Bottom-line Thinking

This month, we are covering two issues very important for the profitability of manufacturing companies—and that have potentially far-reaching consequences.

The major focus of the issue is “green,” regarding both environmental concern and corporate profitability. The second important issue is the role standards play in developing machines that make manufacturing responsive to both customer demand and corporate competitiveness. The common thread, of course, is a weave of automation and operational excellence.

Some people feel political vibrations when they hear the word green. For some, the vibrations are positive, and for others, it’s more akin to a few volts of 60-cycle power running up the arm. Forget the politics. There are many values to being green. Many managers value being good corporate citizens of their cities and try to run facilities that don't draw undue negative publicity. Of the various manufacturing companies covered in this issue, the reason that each pursued energy efficient and green projects varied in some detail, but in every case, it just made good business sense. You can be conservative, profitable and green—all at once.

Standards

A group from the corporate engineering staff at Procter & Gamble Co. invited me down the road for a talk about how they use standards as part of their machine specifications. You can read the interview starting on page 48.

It’s important not to miss the fact that P&G does not invest the people resources required to develop and promote standards out of some altruistic sense that standards are good. It invests because it makes business sense. Machines that operate in standard ways make it easier to train operators. The operators will be more efficient because the similar behavior of machine controls causes less confusion as they move from machine to machine. Because standards define many operations, machines can be designed, built and installed more quickly. This gets production started sooner.

Some people have voiced the concern that standards hamper innovation. If you fall into that camp, read what the P&G engineers have to say. Following standards for control systems eliminates some of the duplication of effort at the design stage and allows machine builders time to emphasize innovation in the process. In fact, control standards do not eliminate the possibility that the designer could devise proprietary and innovative algorithms in the code. They could just embed them in a function block that contains, for example, compiled C code. No one would care, as long as the execution and interface remained standard.

There are two streams to the standards that the P&G engineers were discussing—ISA88 and OMAC’s PackML. The ISA88 standard, developed by a committee of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, defines terms, interfaces and a state model for batch control. Other engineers looked at the standard and thought, “I bet that model would work for machines and other processes, too.” They were right. A group of end-user and technology supplier engineers began meeting under the auspices of the Open Modular Architecture Control Users Group (OMAC) and formed a packaging working group. This group devised an implementation of the ISA88 state model that described packaging machines. They called it PackML. The same group also worked on definition of terms used in control, called PackTags. These ideas are being slowly implemented.

OMAC is now at a crossroads. It can coast along with its success with packaging. Or, on the other hand, it can build on this success and make the standard relevant to all machines. There is some work in that direction in the ISA88 Part 5 committee (ISA88.05), which is also called Make2Pack. I hope that the current leadership can find a way to get the membership excited again and extend their work.

Gary Mintchell, Editor in Chief, gmintchell@automationworld.com




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