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ISA-95: Integrating Manufacturing’s Future

Poised at the intersection of business systems and control systems, the ISA-95 standard offers a roadmap for making both automation system design and integration with the business side easier.

The levels of business operation, from enterprise to production, referred to in ISA-95 and ISA-88.
The levels of business operation, from enterprise to production, referred to in ISA-95 and ISA-88.

The ISA-95 standard itself is no secret. However, a hush-hush aura still surrounds most discussions of its benefits. “No names, please,” its users often request when asked to speak on the record about their experience implementing the standard. “Exactly how we use it is proprietary,” they add before noting things like “it’s at the heart of our current competitiveness” or “it’s the wellspring of our future.”

Its official name is “ANSI/ISA-95 Enterprise-Control System Integration” (known internationally as IEC/ISO 62264). But the title only hints at its value. Bottom line, it brings a company-wide perspective to system integration that allows you to take thousands of actions and data points and boil them down to an understandable framework. It focuses on activities—and it is meant to define and integrate the activities between business and ERP on one hand and MES and operations management on the other.

Currently, ISA-95 users make up a fairly exclusive club. In part, this is because the effort and time needed to weave it into operations is far from trivial.

As principal of BR&L Consulting (, and chair of ISA-95 Best Practices Working Group, Dennis Brandl says, “The effort to implement the standard is 80 percent cultural and 20 percent technical. It’s a very long road—you begin with your current operations practice as a reference model for MOM [manufacturing operations management], establish common terminology and data models, rigorously define where you want to be in the future, and then identify a migration path.”

Ask anyone who has tried that—it’s tough work. No wonder that the early adopters were, in Brandl’s words, “companies deeply concerned with quality and/or companies under rigorous regulatory oversight.” ISA-95 focuses on the things that these top performers must make happen, such as:

• Rational and documented approaches to manufacturing.

• Direct communication between business and manufacturing.

• Hard-code process improvements into the MES or MOM systems (as Brandl says, “If it’s hard-coded, then you continue doing it”).

>> Why Automation Suppliers Embrace ISA-95: For a wide range of applications, industrial automation software developers are relying more heavily on ISA-95, largely due to end-user preferences. Visit

Despite its challenges, many in industry agree that now is the time to consider ISA-95 if you haven’t already started down that path.

Don Clark, vice president, global process industry solutions for Invensys Operations Management ( and co-chair of the ISA-95 steering committee, says, “Nobody ever built a plant just to build a process. Grandpa engineer thought you did, because it was the only thing he could focus on—running a plant looking at gauges. But the plant’s there to make a product. Products are first and foremost business-related. Even if all your temperatures are right on their setpoints, if the business side isn’t integrated, you still could lose your job.”

ISA-95: the basics
In the simplest terms, the ANSI/ISA-95 standard offers two overarching benefits. First, ISA-95 allows everyone, in every department of your company, to talk about the same thing in the same way. It accomplishes this by offering rigorous definitions of operations done within an enterprise around business and manufacturing.

Second, the standard gives you a clear map for a complex world—one where business and manufacturing cooperate. How does it do that? By using models to represent business and manufacturing activities and breaking out key attributes of those models.

>> The Five Parts of ISA-95: Click here

The upshot is that you have concepts and perspectives that are extremely useful in aligning or integrating disparate organizational functions and computer systems.

Despite the sweeping advances to manufacturing being ushered in by ISA-95, the standard is not yet finished. This is because defining things takes time—and everything in business and manufacturing is constantly changing. In fact, the standard may never be finished, though Parts 1-3 are well-coalesced (see sidebar on the five parts of ISA-95). But its completeness may not matter. The essential basics are defined, and concepts useful for mapping between computer systems and between each department’s workaday methods are pretty well nailed down.

