Plant-wide optimisation

Rockwell Automation Australia
Saturday, 30 April, 2011

Forward-thinking manufacturers constantly work to maximise asset utilisation, productivity and uptime - as well as integrate these with other aspects of the enterprise through plant-wide optimisation. The convergence of manufacturing and enterprise functions is more easily achieved using a common network technology. Gordon Bartlett discusses the implications.

There are a whole host of different goals in industry, but there is one that is increasingly becoming a reality for many organisations - plant-wide optimisation (PWO). Through many initiatives such as energy saving, operational excellence, cost reduction and regulatory compliance, companies are beginning to see the convergence of these objectives becoming a reality.

Plant-wide optimisation has many facets and means different things to different parts of an organisation. Put simply, its primary objective is to get all parts of a manufacturing environment working cohesively to maximise asset utilisation, productivity and uptime - and seamlessly integrate these with all other aspects of the organisation. It is not just a one-step process. It requires constant management and monitoring to help move towards continuous improvement across the enterprise and throughout the plant life cycle.

By building a business in which information flows seamlessly throughout the organisation, companies can access data to make more informed business decisions; impacting day-to-day operations and helping to better respond to key market challenges, the economy and changes in consumer demand. Seamless information flow is easier with a single network that facilitates information flow through plant-wide control, visualisation and decision support. Technologies such as EtherNet/IP can provide the ability to manage discrete processes including process, safety, motion, drive and batch applications utilising a single protocol.

Optimisation opportunities

Historically, automation was a way to gain a fast and significant edge over the competition. Now with automation so commonplace, the opportunity to gain leverage may have diminished. A plant-wide control system that is implemented, operated and administered well can once again become the source of competitive advantage.

The control systems represent the brain and nervous system of the plant and are critical to a company’s success. Significant opportunities for optimisation of asset utilisation, throughput, yield and time to market can be realised. Integrated safety as well as accurate and early indication of abnormal conditions need not be add-ons, rather they are merged into the control systems for an enhanced and safer environment.

Plant-wide optimisation covers a lot more than just managing technological assets. At the enterprise level, there are many other internal and external elements that must be factored in. As customers demand more transparency and industry bodies enforce tighter regulation, traceability as well as serialisation are all gaining significant footholds in industries outside their more traditional pharmaceutical markets. Suppliers are also faced with other demands; standards such as S88 batch process control and commonality of communication protocols on the machines are becoming increasingly common.

Sustainability is another key business driver for organisations across the world. Companies must strive to not only reduce their energy consumption but also effectively manage what energy they do use, in order to minimise their environmental footprint. Energy costs can be addressed in simple applications through the use of variable speed drive technology or intelligent motor-control systems. In more complex applications, energy usage can be managed through advanced programs that predict, assess and audit usage, then create plans and procedures to help optimise energy consumption.

So it is no longer a race to see who can produce and distribute the most cars, cereal boxes or tin cans off the assembly line and into the marketplace.


Figure 1: Industry can take full advantage of today's modern automation technology over a common network technology such as Ethernet/IP to maximise their competitiveness.

It’s about determining the best, most cost-effective, competitive and sustainable way to do it. Plant-wide optimisation is a continuous process in which all stakeholders within a manufacturing organisation play a role in identifying improvement opportunities that exist throughout the manufacturing life cycle.

The right connections

These enterprise-level issues can only be successfully addressed if the right information is available to the right people at the right time. With the data visibility, scalability and interoperability that can be provided by a common plant-wide network, many companies have the potential to achieve a richer, information-enabled enterprise. By connecting and combining discrete automation devices and system data with that from process control systems and ERP systems, seamless information flow becomes achievable. Once this data is available, it can then be put to use in the most effective manner.

A key element of any PWO programme is the ‘backbone’ that acts not only as the conduit for the data but also for all the automation and safety functions of the machines and processes. With multiple networks, protocols and suppliers, bottlenecks are inevitable, as data is transposed from one format to another, adding unwanted complexity and delays to any process. Through the use of a single network such as an unmodified EtherNet/IP network, seamless transfer of data from point to point, from the simplest component level I/O block all the way up to the overarching company MES system, can be achieved.

Plant-wide optimisation is a continuous process in which all stakeholders within a manufacturing organisation play a role in identifying improvement opportunities that exist throughout the manufacturing life cycle. In the past, manufacturers had to rely on a ‘pieces-and-parts’ or a ‘one size-fits-all’ approach to building automation and systems. Often, these approaches left users with myriad incompatible technologies, obsolete systems and competing standards - without an accurate view of data from the plant floor. Users had to alter their manufacturing strategies to fit the equipment. As a result, total horizontal and vertical integration in manufacturing remained a pipe dream, and the costs and complexity outweighed the benefits.

With the foundations of automation and information systems built upon a common network, platforms for control, networking, visualisation and decision support can be brought together. These systems are then designed for optimum performance based on today’s technology and with the flexibility to upgrade for tomorrow’s advances.

Securing network convergence

Network convergence between manufacturing and the enterprise increases access to make better business decisions. However, this convergence can expose assets such as industrial computers and controllers to security threats including viruses and malware, traditionally found in the enterprise network.

Automation technology companies such as Rockwell Automation have seen the need to partner with companies that provide network security expertise, such as Cisco Systems, in order to develop technologies that protect the manufacturer’s assets through addressing internal and external security threats. This approach employs physical and electronic layers of defence at separate manufacturing levels, like work cells and site operations, by helping to apply policies and procedures that address threats and reduce risk.


Figure 2: The goal of plant-wide optimisation is to maximise asset utilisation, productivity and uptime - and seamlessly integrate with other aspects of the organisation.

In order for the security protection to be effective, it is also imperative that systems and procedures are implemented to establish and maintain the security capability. This process includes identifying priorities, assets, potential internal and external threats and the risks they pose for the organisation. It also involves establishing manufacturing requirements, understanding company capabilities, and developing architecture and policies.

A threat risk assessment (TRA) can be conducted by either an internal or external team to identify potential vulnerabilities and determine mitigation techniques. When developing the network, manufacturers need to determine if the network infrastructure is resilient enough to provide data availability, consistency and reliability and how the data will be used.

IT responsibilities include protecting company assets and intellectual property. This is carried out by implementing enterprise security policy enforcement to secure data confidentiality, integrity and availability.

With the application of common network technologies such as EtherNet/IP , the security policies need to be consistent across all manufacturing operations.

Enabling the enterprise

The world of industrial manufacturing is changing as technology and industry legislation evolves. The important elements to look for when choosing a system that offers the greatest opportunity for plant-wide optimisation include the ability to perform multi-disciplined control; plant-wide integration on a single, open, secure network; and the ability to run advanced control within the controllers.

Manufacturers will also need software solutions that provide traceability, integration with business systems, asset management and predictive maintenance. Incorporating a single network approach will help get companies onto the right path to take full advantage of today’s modern automation technology to maximise their competitiveness on the global stage.

By Gordon Bartlett, South Pacific Business Manager of Architecture & Software, Rockwell Automation

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