Why Do We Need an Upgrade, Anyway?

July 1, 2005
Plants are upgrading their software more frequently because plants have become much more complicated in recent years. Sometimes, regulatory changes require new software.

Other times, plants upgrade to gain greater connectivity or improve productivity. Upgrades are usually initiated to take advantage of new technology or new features that broaden the product functionality, but they can be prompted by external factors such as yesterday’s Y2K (the changeover to the year 2000, which prompted concerns that computers would not be able to handle dates correctly) and today’s operating system/Internet security needs,” says Nancy Venable, manager for OEM/VAR and services programs at Invensys’ Wonderware division, in Lake Forest, Calif. “In the case of very old systems, upgrades may be warranted to facilitate easier integration with business systems.”

The exchange of data between business processes in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and the plant control systems has increased the frequency of upgrades. Now the plant has to upgrade just because the ERP system is being upgraded. “With the merging of IT and process control, there are a lot more upgrades,” says Gregg LeBlanc, product director and strategist at OSIsoft Inc, San Leandro, Calif.

LeBlanc notes that companies in life sciences and the pharmaceutical industry have to update their plant systems to accommodate greater regulation. “Every time a pharmaceutical company makes a change in its product, it has to revalidate for the FDA,” says LeBlanc. “If you’re using old software, you’re going to have problems with revalidation.” He notes that pharmaceutical plants are upgrading just to accommodate increased regulatory demands.

The benefits of standardization are also prompting upgrades. “Plants are standardizing on machinery, controllers and shop floor data,” says Tim Egloff, program manager for Tecnomatix, part of Plano, Texas-based UGS Corp. The standardization of data is critical for sharing shop floor data with ERP systems. “One of the biggest reasons for upgrades now is because IT is more involved in shop floor data acquisition, so that data have to be standardized.”

That communication between business process and the plant floor needs to travel in both directions. As plants move toward lean manufacturing practices, there needs to be increased visibility between the shop floor and the ERP system. So as well as acquiring plant floor data, the business process system needs to alert the plant floor to supply interruptions or order changes. “Plants need to upgrade their systems to obtain leaner operations and better event management capabilities,” says Sudipta Bhattaharya, vice president of manufacturing applications at SAP AG, Walldorf, Germany. “If my supplier can’t ship, I need to know as soon as possible so I can change what I’m making.”

See the story that goes with this sidebar: Take Control of Plant Software Upgrades