In the fabric of everything we do
Illustrating the hush-hush attitudes many industry end users currently have about ISA-95, one large, globally diversified chemicals producer I spoke with, who agreed to the interview only if he and his company would not be identified, says, “We use ISA-95 everywhere we can. Our primary focus is on level 3 interaction between the enterprise and control systems. For us, that’s the sweet spot of the standard, helping us define interactions and integration points.”

This company has been involved with ISA-95 from the standard’s inception, deciding years ago to end internal authorship of controls and enterprise systems, opting instead to work with vendor-supplied systems and solutions.

“When we first went to vendors with our needs, we still used our own company-speak,” the spokesperson says. “That is, we used the terminology and approaches that had been part of our home-built infrastructure. We got a lot of blank stares. But today, we’ve gained incredible efficiency in the procurement process with the help of ISA-95. Our RFPs are peppered with standards terminology and we include activity bubble diagrams derived from the standard to show the flows and functionalities we want. This has saved days of meetings and avoids misunderstandings.”

ISA-95’s context-neutral way of expressing the needs of manufacturing helps internally as well. “Once you know standard concepts and terminology, it allows you to bring enterprise system experts from companies like SAP into the same room with systems and control engineers and each group can understand the needs and priorities of the other,” the spokesperson explains.

Another driver behind this company’s adoption of ISA standards was the strategic decision to increase the company’s presence in specialty markets. “Making a commodity resin or precursor is one thing,” the spokesperson says. “You run that kind of plant as long and as hard as you can. But specialty production is far different. That requires rapid change, which requires agility. The ISA-95 approach allows us to engineer and re-engineer facilities in a modular way. It gives us a common language with well-defined infrastructure maps, making it easier for everyone to change things quickly.”

The spokesperson also explains how the standard enables faster, easier integration between business systems and control systems because of its:

• Clear functional specifications between operations management and enterprise requirements.

• Easier physical configuration: “For example, after mapping the data flows along the ISA-95 data models, we more or less know where to locate the servers and what to put on them.”

• Better organizational alignments. “We gather our technical leads [engineering specialists] and automation experts along ISA-95 activity areas. It’s easy to track down the right people.”

“ISA-95 is driven right into the fabric of everything we do,” the spokesperson says. “That’s why we’ve been as active as possible as the standard evolves. After all, if a standard meets our needs, why not use it...and help shape it?”

Technologies behind the standard
Brandl’s reference to the ISA-95 standard being 20 percent technology content includes some heady stuff, including semantic computing, which combines natural language processing, data mining and computer-processable knowledge representation (semantics). This content can be structured data, process knowledge, multimedia, even instances of hardware and software.

“If you look at 20 different systems with as many different ways to name something, there is usually some metadata structure that can encompass all the differences,” says Charlie Gifford, ISA-95 voting member and principal of 21st Century Manufacturing Solutions, a consulting group that focuses on MES and MOM implementations. “You map each system to the semantic model, and then use the model to communicate among the various systems. That’s much more reusable than just hardcoding a single conduit from one system to a second.”

>> Identified Information Categories for MOM/ERP + Data Flows: Click here for more information.

Beyond the semantic models supporting ISA-95, there is the use of more ubiquitous technologies such as the XML-based B2MML, the business to manufacturing markup language implementation of the data models in ISA-95. This allows for business and manufacturing concepts and data to be expressed textually as objects, definitions and activities.

“B2MML focuses on XML sets of codes that companies can use as their template,” says Julie Fraser, principal of lnyo Advisors and long-time manufacturing guru. “B2MML schemas are being built into system software, where it can cut implementation time by an order of magnitude.”

But don’t let the big technology, big concepts, big companies and big benefits associated with ISA-95 deter you from looking into it for your small or mid-sized operation. There are ways to draw benefits from the standards without total immersion. This is possible because ISA-95 concepts and technologies are now integrated into many products offered by automation system suppliers—especially those focused on manufacturing IT or control systems governance. Simply ask your vendors about their products’ capabilities to address ISA-95.

>> Looking for additional ISA-95 Resources? Click here

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