It Goes Much Better When We All Work Together

Sept. 1, 2004
‘‘You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” agonizes one character. “No!

You got your chocolate in my peanut butter,” responds the other. Just like this old commercial for one of my favorite candies, sometimes seemingly dissimilar things go together to make something delicious.

In this special report, Automation World joins with its sister publication, Packaging World, to explore how two other functions work better when they go together—process and packaging. Packaging World was ten years old when it welcomed a new sibling into the fold last year. Actually it was a small, but rowdy group of controls-oriented journalists that invaded their quiet offices.

We have been sharing information and experiences over the past year among each other—my controls and manufacturing experience and Packaging World Editor Pat Reynolds’ knowledge of the nuances of the packaging machinery market. Events in industry today reveal that many see the benefits of integrating controls with packaging machinery and process manufacturing with packaging lines. For this special report, we interviewed many engineers and some managers from both the process side and the packaging side of the manufacturing business.

One side of the story traces from the efforts of a group of engineers, business leaders and analysts who formed the Open Modular Architecture Controls (OMAC, www.omac.org) working group. This group has evolved over the ensuing seven years since meetings in 1997 to formally organize it. The group met out of frustration with the inability to integrate manufacturing controls systems from different suppliers.

Arguably, the most successful working group was in packaging. Led by visionaries like Andrew McDonald, an engineering manager with Unilever, Keith Campbell, then an engineering manager at Hershey, and Fred Putnam, who is a consultant with Markam, a packaging equipment supplier, plus many more, the Packaging Work Group set goals, defined deliverables, then set about delivering.

The PackML subgroup led by Putnam adapted a standard model developed by the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA) called ANSI/ISA S88. This standard defines a model for representing batch control processes and provides a method for defining terms. PackML (Packaging Machinery Language) defines a state model for standard packaging machines and defines standard terms. As suppliers build to this standard, customers can understand how they work more quickly and easily than before.

The next step to integration was for the OMAC Packaging Working Group to work with an organization that promotes standards for batch processing manufacturing, the World Batch Forum (www.wbf.org). This was a natural step, because most, if not almost all, products from a batch process end up in some sort of package.

As engineers are required to cover more areas, it will be imperative that as many similarities as possible in control architecture and programming be designed into the system. As packaging manufacturers adopt standards based on standards, training and support issues are reduced.

Then there are business reasons for working together. Forward-thinking companies are using automation techniques for information flow to more closely couple customer requirements (as in purchase orders) to production. The ability to produce product to order, while packaging and shipping right after, can reduce inventory and increase customer satisfaction at the same time.

So, welcome the chocolate and peanut butter combination. That great taste might just be your company’s competitive edge.