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WBF Pursues Growth, OMAC Collaboration

The World Batch Forum is aiming to boost membership, and is also expanding interaction with organizations such as the OMAC Packaging Workgroup. The two groups held an initial joint working session this month.

Change is in the works for the World Batch Forum, a volunteer professional organization dedicated to meeting the needs of batch manufacturers.

“We’re trying to change the face of the organization,” said Maurice Wilkins, newly elected WBF chairperson, at the group’s 11th annual World Batch Forum North American conference, held May 16-19, in Lincolnshire, Ill. Among other things, that means getting the word out that the WBF is “more than just batch,” said Wilkins, but provides an information exchange on ways to improve operations, and to make and save money by rational application of new and existing technologies and methods. Outside his WBF role, Wilkins is director of process automation at Millennium Specialty Chemicals, a unit of Millennium Chemicals, based in Hunt Valley, Md.

This year’s WBF North American conference attracted 145 attendees, down from the peak year of 2000, when 282 attended, but up slightly from last year’s head count of 135. That gain came in part due to the efforts of a WBF marketing committee formed last year to reverse the declining attendance trend, said Rodger Jeffery, of Mettler-Toledo Inc., in Worthington, Ohio, who chaired the marketing committee. The group undertook a number of activities, including the creation of a new WBF brochure with a new tagline, “Learn, Exchange, Influence, Profit.”

The committee also took steps to better position the organization for future growth. “We now have a database with nearly 8,000 names that is targeted at the right people,” Jeffery said. “When we started this program as a marketing committee, we had only 800.” David Fry, of Procter & Gamble (P&G), in West Chester, Ohio, is taking over as this year’s marketing committee chairperson.

Learn from others

Wilkins noted that given today’s rapid changes in technology and methods, batch personnel can benefit greatly by learning from others outside their companies—an advantage that WBF can provide. In addition to conferences, the WBF offers classes, a Web site that includes educational materials, and various publications. The WBF is also developing interactions with other organizations, Wilkins said, such as the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA) and the Open Modular Architecture Control Users Group (OMAC).

One example of that interaction, in fact, came immediately following the WBF conference on May 19, when representatives from the WBF and the OMAC Packaging Workgroup held their first joint working session. The meeting drew about 30 attendees. Both automation technology suppliers and end-users were represented, including P&G, Pfizer, SABMiller, Schering-Plough and Unilever.

Participants at the session quickly reached consensus that it makes good sense to coordinate the development and implementation of the IEC/ISA S88 standard for batch control architecture with OMAC’s PackML state model. The WBF committee working on Part 5 of S88 seems especially well situated for engaging in joint activities with OMAC, because Part 5 is focused on recipe/equipment interface.

Consultant Lynn Craig, of Manufacturing Automation Associates, Medford, N.J., emphasized that the S88 Part 5 committee is just getting started, but basically their objective is to flesh out ways in which the handling of batch recipes and the handling of third-party equipment such as packaging machinery can share the same controls architecture. “The initial emphasis has been on reducing the pain as we try to integrate disparate equipment into a unified control system,” said Craig.

Silo busting

A key objective behind this first-time meeting of the two groups was to have each familiarize the other with what their work is all about. The ultimate goal for both groups, said David Chappell, a technology leader at P&G, is to find meaningful ways of breaking down manufacturing silos wherever they impede efficiency and productivity. “We don’t want separate companies inside the same plant,” he noted. “We want to pass data horizontally from chief executive officer to continuous processing to batch processing to packaging.”

The meeting concluded with an agreement that phone connections and teleconferencing sessions between WBF and OMAC Packaging Workgroup should be used to explore areas of common activity. Also, two face-to-face gatherings are planned. The first will be June 30 at the conclusion of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute’s (PMMI) PackOps Conference at Chicago’s Westin O’Hare. The second is tentatively planned to coincide with PMMI’s Pack Expo International, scheduled Nov. 7-11, at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

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