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Improvements to plant automation software: from machine control to operations management, software lets factory operators and manufacturing executives apply the right amount of factory control.

On machines: Safety first

Safety systems help prevent accidents and the damage resulting from faults and malfunctions. They protect humans, machines, and the environment. From Siemens Corp. Industry Automation Div. ( comes a fail-safe software controller that can run on any Simatic x86-based personal computer (PC). The Simatic WinAC RTX F is a Microsoft Windows XP-based controller (box or embedded). It can run PC applications simultaneously with control tasks. It can monitor itself, detect faults autonomously, and immediately change into or remain in safe mode when a fault occurs. As opposed to a conventional programmable logic controller (PLC), the WinAC RTX F can handle real-time tasks with substantial data volumes. Having a dual-core processor inside helps: one core can be dedicated to Windows applications; the other for production control.


In plants: Real-time visibility

Cimplicity from GE Fanuc ( is a client/server-based plant control system. The latest version, Cimplicity 8.0, sports the "ribbon bar" interface found in recent versions of Microsoft Office Suite products. It also has a new graphics-rendering engine for generating more-lifelike displays of plant data. A new capability in Cimplicity lets plant operators change time zones "on the fly," which helps in handling multiple global operations. The new version supports Microsoft Vista (Service Pack 1) and Windows Server 2008. These operating systems let operators leave the User Account Protection of Vista security active, thereby reducing the risk of unauthorized file/program access and related security issues. This version also introduces digital graphical replay, an add-on that lets users rewind and graphically replay plant data at various speeds to analyze past events.


Another view of plant operations comes from Rockwell Automation. ( FactoryTalk VantagePoint is a web-based reporting program. It gathers data from multiple data sources into a single information management system. There's no separate data warehouse; all data remains with the initiating data source. FactoryTalk connectors install automatically and access FactoryTalk directory services to locate the data sources. Wizards help operators map data to data types. Once that's done, a web browser is all that's needed to use preconfigured reports and dashboards to show key performance indicators, alarms, control loops, devices, production, and other factory floor information. Operators can create their own reports by dragging-and-dropping data types, report widgets, and other elements. VantagePoint comes with direct connections to Rockwell Automation and third-party controllers, to FactoryTalk Historian, and optional connectors to third-party historians such as Wonderware IndustrialSQL Server, GE Proficy Historian, and OSIsoft PI System. It also has OPC DA and HDA connectivity to third-party real-time data sources and historians.

In manufacturing: On-demand execution

It was inevitable: Manufacturing execution system (MES) as Software as a Service (SaaS). Take a look at Plex Online from Plex Systems, Inc. ( Plex Online is an on-demand software system that provides enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management, supply chain management (SCM), production control, and other business applications. The system can be accessed using a web browser from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. The new Plex Online MES module includes dozens of submodules for factory control tasks such as job/production and materials management, process instructions, and both advanced production and kanban scheduling; tool, production, scrap, and labor tracking; traceability and part genealogy; CAD integration; and quality management. It has built-in support for bar code labeling, wireless handheld devices, PLCs, weigh scales, packaging machines, and other equipment.

There are two ways to capture production data for Plex Online. One is to have plant personnel manually fill out forms on a computer linked through the Internet to Plex Online. The automated way is to have the production machines collect the data. Ideally, the machines would already be networked to a data concentrator, which would then output production data to Plex Online. Alternatively, PleXML Plant Integration Module, from Kors Engineering (, is an XP-based software server that links Ethernet-outfitted, OPC-compliant devices (retrofit or new), such as PLCs and bar code scanners, to Plex Online. (Using proprietary networks is also possible, such as Data-Highway+, Modbus+, DeviceNet, and Profibus.) After mapping the data from production equipment and other data sources to the appropriate fields in Plex Online, production data can then go directly to Plex Online. New equipment is added by copying-and-pasting XML objects. Communications is bidirectional: Real-time operational data goes to Plex Online, which in turn transmits control signals to PLCs and other devices, as well as production data to various reporting tools.

In the enterprise: Integrated manufacturing

Manufacturing operations management (MOM) is a broader version of MES. More an enterprise-wide system, MOM extends across multiple (and global, if necessary) manufacturing sites. It incorporates production, quality, inventory, traceability, and maintenance. MOM creates real-time data integration between enterprise systems for product development and engineering, procurement, distribution, and resource management, including product lifecycle management, quality management, SCM, and, of course, ERP. As with other current business software, MOM has the full complement of tools for data analysis and display, event monitoring and management, and the collaboration between people.

For example, FlexNet from Apriso Corp. ( is a MOM system. Service-oriented architecture components integrate FlexNet to existing enterprise software. FlexNet manages operations data, provides real-time manufacturing execution visibility and control from material receiving through finished goods distribution, and it includes full revision control, work-in-progress traceability, bill of materials synchronization, alerting, and dashboard features. The company's latest module is FlexNet Just In Sequence. This module synchronizes customer "pull" signals (sequencing requirements), material allocation and replenishment, sub- and final assembly operations, and logistics. The pull signals can come from customer broadcasts, advanced planning and scheduling, ERP, or traditional electronic data interchange.

by Lawrence S. Gould

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Title Annotation:ENGINEER
Author:Gould, Lawrence S.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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