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New CIM software lets you design plant automation networks yourself.

New CIM Software Lets You Design Plant Automation Networks Yourself

There's no such thing as a generic factory--especially in discrete-parts manufacturing. But IBM Corp. has come out with what's intended to be a generic software tool for designing plant automation networks. Manufacturers need software that offers the flexibility to be tailored for individual plants--a shortcoming of most off-the-shelf plant automation software, according to IBM. At the same time, custom automation software development is complicated and expensive, and usually must be done by outside computer experts who are not intimately familiar with the manufacturing operation that will use the automation software "application" they are designing.

That's why many discrete-parts manufacturers have been clamoring for easy-to-use software tools for shopfloor personnel without programming expertise. They say this would go a long way toward speeding the penetration of CIM, automated factories, and the advantages that go along with them.

Such tools have long been available for continuous-process industries, where manufacturing within industriesis more homogeneous than in discrete-parts manufacturing. This had enabled software suppliers to develop systems with iconic-based interfaces that enable process engineers to configure their own control strategies. Now, IBM believes that with a generic application development tool like PlantWorks, a significant hurdle has been removed to the implementation of CIM and automation in discrete manufacturing.

IBM's new Plant Works Distributed Automation Edition software is a set of tools for its PS/2 personal computers aimed at letting manufacturing professionals--those that know the factory best--develop their own applications, without having to rely on computer programming specialists. The software can be used to develop applications for monitoring, coordinating, controlling, tracking, and reporting on plant operations, beginning with one production line, and eventually extending to the entire plant. Unlike most "canned" commercial automation software, PlantWorks lets manufacturing professionals define the logic, screens, and reports according to the needs of their application.


PlantWorks provides the capabilities to run applications distributed across multiple computers, or groups of manufacturing cells, so different plant applications and equipment can share information. PlantWorks can also be used to integrate a host computer with computers on the shop floor that provide localized application support to programmable controllers, printers, terminals, bar-code scanners, and so forth. Ease of tying together different intelligent devices from a variety of manufacturers is said to be one of the cardinal features of PlantWorks.

Its graphic capabilities allow users to design displays representing plant operations, which operators can use to manage and update conditions and initiate changes to setpoints. For example, an animated display can be created that tracks the movement of a robot arm as it performs tasks, while the screen display also shows real-time data on lubricant level in the robot.

The programming approach is somewhat similar to that of Lotus 1-2-3. An easy-to-understand, icon-driven graphics interface aids users in creating their applications. Interactive graphics and fill-in-the blank featrues are aimed at shortening the user's learning process and speeding response to potential problems in the plant.

PlantWorks has two main parts: Build-Time, where applications are developed; and Run-Time, where applications are executed. Build-Time provides a graphical library of 13 predefined, building-block functions and about 180 standard subroutines that can be selected and linked together to create applications. Users can add to the library of subroutines by writing new ones.

To get started with PlantWorks, engineers first plan the logical sequence of events that will take place in, say, an injection molding cell. Each work area or cell is analyzed, including what it does, how it works, and how it relates to other cells. Events are tied together in a sort of flow-chart representation. During this stage, users analyze current manufacturing operation requirements to decide how PlantWorks can be applied to improve management or control.

After analysis, the engineer creates an application using the interactive, graphically supported, flow-chart tools and fill-in-the-blank fields that are used to describe data to be collected, stored, or manipulated; actions to be taken in response to activities or user input; and appearance and operation of displays and reports.

The first step in creating an application is to define it with a name and location, for example, identifying how it is distributed across computer nodes in the system. Remaining application steps, which include defining data and data structures, devices, paths, operations, displays, alarms, and reports, can be performed in any sequence. These tasks are completed by responses to pop-up windows, prompts for information, and fill-in-the-blank fields.

After developing the application, it can be tested by activating versions of it and running traces and viewing audit trails, which allow monitoring the function of applications before they're actually put on-line. The system has a feature called Version Control that allows different versions of an application or parts of them to be activated and tested individually to see which one works best, to add new techniques, or to restructure the applications for a new design. After testing the application, it's put in actual production using Run-Time.

By this point, the application has been defined with displays that enable plant operators to monitor and respond to operations, start and stop processes, modify operating parameters, and check the progress of the manufacturing process. In production, PlantWorks applications are driven by events as they occur. Events such as signals from plant equipment, messages from other computers, or operator inputs can be used to activate application tasks, manage data, or initiate control activities.

The Run-Time services also enable defining, logging, and analysis of historical and trend data so it can be reviewed by the plant operator. Tables and queues provide ways to store and retrieve sets of data. They can be updated as needed to maintain information about, for example, color, size, quantity, and weight of various parts.

PlantWorks runs on IBM's PS/2 with OS/2 Extended Edition operating system. To get started with the software costs a bit more than $30,000. Headquarters for marketing this software to plastics processing is out of IBM's Rubber, Glass & Plastic Industry Center in Akron, Ohio.


IBM says PlantWorks is a cornerstone of its CIM Architecture, the framework through which IBM plans to offer a structure for integrating information and business processes in a consistent way throughout a manufacturing enterprise, via a collection of software interfaces and "enabling" products. Sources say PlantWorks defines the direction for its future CIM development strategy; thus, a processorhs investment in the software will be protected in the future.

PlantWorks is also an important part of IBM's Distributed Automation Edition (DAE) strategy, a set of four software programs introduced last October that provide a standard application-program interface to link computer-based devices, both on and off the shop floor. DAE takes on the responsibility of operating systems, databases, communications, and making data independent of the hardware devices generating, handling and receiving it. DAE is an extension for the plant floor of IBM's Systems Applications Architecture (SAA), which seeks to isolate program developers from concerns about communications, operating systems, and the particular devices that willl run the software.

PlantWorks was developed by IBM in conjunction with Measurex Automation Systems (MAS), Cupertino, Calif., a relatively new subsidiary of Measurex Corp.--a firm with considerable expertise in continuous-process automation--that was created specifically to focus on discrete manufacturing. While PlantWorks will be sold by IBM's worldwide marketing force and its network of Business Partners, MAS is offering a series of training classes on using PlantWorks to develop applications. (CIRCLE 3)

With such user-configurable plant automation software expected to play a big role in CIM, it's inevitable that IBM will have competition in this market. PlantWorks is really part of an emerging class of software known as application enablers. Just about all of the major players in CIM are working on developing software with similar capabilities, or they're developing ties with companies that already offer them. For example, Allen-Bradley Co. in Milwaukee, recently announced that FactoryLink, an application enabler from U.S. Data Corp. of Richardson, Texas, now runs on A-B's Pyramid Integrator information processor (see PT, Feb. '89, p. 125), a product it developed jointly with Digital Equipment Corp., IBM's biggest competitor. (CIRCLE 4)
COPYRIGHT 1990 Gardner Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:computer-integrated manufacturing
Author:Fallon, Michael
Publication:Plastics Technology
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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