Friday, December 12, 2014

Connecting the Enterprise through a Standardized Communications Layer

Posted by Patrick Gilligan

Over the past two years, I’ve met with companies from various industries to discuss their automation architecture. A common theme in these meetings is the desire to define and implement a standard that can be adopted globally. The idea is to create a complete view or snapshot for management to monitor. Getting data in the hands of decision-makers quickly and reliably allows for efficient decisions to be made—whether it’s cars being manufactured, food being processed, machines being built, or goods being packaged. As companies expand their reach in our global economy, identifying and tracking all information in a factory process is essential for growing revenue.

In a perfect world, a company with BI_Blog_12-2014 multiple plants would implement the same vendor’s hardware and software. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. As companies have grown both organically and through acquisition, geographic and financial influences have created multiple isolated systems—making it harder for the corporate office to monitor. These companies track factory performance using a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), which provides the ability to analyze the data being collected at the plant floor and find ways to optimize its process (through reduced waste and improved throughput). Exposing this information at the plant level is good, but comparing this data to other plants is great at the corporate level. Even though the product being made at these various locations may be the same, the software and hardware implemented to build and track them is not always so.

Deploying a middleware solution like Kepware's KEPServerEX enables applications to communicate to disparate automation systems using a variety of protocols. Having a standardized communication layer between devices and the MES empowers companies to adapt to their local environment without sacrificing a globally-connected enterprise. The most successful companies are strategic in their approach to automation, and achieve a connected enterprise by formulating teams with stakeholders from all facets of the factory and from various geographic locations. With Kepware's vendor-agnostic products, companies can introduce new equipment and technology faster to the factory floor.

For example, if management wants to compare the efficiency of output from two factories that are making the same product (or monitor uptime via predictive maintenance measures), they can use Kepware’s expanding list of communication solutions to connect to the devices in use. By integrating localized equipment with applications being adopted globally and standardizing communications through KEPServerEX, management gains a complete snapshot of data. As interest grows in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), having a connected enterprise in place will allow companies to introduce IoT to the factory.

Implementing business decisions to the factory floor in real-time will soon be common. With engineering slated to have significant releases next year, Kepware is poised to offer companies even more solutions for communication options.

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To learn how KEPServerEX enabled Molex Incorporated (a global provider of electronic components and solutions) to support multiple PLCs, process monitors, and controllers from a variety of vendors using a single communications platform, read the case study.

Download the Molex Case Study