Manufacturers need a new automation engineering framework 28 April 2011

Manufacturers working in FMCG markets should examine the benefits of an open, software-based automation engineering framework to help them stay competitive.

That's the advice from Gary Provis from Siemens Industry Automation, who says that such a system will enable them to maximise operational efficiencies and underpin production flexibility.

"Regardless of the current challenging economic outlook, it is clear that manufacturing businesses in all sectors, but especially those in FMCG, have to react to changing market forces and competitive demands that are driving asset efficiency," he explains.

"You only have to think of the many format variations of well-known chocolate brands, or different versions of the same beverage to realise that consumer demand for choice is now here to stay," he adds.

For him, software-based engineering tools "set within an open automation engineering framework" provide an answer to satisfying what are undeniably challenging production requirements.

"Bringing about the integration of IT technologies and practices with production systems, all within a single software engineering environment, is the way forward, if manufacturers are to utilise the full potential of automation technology and satisfy manufacturing demands for speed, product choice and innovation," he insists.

Provis reckons that industrial application engineering tools have lagged behind commercial application developments until the advent of Microsoft Windows.

"The availability of Windows-based engineering tools has now enabled automation suppliers to focus more on features and benefits – as opposed to software architecture – and assist the industrial sector to move towards the application suite model, as already used in the commercial world," he suggests.

His point: for manufacturers keen to maximise the value of automation technology, the aim must be for a seamless integration of data, visualisation and programming code across a variety of disparate automation devices.

Hence Siemens Industry Automation's launch of its TIA Portal – an engineering framework that integrates multiple automation applications in a single environment.

"The key is to break down the barriers between applications by integrating them into a single engineering environment – a framework – and to utilise the framework as a common platform to promote the easy integration of specific engineering tasks," says Provis.

"An engineering framework for automation tasks must have the ultimate objective of increasing productivity by allowing more efficient use and re-use of common elements. In addition, the tasks within a framework must be intuitive, allowing the user to work productively and efficiently," he continues.

And he adds that his framework must support efficiencies in the future – such as embracing libraries of reusable objects created by users, as well as linking with objects that can be purchased from future automation 'app stores'.

"An important distinction between a framework and a suite of applications is that the framework provides a single common environment for all applications to enable a sharing of common elements," he explains. "Unlike an office application suite, a framework mimics the final system by describing and configuring the various real-world communications paths between devices."

Brian Tinham

Related Companies
Siemens Industry Ltd

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