Software Goes Modular

Feb. 1, 2006
Just as control vendors and their original equipment manufacturer customers are moving toward more use of modular designs, so too are the leading vendors of manufacturing execution system (MES) and enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) systems adopting modular approaches.

“A modular architecture is becoming an interesting evolution of the landscape,” says Colin Masson, a research director who covers MES systems for Boston-based AMR Research Inc. “We’ve talked to companies that have 200 autonomous manufacturing sites, and on each one they may have 50 to 100 applications, which may be different from site to site. But they still need to manufacture consistently.”

When Belgium’s Brouwerij Martens re-engineered its brew house to improve flexibility and responsiveness, and to increase output, it adopted a modular approach based on integrated systems from Wonderware, a Lake Forest, Calif., unit of Invensys Process Systems.

“The brewery used to maintain recipes inside the PLCs (programmable logic controllers), but this was very limiting,” says Benjamin Robert, who manages the MES system for Martens. “Each PLC could only manage two recipes, but the company needed to manage more than a dozen.” This meant each time a new order came in, the PLC might have to be reprogrammed.

The new system maintains the recipes in a batch management application that is connected to the production system through a supervisory platform based on an Invensys architecture called ArchestrA. “The system is so flexible that changes can be made very rapidly,” says Robert.

“Modularity has definitely come a long way,” says Steve Garbrecht, program manager, infrastructure and platforms, for Wonderware. “It used to mean the modules themselves, but now it’s taken on a new role. Now, the piece of equipment becomes a module and the I/O (input/output) is just a part of that.”

See the story that goes with this sidebar: Modular Architecture for SPeed & FlexIbIlIty