ISA-95 Is Necessary for Smart Manufacturing

An information model used to define the interface between control functions and other enterprise functions, ISA-95 does not become dated over time the way technology would. It provides a smarter way to push ahead.

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What impact will the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have on your plant floor data? Smarter manufacturing is the intention. There is a belief floating around that the move toward IIoT will flatten the ISA-95 information model, thus making the standard obsolete. I’m here to offer a differing view, and explain why it matters.

An information model is not the same thing as internetworking infrastructure, nor is it a protocol. Information is the material that needs to be processed, shipped and handled. Internetworking infrastructure and protocols are a means by which we transport that material information. They are complementary to each other; they are not the same.

It is true that the network infrastructure that connects the top floor to the plant floor has been “flattened” compared to the past. Protocols such as Foundation Fieldbus, Modbus, Profibus, DeviceNet, ControlNet and many more were created to connect devices and bring device I/O into a controller. They were not open standards, and they often did not play nicely together. The steps to exchange data with a business system required more physical communication layers between I/O and the business systems. Now we have control I/O and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems on Ethernet. In that sense, the communications have flattened. Once again, that has nothing to do with the information that is moved across that infrastructure.

Production control, product cost accounting, order processing, production scheduling, product inventory control, quality assurance and maintenance management are all examples of functions in a manufacturing business. All of those functions have information associated with them. None of those functions nor the corresponding data have anything to do with a protocol, system or network infrastructure. ISA-95 works to improve manufacturing information clarity, structure and consistency independent of anything involving an implementation using either legacy or current technology. ISA-95 is technology-agnostic.

ISA-95 is about manufacturing business and operations. It does not date itself as technology would. It only dates itself as fast as accounting, production, maintenance, quality and inventory become dated—not very fast, in other words. Information model maturity implies becoming more effective over time. Decades of experience in business and operations have improved both. Neither move particularly fast, and that is why ISA-95 benefits from more than two decades of work. Some mistakenly think that ISA-95 is becoming long in the tooth like we see repeatedly with technology. Out with the old. If ISA-95 were technology, that would be true. However, it is not. Since it is about business, I’m pleased to know that there is some history to the standard, as well as ongoing efforts to improve and complete it. If ISA-95 were brand new, it wouldn’t be ready for use.

With regards to the latest technology shifts, Big Data is making headway. Some might consider that Big Data will impact the information model, thus impacting ISA-95. Though Big Data might contribute mashups using data from sources outside of your organization, it does not remove the need for your existing information. Business and operations are still in place. ISA-95 is still focused on modeling that information. Big Data is a different topic altogether, though complementary.
ISA-95 has been built by the efforts of experts from many end user, software vendor and integrator organizations. They have come together to leverage other existing standards as much as possible, and build the standard where needed. The standard is not law. It is a guide for manufacturers to use as they see fit. It is not a trivial matter to throw out all of the contributions that so many experienced industry professionals have provided.

Beyond manufacturing business and operations maturity, having an industry standard model enables software providers to sync to a specific model. If manufacturers want to improve their information models across their enterprises, the goal is that they can choose to standardize on ISA-95 models with software that is built to make that happen more readily. If all the systems used within a manufacturer are or can be modeled against ISA-95 by design, that provides a more efficient path to effective, clear information exchange. If a manufacturer ignores ISA-95, they will likely discover the need to create one or live with disparate data integration challenges. ISA-95 is intended to provide a smarter way.

Michael Bachelor is president at Bachelor Controls Inc., a certified member of theControl System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Bachelor Controls, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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