Software vendors race to be first to market with complete solution as demand for plant floor to top floor integration in manufacturing hots up

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A new report by Independent market analyst Datamonitor (DTM.L) finds there's growing demand for plant floor to top floor software integration solutions aimed at manufacturers. The report "When worlds collide: Plant floor to top floor integration," says it is receiving increased interest due largely to a heightening need for manufacturers, from pharmaceutical industry right through to the automotive sector, to derive competitive advantage through production agility. While software vendors are racing to provide applications to link plant floor and top floor applications, there is still no complete top to bottom solution on offer.

The ability to develop and put new products on the shelf quicker than competitors is the goal for manufacturers trying to gain market share

At the moment, the gap between plant floor and top floor systems is slowly being closed, on paper at least. While the concept of linking the two traditionally disparate "floors" is by no means new, it has historically been overlooked despite its importance.

Linking plant floor systems, like those controlling switches and valves, to top floor systems such as supply chain management (SCM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, allows manufacturers to gain greater visibility into their plant's production process. It enables greater collation of information from numerous sources within the company, and helps to filter and present it in a highly configurable way.

"Some manufacturers are making business critical decisions based on data sent indirectly from their plant floor, which, essentially, Qis time-lagged. Linking plant floor and top floor systems enables real-time data collection for timely, well informed decisions," says Adam Jura, Datamonitor technology analyst and author of the report.

The development of frameworks for integration has given the option for more phased, modular approaches by manufacturers

Traditionally, attempts to close this gap by manufacturers have proven costly, time consuming and been potentially counter-productive. The options available to businesses in the past have been to either develop in-house solutions or use a manufacturing execution system (MES) with integration capabilities.

MESs have some capabilities that allow a degree of integration between plant floor and top floor systems to occur, yet in the past have used non-standards based approaches. With the advent of the ISA S95 (The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation society standard for Enterprise-Control System Integration) standard, MES solutions have become more streamlined towards various existing business systems.

The development of frameworks for integration has given the option for more phased, modular approaches by manufacturers, with the end result being decreased initial outlays and increased viability.

MES vendors, enterprise application providers, enterprise application integration (EAI) solution vendors and automation systems companies are all striving to provide a complete solution to manufacturers.

Aimed at those wishing to gain a collated view of the story so far, Datamonitor's report looks at how 16 software vendors from different application/service backgrounds are approaching this critical integration issue.

"While software vendors are racing to provide applications to link plant floor and top floor applications, there is still no complete top to bottom solution on offer. For example from the corporate level, SAP has announced plans to address ERP to plant floor integration, and from the plant floor, Rockwell is pushing upwards with its own take on MES. What has come to pass is an ecosystem with four different types of software vendors competing against, partnering with, or sometimes even providing for, one another. MES vendors, enterprise application providers, EAI solution vendors and automation systems companies are all striving to provide a complete solution to manufacturers," concludes Jura.

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