Top floor to shop floor info exchange

Connecting manufacturing data - including packaging data - to other company information systems is a trend that continues to pick up steam. A feature story in the March issue of Automation World makes that abundantly clear.

"Over the past 10 to 15 years, companies have used their ERP systems to connect the enterprise from one end to the other," writes Ron Spiegel, author of the story. "The first connections went naturally to the office functions: financials, human resources, sales and marketing, supply chain, and logistics. The final mile of connectivity goes to the plant itself. The IT department knows, of course, that the plant runs on an information platform, but until recently, plant data has been its own animal."

Spiegel's story is especially useful for those who build or buy packaging machinery, because in many ways packaging lags even farther behind than processing when it comes to getting data out of a machine on the plant floor and into MES or ERP.

Spiegel explores in the article the two most commonly used methods of connecting plant-floor data to the business side of the enterprise: By driving it through a database to a Microsoft SQL Server or by using a direct connection through OPC. "OPC (an open connectivity standard) has been getting a lot of attention in the field of connecting the plant to business systems, especially the most recent OPC UA (Unified Architecture), which was released to the OPC membership last fall," writes Spiegel. "The strategy behind OPC UA, according to analysts from ARC Advisory Group Inc. in Dedham, MA, is to leverage collaboration with other industry standards, including ISA-S95, ISA-S99, OAGi, EDDL, and MIMOSA."

Spiegel also points out that a recent survey by Boston-based AMR Research Inc. shows that the majority of plants are using ISA-S95 as the primary standard for exchanging plant data with ERP systems. "A hearty 59 percent use ISA-S95," according to the article. "Another 25 percent are using ISA-S88, while 22 percent are using OAGi (a communications standard from the Open Applications Group), and 15 percent are using any number of other standards."

To learn more about driving productivity by capturing data from packaging machines on the plant floor, attend the May 23 Packaging Automation Forum in Chicago, sponsored by Packaging World and Automation World. Keynote speaker Gregg Stedronsky, director of packaging engineering at General Mills, will address this subject head on. It will also surface repeatedly in the rest of the PAF presentations. Visit www.packworld.com/paf to see the full program and to register.

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