Next-Generation Manufacturing Software Platforms Explained

Posted by Mark Davidson on Fri, Jun 07, 2013 @ 06:00 AM

It's interesting to consider the diverse Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) IT landscape that can be found within a single organization. Given advancements in technology as well as the growing complexity of manufacturing operations over the past decades, it comes with little surprise that companies have implemented a wide variety of solutions in each plant that span from the shop floor to the top floor, and this number grows exponentially when we account for the applications portfolio of a manufacturer with a global footprint.

At the end of May we began to discuss how the 'not too distant' future of manufacturing software platforms are starting to address IT complexity, speed, and cost issues. As discussed in the previous post on this topic, there is a broad set of Software/Application functionality described in the LNS Research MOM model, along with the need for a comprehensive MOM software platform and applications offering that will not only consolidate manufacturing IT diversity, but bring a level of standardization, centralization, and preconfigured integration that will catalyze performance improvements across the enterprise. While the full scope of MOM functionality is not yet available in a singular solution, the next generation of manufacturing software platforms is on the horizon.

This post intends to zero in on the key challenges that future manufacturing software platforms will address and then discuss in more detail the role of the services-based platform.

Justifying the Move to New Manufacturing Software Platforms

In the past, advancements in technology in conjunction with the rising needs of users have provoked investments in point solutions and purpose-built applications in the manufacturing environment. Although building these solutions on existing database-oriented architectures was beneficial at some levels, over time the growing number of disconnected systems and data sources has highlighted the shortcomings of this approach.

Future manufacturing software platforms will leverage what’s worked in the past, while embracing emerging software technologies that better meet the accelerating needs of users. Several key attributes that will separate future platforms from traditional approaches include:

  • Open standards-based integration and collaboration capabilities that will enable a highly modular solution approach, reducing duplicative functionality across a broad set of MOM software ‘apps’ and keeping solutions portfolios simple as the needs of operations grows
  • A common services approach for all MOM applications to integrate to enterprise and industrial automation applications, greatly easing data and process workflow integration across all software domains in the manufacturing enterprise
  • Compatibility with enterprise service bus technologies that are becoming prevalent in business and IT applications, facilitating end-to-end, business and manufacturing process management
  • Simplified consumption of future functionality and enhancements to the existing manufacturing IT portfolio
  •  The ability to readily scale from small, single plant applications to large on-premise or cloud-based enterprise applications

A Drill-down on Future MOM Platforms & 'Apps'

As you evaluate MOM software partners in the future, look for vendors that are investing in modern, services-based software platforms, along with lightweight 'apps' that possess the key attributes described above. While these attributes are critical and foundational for long-term success, the way in which they will be achieved in the future is quite a departure from the past. 

The services provided by these emerging platforms will fill the traditional information and process gaps that many manufacturers experience today. This section will dive into the specifics of the future platforms vision.

next generation manufacturing

Simplified Integration

Future MOM platforms will provide an integrated development environment, with a common configuration toolset for all of the platform services as well as for the modules and apps. This is contrast to multiple different development tools for different applications and data repositories of older generation platforms. Integrators and end-users can be much more productive with a single toolset across all MOM platform services and apps.

Additionally, as compared to traditional point-to-point or application-to-application integration approaches, apps that leverage platform application integration services are inherently tied to process workflows and data required to make for end-to-end, business-to-manufacturing processes work.

Integration with enterprise and industrial automation applications is part of the core platform services, which will follow industry standards in those respective spaces, as well as directly interface with Enterprise Service Busses (ESB) in the enterprise space. Bypassing many of the past issues with separate enterprise and industrial automation integration layers, in addition to varying integration capabilities of external systems, the integration capabilities provided by the future platforms will be consistent across all applications and systems regardless of the architectural layer or who provides them.

Collaboration Capabilities

Collaboration and workflow services support both people-to-people and people-to-systems interactions, enforcing procedures and rules while flexibly adapting to real-time situations with alternate workflows and processes. Traditionally, process execution software has been much less flexible and pre-configured, which often didn’t even support dynamic people-to-people interactions at all.

Security Services

With a variety of point solutions implemented over time, in many organizations there’s a growing concern around fractured security and managing roles/access across multiple applications. Future manufacturing platforms will leverage common security services that determine roles, responsibilities, authorities, and access across all systems and application functions, while fitting into corporate IT security schemes.

Asset & Production Model

Future manufacturing platforms will have a unified asset and production model that supports all of the interrelationships between physical production equipment, facilities, inventory/materials and people, along with production definitions such as the manufacturing bill of materials, productions orders, and so on. This is in contrast to older systems that either had subsets of these interrelationships across multiple databases, or could not effectively deal with federating across multiple systems of record.

Operations Database & Historians

Evolving from older systems that had separate historians and production databases that were difficult to correlate across, service-based platforms will have a unified operations database and historian. This will capture or aggregate all time-series and production event information surrounding everything that went into each product and production run, with a full genealogy of components and materials, related performance information and federation across other systems of record.

Visualization and Mobility

Today, different MOM applications support different graphical user interfaces, web interfaces, specific mobile applications, and so on. The future manufacturing platform will provide common visualization and mobility for a consistent user interface experience across different form factors, supporting dedicated and mobile workers that are orchestrated by consistent workflows and procedures. Of course, different views will be available by security role and responsibility, but the underlying technology platform and development will be the same.

Smaller and Focused 'Apps'

Monolithic systems and applications of today have too many interdependencies of databases, operate inconsistently, and are not inherently integrated. Being able to take advantage of many of the common platform services described above, modular apps will be able to be much smaller, simpler and focused. They will be much lighter weight in functionality, and as a result significantly easier and faster to develop.

Let's Discuss How Futuristic Manufacturing Software Platforms Accelerate Performance

LNS Research is interested in speaking with any executives or business leaders who have experience with the challenges of juggling multiple applications, and are moving towards a more comprehensive and unified MOM solution, or other manufacturing technology related issues that could strengthen our related research.

Manufacturing operations management

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Tags: MOM Software, Manufacturing Operations