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Deciding the Future of OMAC

The organization’s first annual Integration Symposium featured an informative look at work done to date, plus a look ahead.

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The manufacturing engineering group at The Boeing Co. was a perfect host to the first annual OMAC Integration Symposium sponsored by the Open Modular Architecture Control, or OMAC, Users Group. The Nov. 28-29 event was held at the Future of Flight facility at Boeing, in Everett, Wash. One of the highlights was a tour of the assembly building where the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft is assembled. The group also saw the 777 assembly line and part of the 767 line. 

The Symposium title was "Bridging the Gap between the Discrete and Process Industries." Perhaps the closest presentation on that topic came from Dan Seger, co-chair of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society’s ISA SP88.05 committee and a principal engineer at Rockwell Automation Inc. His presentation was a clear and informative picture of how the committee has taken the work reflected in the ISA88 batch process standard and expanded it to be generic enough to encompass discrete (machine) automation, as well as process and batch.  

ISA88 part 5 is known as Make2Pack or more formally, Modular Concepts for Automated Systems. The focus of work was on standard states and names for equipment modules and control modules. Another objective was to push object-oriented programming. The draft document is out to the full committee for review, with the committee vote expected in mid-2008 and ISA adoption as a standard hoped for before the end of the year. 

Getting comfortable 

The significance of this work is that technology providers will feel comfortable building in templates and tools to help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other designers adopt the principles when this is a finished standard.  

A clear end-user view of standardization came in a presentation by Rob Aleksa, an engineer with Procter & Gamble's corporate engineering group. Here are a couple of his arguments. If someone has designed something already, why should everyone have to reinvent it every time? Answer--develop standards to capture best practices. He also stated, "If you build on standards, then you have more time to innovate."  

P&G wants standard definitions of machine states, object-oriented programming and code that is encapsulated and placed in libraries. When asked about how P&G implements the strategy, Aleksa responded, “You can't just spring the concepts on an OEM in mid-project. Engineers work with technology providers to educate OEMs on the value that standards adoption has for them.” 

Boeing's David Odendahl, in a presentation titled "Swimming Upstream with Your Friends," talked specifically about the company's adoption process of the STEP-NC standards (for STandard for the Exchange of Product model-Numerical Controller, a programming interface for NC controls). His points about how to get projects moving were instructive. Develop friends, avoid jargon, develop an effective "elevator pitch," get past the gatekeeper and be positive were his important points, but just as important was his passionate attitude. 

Decide the future 

An important part of the gathering got attendees involved in thinking about the future of OMAC. Boeing's Steve Olds explained, and then led a "roadmapping" session where attendees thought about needs, solutions and products that OMAC could work on in the future. The ideas were compiled and sorted out. The group spent most of final day’s afternoon prioritizing them. The new OMAC board now has its work cut out in determining how to implement the ideas. The next OMAC Symposium will be next November at Okuma in North Carolina.


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