Vista and Office 2007 Target Manufacturing

New Microsoft tools are designed for easy and secure data flow.

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As a company with 53,000 employees and multiple plants across the globe, Chevron Corp., of Ramon, Calif., accumulates a mammoth volume of structured data—an estimated 180 terabytes per year. Research, exploration, production, oil refining, transportation and marketing all use that data. The company wanted to connect that data to operate more efficiently. Chevron adopted Microsoft’s latest tools, including Microsoft Office 2007, Office OneNote 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007. The goal was to improve the quality of business decisions, improve productivity, share information and meet regulatory demands.

Before the adoption, employees would store critical plant information in their desktop files or e-mail accounts, which made it inaccessible to others. There was no central location for data, and the data was created in multiple formats. The net result was that Chevron plants could not easily share information. “The plant floor has changed in the past 10 years,” says John McGlynn, industry solutions director, Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash.Vista helps address those changes in the plant environment,” he says, in reference to Microsoft’s latest Windows operating system.

Chevron signed on to Microsoft’s Rapid Deployment Technology Adoption Program to create an enterprise-wide content management system. The company developed a centralized enterprise portal using Office SharePoint Server 2007 that serves as a central document repository where data can be stored, managed and shared. “We brought integration, interoperability, collaboration and analytics to the automation and enterprise system,” says Chris Colyer, worldwide director of manufacturing operations strategy at Microsoft. “We focused on bringing scalable and easy-to-use tools that address a number of these issues that are trends in manufacturing.”

Microsoft has addressed a wide range of manufacturing needs with Windows Vista and Office 2007. The visualization tools are a sizable step forward for Windows. Another big change is the ability to integrate easily with manufacturing and corporate information technology (IT). That integration also supports greater interoperability with other systems. The integration and interoperability provide greater levels of collaboration. Using Vista, plant managers can now share search engine results, which were difficult—if not impossible—to share using past versions of Windows. Excel spreadsheets can now be turned into Word documents for easy exchange among teams. This increased ability to share data and documents is supported with increased security. The ability to collaborate will no longer leave companies vulnerable to malicious attacks, Microsoft says.

Security

Security is one of the biggest concerns when data gets shared widely across the plant and into corporate enterprise systems. “When we think about Vista in manufacturing, the big area from the client side is better manageability and security,” says Microsoft’s Colyer. “The new security gives them the ability to relay data within the manufacturing space.”

Security allows manufacturers to take the final step in connecting data that has previously been isolated in individual personal computers (PCs). “Ten years ago, all of the PCs were stand-alone. Then they were locally networked together,” says Microsoft’s McGlynn. “Today, those PCs are connected to the Internet. We opened up Internet access to employees, but there was a concern about security and protecting assets.”

Manufacturers have been very reluctant to share plant data across the Internet. There has been legitimate fear that disgruntled employees or other malicious hackers could enter the plant’s systems and alter settings or corrupt data. “In the past, security was done very carefully. So plants either broke the outside connections or added security,” says Bob Mick, vice president of enterprise architecture at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass. “With Vista, security is part of the solution. It’s a more secure environment than previous editions of Microsoft.”

Industry experts are expecting the added security in Vista to prompt more sharing and collaboration. “Security has a big impact on how people share data,” says Rashesh Mody, vice president of HMI and SCADA business at manufacturing software vendor Wonderware, in Lake Forest, Calif. “Security is Vista’s biggest plus in the factory arena.”

3D visualization

Another key feature of Vista is the improved visualization tools. Russ Agrusa, president and chief executive officer at Iconics Inc., another manufacturing software supplier based in Foxborough, Mass., views the enhanced graphics as a direct result of Microsoft’s deep investment in research and development. “Microsoft spent $20 billion in the last five years in R&D (research and development). I don’t think the auto companies all together spent that much,” says Agrusa.

Those companies that build manufacturing systems are encouraged by the strength of Vista’s visualization tools. “Some of the HMI (human-machine interface) suppliers are looking at how Vista’s graphics capabilities will give them some competitive advantage,” says ARC’s Mick. “The graphics capability and security are the two big drivers of Vista. That’s where it really meets the needs in manufacturing.”

Iconics was one of the early companies that used Vista to enhance its manufacturing system. “Russ Agrusa at Iconics has done a fabulous job of bringing life to a number of Vista features in visualization and HMI,” says Microsoft’s Colyer. He notes that the new security in Vista has helped support the development of greater visualization, because the images get shared across the Internet. “Security is at the core of the whole notion of better visualization development.”

Agrusa notes that the graphics capability of Vista lets manufacturers see part of their machinery that used to be completely out of sight. “You can now see the back side of the boiler just like you were sitting there,” says Agrusa. “This allows the operator faster response time to critical alarms. He can now get a 3D view of the machinery.”

Collaboration

Collaboration is also a big part of Vista and Office 2007. The ability to share critical data in a secure environment lets plant managers collaborate within individual plants and across multiple plants. “Vista gives the data to plant managers in a managed environment where they can share what they’re developing with the rest of their teams,” says Colin Masson, research director for manufacturing, AMR Research Inc., Boston. “And with the security, they’ll feel more comfortable sharing.”

In the past, collaboration has not been easy. File sharing was a problem, along with integration and interoperability. “It has been very difficult to collaborate between teams,” says Masson. “With Vista, you have a more collaborative user environment. You can pull up the meeting space and share documents.”

Some types of file sharing have simply not been available before Vista and Office 2007. “In using documents, you can now blend them. Then you can share the results of a search with the rest of the team,” says Masson. “In the past, that has been very difficult. How do you share a Google search? Now you can, and that’s not trivial. That makes it much easer to collaborate. You can show people the results of the search in the meeting space, and you can do it on the fly.”

Integrating into other plant and enterprise systems is also easier with Vista. “In many environments, MES stands for Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and operators didn’t have much flexibility is sharing them,” says Masson. “Now if you have an Excel spreadsheet, you can share it in a managed environment. You can share your best practices. Vista has that kind of flexibility and functionality.”

Even though Vista has many new tools for manufacturing, adoption will not be instant. Manufacturers run their systems for 20 or 30 years, so updates are not immediate. “Most of the Vista will show up in coming years, not this year,” says Wonderware’s Mody. “They will start testing on pilots this year and go into production with it next year.”

Agrusa of Iconics notes that plants are usually slow in picking up new technology. “With Vista, adoption will be slow because manufacturers tend to be conservative,” says Agrusa. “You have to get it in the channel, then get the integrators up to speed. It usually takes a year.” While adoption may be slow, Agrusa expects it to be faster than in the past. “They will do it more quickly than usual because we have more to offer.”

AMR’s Masson agrees that Vista will be adopted at a quicker pace than other Microsoft systems. “A lot of manufacturers will be more proactive in adopting the new Windows system,” says Masson. “They may be salivating at the tools to manage the images and get more protection around the control system.”

Vista decade

Even if it takes a while before manufacturers switch to Vista and Office 2007, when it comes, it may dominate manufacturing systems for years. “The next ten years will be the Vista decade,” says Agrusa. “You will be able to navigate from outer space and down into the operations of the plant.”

As plants buy or upgrade PCs, Vista and Office 2007 will come along with the new systems, and XP will be phased out next year, further pushing the adoption of Vista and Office 2007. The new tools for collaboration, data sharing and security, will let plant managers operate in new and different ways. 

For more information, search keyword “Vista” at www.automationworld.com.

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