Harmonising Data from Different Manufacturing Control Systems

Data is central to almost all significant improvements your production line and overall operation will experience over the coming years. Industry 4.0, enhancing OEE, automating additional processes, integrating machines and platforms – all this and more relies on data.

In simple terms, this means a machine putting out data and another machine or system acting on that data to populate a report, track products, send a notification, trigger another stage in the production process, trigger a business process such as system optimisation or ordering new materials, and more.

The Challenge

There is a major barrier that is and will prevent you from achieving the improvements and benefits that new technologies and processes present: there is no consistency in data standards.

Various control vendors, OEMs, and automation technologies all produce data of some sort, but they do so according to their own standards. This means, in the vast majority of cases, solutions from different vendors do not talk to each other out of the box.

In many respects, this silo mentality of vendors is understandable. They believe they have the best solution for your production line and they want you to purchase all available products from them. Even if they don’t provide a particular machine or technology you need, they are still reluctant to work to a standardised data format because of the engineering hours involved and because it may mean compromising on the functionality, performance, and uniqueness of their products.

Busting this down to the reality of your plant, however, means you can have two machines, both from different vendors, both dependent on the other, and both producing data. Neither machine, however, recognises the data of the other.

The results for your business in this scenario are all negative: inefficiencies, increased risk, production delays, compliance issues, increased production costs, and more.

The Process

The solution to this challenge is obvious – develop a standard that works regardless of the platform. In other words, using a standard that makes it possible for your system to understand and, crucially, interpret and use data, regardless of how the machine creating the data was programmed.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The biggest consideration is developing a standard that performs equally and consistently across all vendors and platforms. There are three elements to this:

  • Requires exposure to – and experience of – a wide range of different control systems, platforms, and technologies.
  • You also need a deep understanding of the programming of the machine or platform. In other words, how the machine analyses itself, how it processes performance data, and how the data it produces is summarised, published, data-logged, and reported.
  • Finally, you need a process that enables ongoing development of the standard to keep it up-to-date as vendors launch new platforms and technologies.

The Solution

Taking a vendor-neutral approach to developing a standard for data is the only workable option. This is exactly what we did at SL Controls, following the process detailed above.

In other words, we work with a broad range of clients so have extensive experience of a variety of vendor technologies, and we understand the programming of those technologies. In addition, we regard keeping the standard up-to-date with new developments in the industry as being a core business focus.

The benefits of a data standard like this to your operation are substantial. These include:

To say all this is possible with data is far too simplistic for a modern production facility. The benefits above are only possible when data is usable. This can only happen when you have a workable data standard, such as we offer at SL Controls.

Paul Clarke

Paul is SL Controls' Technical Director and has significant experience implementing solutions in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and food and beverage sectors. He plays a key role in the research and development of the company's industry-leading range of products and bespoke customer solutions, all of which have a focus on reducing customers’ operational costs and driving efficiency across the manufacturing process.

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