Bill’s Automation Perspective on Business Integration

  • September 05, 2014
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

Should the control room operator be responsible for making business decisions? I recently attended a conference and listened to a presentation that suggested manufacturers should focus on transforming control room operators into business operators who make business decisions. I have heard this same concept in other discussions. Certainly the goal is to improve operations and profits, but I do not believe it is wise to put the control room operator in this position.

Improving Manufacturing Production

The goal of improving manufacturing production requires end-to-end manufacturing in a broad scope. Aspects of this include real-time information for production lines, customer orders, supply chain, labor, material quality, machine status, performance analysis, quality, compliance, and product shipments. We should be asking ourselves why operators need to make business decisions, and how can we eliminate the requirement for them to make those decisions? I believe this is the next step in the evolution of automation systems. Automation systems should become fully integrated with business systems; this integration creates greater value for the manufacturer.

Investment Focus

The well-regarded business guru Peter Drucker always challenged people by asking, “How will these technological trends impact my organization today and in the future?” This is still a good question to ask. Today, we have a number of new tools that can help to operate plants more effectively, including refined Automated Process Control (APC), refined Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), big data analytics, and others. Now more than ever, improving manufacturing depends on optimizing and synchronizing the entire business process beyond the plant floor to include incoming orders, supply chain, and outbound logistics. Manufacturers have limited investment capital, and they should choose investments that will improve their operations and competitiveness. The refinement of operator interfaces and providing operators with more ability to control business outcomes may not be the best investment.

Manufacturing Operations

In theory, manufacturing operations could be fully automatic, but this is not practical today. Automation systems can add more value when integrated into the entire business rather than being an independent silo. Systems should provide the process owner with information to make better decisions and optimize operations based on the business goals. To accomplish these objectives, automation systems need to work in concert with business systems. This complete integration with business process and rules management systems at the enterprise level will improve visibility, agility, and efficiency. The goal is to align manufacturing with business objectives and achieve superior results. Presenting operators with information and directions that are easier to understand is a worthy goal. Control room operators need to have the tools to handle unusual and abnormal situations and make better decisions within their areas of responsibility.

Focusing solely on improving operator interaction may be a mistake. Your competitors may be focusing on increased automation and integration to gain a competitive business advantage.

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