What Challenges and Opportunities does this present ?
Traditionally within the Manufacturing sector, system implementations focused in Financials & MRP, and more recently full blown ERP systems. In the automation space, the first steps in the convergence of IT and Engineering was when PCs became the easiest way to connect DCS (Distributed Control Systems) and PLCs (Programmable Logic Controller) with the establishment of factory networks.
The convergence of IT and Engineering from a software perspective really started to accelerate with the advent of SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). However, in a lot of instances, factories continued to have islands of automation with dedicated SCADA systems being supplied by the machine and automation vendors.
While some companies begun to log data from these disparate data sources into a central repository it was still a step away from true integration of Shop Floor to Top Floor. With the advent of Manufacturing Execution Systems, and high speed Data Historians, the opportunities and options for true integration became a reality.
So how did this impact IT and Engineering ? From a resource and skill set perspective, traditionally IT departments would have had people who maintained the hardware and infrastructure, people who maintained the application software - whether in a pure support role, or developing around the fringes of the corporate ERP system, or supporting other COTS software and back office applications. Engineers were experts in automation, PLC programming, Control Systems and SCADA. They would have had minimal IT skills in the areas of Database management, programming, and factory networks. So as shop floor machines and automation became more integrated with the business systems this presented challenges for IT and Engineering resources alike.
Do you train up Engineering resources in scripting, in knowledge of Relational Databases, and infrastructure ?
Do you train up IT Software Engineers in the concepts of tags, SCADA, Data Bridging applications ?
How do you get true data integration from your ERP system to your MES to your Control Systems without the correct blend of skills within your organisation or your partners?
What about converting all the data you are capturing into real information which can aid your decision making process across all levels of the supply chain ?
Some people in your organisation know the data, when it is sampled, where it is stored, but have they the skills to develop a fully integrated information portal with real time KPIs in a context that is appropriate for the different decision makers across the different business functions ?
How do you leverage your investment in these different systems to help reduce the costs of compliance and drive efficiencies ?
Are you benefiting from the convergence of IT and Engineering or are you feeding a monster with more and more one off projects ?
Opportunities It Opens
There is no doubt that there are endless opportunities presented by this convergence of IT and Engineering. If the correct vision and strategy is defined, then the correct adoption of technologies, coupled with the correct resource pool can transform your organisation and its decision making process.
It can greatly assist in the compliance to new regulations and allow your business to respond to ever changing environment. A truly beneficial Business Intelligence led organisation can be accomplished.
What does this mean ? It means that before engaging in discrete IT or Engineering projects, that their role and place in the overall vision is clear. Moving from islands of automation to islands of data and systems that are not fully integrated is not the solution. The ISA 95 Model can assist organisations in mapping out this vision.
The IT role in an Engineering project can no longer just be about providing the hardware and cabling, not can the Engineering Role in a Data Collection or Integration Project be about exposing tags and collection points.
In summary, the convergence of IT and Engineering presents enormous opportunities when applied to an integrated vision. Benefits including reduced cost, increased efficiencies and base margin, as well as reduction in the cost of compliance can be achieved. The correct blend of IT and Engineering coupled with the correct application of technology can be a huge enabler for Manufacturing companies.
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