Status quo in the manufacturing companies

After I dealt with the advantages of end-to-end IT solutions in my last blog post (link), today I would like to look at the history and the current situation. This is done with a special focus on manufacturing companies.

Historically, with the increasing automation of production in many companies at the end of the 20th century or the beginning of the 21st century, another system landscape emerged parallel to the enterprise resource planning systems and the office systems, namely that of the production systems. In addition to SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), process control systems (PCS) should also be mentioned here.

Often these systems were acquired together with investment projects (e.g. new production facilities) or selected from the respective production areas with a clear functional focus. These systems have been very successful in increasing the level of automation and making production more reliable, stable and of higher quality. They also laid the foundation for more transparency and thus also for optimising the plants and production processes. But in this way, many isolated solutions were created in the factories. This fragmented system landscape is often extended by further software solutions for e.g. support processes such as maintenance and repair and also quality management. Interfaces between the individual software products were rare and if they existed, they were individually developed and error-prone. Cross-cutting data was usually entered and processed manually. Excel spreadsheets were used in the manufacturing companies for many overlapping activities from production planning to reporting. The higher-level ERP landscape was usually completely decoupled. Orders were manually passed on to production as printouts or Excel exports. Production confirmations were at best based on shift or production reports or manually entered from the production systems into ERP, often only on the next working day.

A better basis for integrating enterprise and plant levels was created with ANSI/ISA-95, a standard based on ISA-88. In the meantime, the currently valid standard is IEC 62264. This series of standards originated in the first decade of the 21st century and defined a standard that, from the required models and terminologies to the relevant attributes, also defined and described the activities for operational production management and the necessary transactions between business processes and production control. The B2MML standard was implemented as an interface based on ISA-95/IEC 62264. It consists of a collection of XML schemas that can map the transactions described in the standard.

Many systems have been implemented on this basis over the past two decades. What remained were isolated solutions from the most diverse software products. However, these islands could now be connected via the standardised activities and transactions, also and especially from the production level to the enterprise level.

In summary, it can be said that stand-alone solutions still dominate in many manufacturing companies today. System and media discontinuities could only be partially closed and mean a corresponding burden for plant operators, system administrators and management.