to the providers) of making all hardware into commodities and driving margins to an unsupportable level. There was little room for negotiation, or so it seemed.

A different path to the goal soon appeared. The Packaging Workgroup had assembled teams of people from both the user side and the provider side with focus on developing short-term deliverables that provided open solutions while allowing each provider leeway for competitive additions.

Nondictatorial

As Pharmacia automation engineer Bob Martell explained to those gathered last February in Orlando at the annual OMAC meeting, “We try to implement standards without specifying one particular control platform to our OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). That is, one [OEM] could use Rockwell, another Siemens, and so on while still meeting our requirements.” (See p. 50 for more on Plug-and-Pack.)

Previous OMAC leaders, Jerry Yen of General Motors and Dick Mathias, retired Boeing technical fellow, used evangelical talents and vision to oversee the growth of the organization. The new leaders bring a renewed focus on mission as well as emphasis on organization and results.

The new organization includes three technical work groups: packaging, manufacturing infrastructure, and machine tools. The Packaging Workgroup includes subteams PackConnect, PackSoft, PackML, PackAdvantage and PackLearn. This group will continue to provide support for the new generation of packaging machines including servo controls and standard interfaces. Group chair is Jim Ramsey of Hershey Foods. The Manufacturing Infrastructure work group includes the Microsoft Manufacturing User Group (MS MUG) and the Baseline Architecture group that has been responsible for the Functional Requirements document published in 2002 (see www.omac.org). Yen is chair of this group. The Machine Tools subgroup includes the group working on a common computer-aided design (CAD)-to-Computer Numerical Control (CNC) interface standard called STEP-NC, as well as development of a common CNC human-machine interface (HMI). Chair of this group is Boeing’s Sid Venkatesh.

Dedham, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com) continues to provide administrative and advisory support to OMAC. Dennis Daniels serves as the organization’s director of marketing while Chantal Polsoneti is director of communications.

In a statement, the organization describes its vision as “driving non value-added costs out of manufacturing by improving automation flexibility and capabilities and reducing system integration costs.”

Because technology providers often viewed OMAC with suspicion in the past, meetings frequently broke down into groups trying to defend their turf. This was especially true in the machine tool group.

The Packaging Workgroup showed how technology users and technology providers can find a common ground. Working together, the group has forged understanding in underlying standards for how things should work and communicate with each other, all the while allowing technology providers opportunity for value added features.

In another example of cooperation for mutual benefit, the MS MUG has released a Best Practices document that highlights key aspects of Microsoft’s architecture and provides options for manufacturers to consider when applying this technology in the plant.

Topics in the document include architecture, security, redundancy and reliability, system monitoring, change management, support, backup and recovery. The document can be downloaded from www.omac.org/wgs/msmug.

See sidebar to this article: State model: Here's how

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