‘Best of breed’ partnerships will be the key to the successful convergence between production and IT systems, according to Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture Regional Business Leader, Geoff Irvine. True convergence, he believes, means getting the best of both worlds—from production and from IT—and is essential to maximise production efficiency and profits.
“There has traditionally been a clash of cultures between IT and manufacturing,” said Irvine. “The IT manager typically wants a standardised system, centralised control and good levels of security. By contrast, the manufacturing manager simply wants to maximise the uptime of his equipment. He tends to consider quick fixes and site-specific programming to be normal, and believes strict adherence to a central standard to be inflexible and an impediment to maximising machinery uptime.”
Irvine cited one example where the IT department brought the manufacturing system down while updating the production software. “The IT department at a metal-working operation decided that the HMI software would best be managed centrally,” he said. “They sent out the latest Microsoft patch, without forewarning the manufacturing managers that the software was being updated. The update crashed the production system, and of course the manufacturing personnel had no idea what was happening. This scenario probably represents an experience common across much of the Australian manufacturing sector.”
Blending IT and control philosophies is the obvious way forward, Irvine maintains, and this is leading to interesting software developments. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have traditionally been IT-based, thereby limiting communication capabilities with plant floor systems. The development of integrated production software that is founded on IT technologies, however, permits compatibility with a broad spectrum of commonly used IT applications.
Using an IT platform to develop control system technology permits the establishment of shared databases, enabling data transfer directly between the plant floor and the ERP system. The same philosophy has led to the adoption of service-oriented architectures (SOA), which permit the sharing of a common set of services across the full breadth of the plant-wide information system. These developments have been achieved—almost without exception—through best-of-breed partnerships.
Irvine believes that partnerships between best-of-breed companies are a key to achieving effective convergence. “A good example is the Ethernet Stratix 8000 switch, produced through collaboration between Rockwell Automation and Cisco,” said Irvine. “This provides the end-user’s IT department with a familiar Cisco switch—complete with reference architecture. It also presents production personnel with a switch they are able to configure via the control network, using their programming software. Both departments are in essence achieving the same outcome, but are seeing it from their own separate worlds.”
Importantly, Irvine emphasised, best-of-breed partnerships should allow both organisations to benefit from such a joint-venture. “For example, Cisco has leveraged the partnership with Rockwell Automation to expand into the plant floor domain, while Rockwell Automation has benefitted from Cisco’s network experience,” he said. “Similarly, on the historian side, Rockwell Automation is working with OSI PI to the mutual benefit of both parties.”
The real winner, of course, will be industry itself. “Convergence helps reduce engineering time for implementations, significantly foreshortening time-to-market, and resulting in greater operating efficiencies by having plant and IT personnel talking the same language,” said Irvine. “The move towards off-the-shelf components further facilitates end-users to build up their system more easily than ever before.”
Irvine believes that industry has already made great inroads down the road to convergence, but that there is further to travel. The technology is already out there, and its capabilities are expanding month by month.