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Blending Plant Operations with Enterprise Management

The war between plant operations and IT is over. Here’s a look at the major trends in information technology that are having a direct and growing impact on plant operations.

Golf club and golf ball manufacturer Callaway Golf Co., in Carlsbad, Calif., wanted to develop the flexibility to introduce seven to eight new products annually. This meant tight coordination between design teams, marketing and plant engineering. This also meant sharing information with partners in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. The teams needed to share large files of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software.

To ensure that programs could be exchanged effectively, the company adopted Teamcenter Community Collaboration, a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution from Siemens PLM Software, a Plano, Texas-based unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division. The content management tools in the PLM solution, combined with Microsoft SharePoint collaboration tools, let Callaway control changes made to product content by providing document and version histories and e-mail alerts.

Crucial integration

“We live or die by our CAD and CAM software, so the integration Siemens PLM provided was crucial,” says John Loo, senior manager of design systems at Callaway. “We have design teams in California and suppliers in Asia, but everyone is able to collaborate effectively by posting their product content on the portal and keeping track of what’s being done on specific projects.”

Loo’s collaboration solution encompasses a number of recent information technology (IT) trends that blend corporate IT and plant automation: collaboration, communication across global operations and increased flexibility in manufacturing. As manufacturers struggle to become more efficient and responsive to changes in the market, companies can no longer afford to allow the plant to operate in isolation.

The “war” between plant operations and corporate IT that broke out just a few years ago is over. Most of the recent trends in plant automation involve collaboration with corporate IT. The old barriers between the enterprise and the plant have blurred or collapsed completely, as manufacturers gain greater dexterity in customizing their products for a global market. “People are beginning to realize there can’t be a war any more between the plant and the enterprise,” says Alison Smith, research director at AMR Research Inc., in Boston. “The smart companies know this can’t be a war—instead, it’s about shared resources and shared services.”

At many global manufacturers, the IT group is getting involved in automation decisions. “IT organizations are now responsible for building global manufacturing,” says Drew Costakis, managing director for U.S. manufacturing at Microsoft Corp., the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. “We’ve moved from every plant picking its own technology to the enterprise choosing technology with one or two MES (manufacturing execution system) vendors.”

Even as IT trends offer business improvement opportunities to plants, those trends will have to be blended with legacy plant automation. “Most companies can’t rip and replace the plant information that has not changed in 20 years,” explains Steve Garbrecht, director of product marketing at Wonderware, a manufacturing software supplier in Lake Forest, Calif. “So plants will need to integrate what they already have with new developments in IT.”

Six trends

Here are six trends in IT that are having a direct impact on plant operations. First is security. While security was originally the domain of the IT group, many companies have taken security seriously enough to create a security group with a chief security officer. But even when security has its own mandate and a corporate leader, the implementation still typically comes from IT. “We find that security groups now fall outside IT or the CIO (chief information officer),” says David Kennedy, practice lead for profiling and e-discovery at SecureState, a security technology firm in Cleveland. “We find it now falls under a chief security officer even if IT is the implementer for the organization.”

Collaboration, another major trend, is becoming critical for global companies, and the collaboration is stretching beyond internal teams within one plant location. Collaboration is going across global plants and out to the supply chain. New tools in Microsoft Vista, the company’s latest personal computer (PC) operating system, allow people around the globe to share information simultaneously, so disruptions can be acted upon instantly. “There are silos of planning, accounting and manufacturing, and people need to collaborate across those boundaries,” says Microsoft’s Costakis. “All of this data—what is it screaming as us? When you see a fire, you don’t send an e-mail. We need to solve this with business intelligence and collaboration.”

The third trend—virtualization, or the technique of hiding the physical computing resource from the way other applications interact with it—allows plants to add new technology to existing technology without costly and disruptive integration projects. This is particularly important to plants, because they tend to have older technology that can’t simply be replaced to make room for newer applications. “You have old, clunky machines about to kick the bucket, and you can’t get the new machines to take the data and applications because the old machine runs Microsoft Windows NT,” says Russ Agrusa, president and chief executive officer of Iconics Inc., a Foxborough, Mass.-based provider of manufacturing intelligence and business visualization software. “What they’re doing now is running virtualization where you can take an application, virtualize it and put it on a new machine.”

A fourth trend involves customization. Plants are expected to quickly shift production from one product to another as they struggle to meet customer demands. Plant managers are turning to new technology that helps production manage the increased need for customized products and instant product changes. “Customer demands are changing. Customers are requiring much more customization than before, from automotive to pharmaceuticals,” says Scott McGurl, vice president of industry solutions at vendor Siemens IT Solutions and Services Inc., in Norwalk, Conn. “That means manufacturers will need a more homogeneous IT platform. The organization needs to put systems into place that can make multiple products at the same facility, on the same line, and they have to be able to change the line in an efficient manner.”

Plants are turning to IT for help in becoming more flexible, which is yet another trend. “There is a long-term trend toward more flexibility. We used to build plants to do one thing, but now companies want flexibility,” says Bob Mick, vice president of emerging technologies at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass. “Many businesses now need a mix of different products for different customers. That’s starting to affect IT.”

Plants need direct access to product information in order become more flexible and responsive to customer demand. Thus, product lifecycle management technology is beginning to interface with MES to deliver scheduling and product data. “From a technology standpoint, there is more demand for PLM, from the integrated design product through how that impacts master data,” says Siemens’ McGurl. “If you look at ERP (enterprise resource planning) and manufacturing, ERP has not been well adopted in the plant, and certainly not well used. They need the CIO to get PLM technology into the plant.”

Service oriented architecture (SOA), a sixth trend, allows different applications to exchange data and participate in business processes. This is important for plants, because they often have to incorporate older technology and data into new applications. “The most significant trend for plants is service oriented architecture (SOA),” says Greg Millinger, product manager for SOA platforms and workflow products at automation supplier GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms, in Charlottesville, Va. “The benefits are the ability to reuse existing applications. With SOA, you can wrap new applications around existing applications and start to use it.”

The IT world that runs the company’s enterprise now directly affects plant automation. The result is increased communication among internal teams, global operations and the outside world of suppliers and customers. The trends result in greater product customization and the ability to bring products to market faster.

IT Goals for Manufacturing

There are a number of business benefits that drive the information technology (IT) trends affecting manufacturing. The overall goal is to create improved manufacturing efficiency across global operations. That efficiency translates into improved cost savings and a greater ability to respond to market needs. Improved competitiveness is the overall goal.

Security. Plant operators and the IT group have come to a meeting of the minds on the need for secure networks that connect to the plant.

Cost reduction. Plants can reduce their spending as IT delivers improved efficiency in plant operations and the communication between the plant and the enterprise.

Flexibility in product manufacturing. IT is helping the plant gain the flexibility to bring products to market quickly and to customize products for individual customers.

Collaboration of internal teams as well as collaboration with outside suppliers and customers. Plants are no longer islands. Plant operations are now directly tied to business management and extended supply chains.

Streamlining and sharing best practices across global manufacturing. The days are ending when each plant could choose its own automation and control systems. Companies are now using IT to decipher which plants run most efficiently, and they’re taking those best practices and sharing them across their networks of plants.

Cooperation between plant operations and business management. Better communication between he plant and the enterprise can improve inventory management as well as customer relationship management.

To view the accompanying article to this story,"Top 10 Technology Trends", go to
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