April 9, 2008
Last year, the Colombia-based engineering firm, Omnicon Ltd. wanted to help a dairy customer integrate its automation production system with its enterprise business system.

The firm’s engineers note that manufacturers of food products generate a great deal of information for business systems. Omnicon wanted to improve the communication among different information systems so the dairy could guarantee fulfillment of quality standards established by legislation, while also increasing productivity levels and process performance.

To accomplish this, the dairy wanted to send plant information to those on the business side. “It is important for the business level to know the results of production, details of quantities and types of product,” says Fabian Yesid Lopez, an industrial automation engineer with Omnicon. “To share this data, we offered them a practical vision of how to work with models established by the ISA95 standard.” As well as using ISA95, the engineers also found it necessary to conduct a modeling phase, followed by an implementation phase using middleware to exchange Business to Manufacturing Markup Language (B2MML) documents.

They used a number of models that are part of ISA95, including the functional flow model, the object model, the materials model, the process segment model and the production schedule model. ISA95 was developed by a committee of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA) and adopted as a standard by the American National Standards Institute as ANSI/ISA95.

Strong history

Omnicon chose ISA95 because of its history for making integration easier. “The ISA95 standard has a history of solving difficulties from information exchange between the business level and manufacturing,” says Lopez. “It has also enjoyed worldwide approval.”

As a result of using ISA95 and the eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based B2MML, Omnicon was able to connect the plant information to the enterprise quickly and effectively, saving the dairy money while improving manufacturing processes as well as business functions related to compliance and materials management.

Both ISA95 and B2MML have improved communication between the plant and the business office by offering models for sharing data. The benefit of the data sharing includes improved plant operations, materials flow, schedule management, even optimized inventory levels. ISA95’s role in that communication is to offer a consistent model for naming objects and processes that quickens the integration and reduces the hefty cost of customized programming.

ISA95 was first introduced in the mid-1990s. Much of the work on the model was prompted by large manufacturers who wanted a language to help communicate between automation control systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. “Five years ago, Nestle, DuPont, Dow and Miller were all pushing control vendors and ERP vendor SAP to talk about interoperability and make it easier,” says Tim Sowell, vice president of solutions strategy, for software vendor Wonderware, an Invensys company in Lake Forest, Calif. “That started a big drive. They all said, ‘Okay, we’re going to endorse ISA95.’ ”

ISA95 came out of the beating heart of the batch management standard ISA88. “I’ve seen ISA95 grow from nothing. It grew out of the governing body of ISA,” says Paul Lemert, senior partner, Simatic IT, at Siemens Energy and Automation Inc., the Alpharetta, Ga.-based automation vendor. “ISA had completed work on ISA88, and a lot of process manufacturers were using ISA88. They wanted to use something similar as a kind of communication between the plant and MES.”

The core value of ISA95 is the ability to agree on what data elements are called. “The naming structure was one of the biggest challenges for ISA95. It got everybody on the same page with structure, size and what is meant by time,” says Wonderware’s Sowell. “People have their own ideas with naming, but ISA95 is a good starting point.”

Model thinking

The power of ISA95 is its interoperability between systems. This, however, is not a standard in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s a model that can assist in determining what definitions two systems can use to exchange information. “ISA95 is not really a standard. It’s a model, and that distinction is important,” says Alison Smith, research director, AMR Research Inc., in Boston. “ISA95 is a model that lays out an understanding of a taxonomy and lets us think about the processes of manufacturing in a common terminology.”

Smith believes that ISA95 provides a strategy for exchanging information from disparate applications. But those applications are not restricted to automation control and ERP. “Where you draw the line between manufacturing and business is up to your business model. Vendors push that there is a boundary, but that’s because of the boundaries of their applications,” says Smith. “ISA95 doesn’t suggest any applications whatsoever, so it doesn’t matter where the boundary is.”

Yet even if the boundary is artificial from a data point of view, it’s real from an operational or cultural point of view. “We deal with plant engineers. They think one way and the business side looks at it another way,” says Dave Emerson, system architect at the Yokogawa U.S. Development Center, in Carrollton, Texas. “So ISA95 becomes a framework for the plant and enterprise to set the schedule. There’s a lot of benefit just in having an agreed-upon language.”

A good portion of the manufacturers using ISA95 use it together with B2MML, which takes ISA95 a step further, and uses Web-based language to further define the communication between systems. “What ISA95 does not say is what the data is and how it’s going to change. B2MML is XML schemas that give that definition. You have different tags, bold or paragraph,” says Emerson. “Every industry, every company, has differently designed messages. B2MML let’s you know how to organize it.”

B2MML fills a gap in ISA95, defining how data appears from one system to another. “ISA95 doesn’t deliver the actual schemas for integration. That’s in the XML documents,” says Bob Mick, vice president of emerging technology at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass. “The World Batch Forum took one of the big steps out of the way when it introduced B2MML.”

If ISA95 delivers the ability for mixed systems to read each other’s data language, B2MML defines that language into a coherent schema. “B2MML is a way to facilitate the exchange of data,” says Siemens’ Lemert. There are a lot of different areas where it can help, such as defining a production schedule and defining the process. Once you define that, you can use B2MML to capture the manufacturing data and track what has been produced.”

“The same concepts in ISA95 can be used for warehousing or PLM (product lifecycle management). You can talk through the same interface to both the SAP and the PLM systems,” says Wonderware’s Sowell. “In the 1990s, products were not so differentiated. But now there are product changes with every order, so you have to interact with the PLM system.”

Beyond ERP

According to one of the gurus of ISA95, its development is already extending beyond the ERP and control systems. Now some of the connections enabled by ISA95 include neither ERP nor a plant system. “In the Standards Committee, we’re extending further to exchange information in manufacturing operations,” says Dennis Brandl, head of BR&L Consulting Inc., in Cary N.C., and editor on the ISA95 committee. “How does the MES (manufacturing execution system) talk to a warehouse system? If you’re in the middle of production and you need more materials, what is the standard way to request them? We hope to have that type of connection in standard-speak relatively soon.”

The growth in the use of ISA95 has been consistent. The manufacturers that first started using it were the large companies that are usually on the technical edge. Now, however, its use is filtering down to smaller companies and the vendors that provide the systems that manufacturers wish to connect to. “The adoption has been pretty steady among end-users,” says ARC’s Mick. “The system suppliers like Siemens and Oracle are now building it into their products. That means not as much mapping needs to be done.”

The use of ISA95 has also spread to a wide range of industries. And its ability to connect to a variety of systems beyond manufacturing and ERP means it can be applied to new uses beyond sharing recipes, production schedules and inventory consumption. The data can also be used for compliance and managing equipment. “ISA95 is now used in multiple industries and for many purposes,” says Bob Lenich, data management director at automation vendor Emerson Process Management, in Austin, Texas. “We’re now seeing it used for regulatory purposes and asset management, in addition to its use for managing product orders and materials management.”

ISA95 and B2MML will continue to offer increasing support for sharing information among the plant, the enterprise and other systems. Perhaps the most promising future for ISA95 is its use as a tool to share information beyond the original intention of connecting the control platform with the ERP system.

To view the accompanying sidebar article to this story, "The 5 Pieces of ISA95", go to
To see how a major manufacturer uses standards, visit

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