Bridging the chasm between the plant floor and the front office is an undertaking most food manufacturers compare to bounding the Grand Canyon. Distinct planning, execution and control systems instituted over the years by many companies to accommodate immediate needs have resulted in a hodgepodge of disparate applications that impede meaningful information exchange among plant activities. Looking to span the distance between systems and establish meaningful links, industry associations and software manufacturers are offering a variety of standards and products designed to build "intelligent" bridges.

"Integration doesn't simply mean that one system sends information to another. Rather, it means that the required information to make decisions is available when needed -- and in the format needed -- by any user within the enterprise," said Richard Howells, vice president of product marketing for automation software provider Wonderware Corp., Irvine, Calif. Howells, whose company manufactures the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system Protean, repeatedly hears the same three needs voiced by customers throughout the industry. "Manufacturers need to track the details, cost the details and plan the details, which requires real-time intelligent information from the plant floor," he said.

Having such information promises to increase a company's productivity and its IT investment. According to a recent study by Stamford, Conn.- based technology research firm Gartner Group, the return on an ERP investment can be increased by more than 50 percent by integrating the ERP system with accurate, real-time information from plant floor-level supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems or manufacturing execution systems (MES). Just exactly how to accomplish this integration is the question the industry is grappling to answer.

Standardizing information

"Over the next two to three years, the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in this industry is going to be in the integration of business and factory-floor automation systems," said Bob Divins, business development manager for Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation. According to Divins, the industry is now at a point where this integration can occur for several reasons, including the affordability of computer hardware, emerging information exchange standards and the expansive reach of the Internet.

"The cost of computer technology, including servers and personal terminals, has dropped to a range where equipment can be affordably distributed across the enterprise to the employees who need it," said Divins. An added bonus is that a greater number of employees are computer-literate, enabling faster integration of computer systems.

A major advance in information exchange should come this spring as the International Society for Measurement & Control (ISA) looks to publish S95.01 Enterprise-Control System Integration, Part 1: Models and Terminology, a document that provides standards for terminology and models for enterprise/control system integration. Developed by SP95 -- an ISA-sponsored committee whose members include end users, vendors, integrators and consultants from such companies as Rockwell Automation, Honeywell and ABB -- the document is designed to reduce the user's time to reach full production levels for new products, enable users to better assess their needs, reduce the cost and risk of automating manufacturing process, and reduce life cycle engineering efforts.

To further streamline data exchange and record keeping, the FDA has announced that its 21 CFR Part 11 -- a regulation in which the FDA established criteria for the acceptance of electronic records and electronic signatures as equivalent to paper records and handwritten signatures -- will be rigorously enforced by the fourth quarter of this year. "Basically, it explains how the electronic data is the required record," said John Larkin, FDA branch chief of the Center for Food Safety and Technology in Summit-Argo, Ill. The regulation, which was passed in 1997 but received limited enforcement, also sets forth rules governing access, storage, retrieval, control and security of electronic data. For example, 21 CFR Part 11 requires complete controls and audit trails for all accesses to electronic data, suitable electronic records for review and copying by the FDA, complete checks on individuals' authority and qualifications, and secure electronic signatures (which clearly show printed name, meaning and authenticity). The FDA published the Compliance Policy Guidelines, which is available at

Two releases this summer should advance the use of extensible markup language (XML) as the standard language for business-to-business (B2B) information exchange between applications using different data formats. Microsoft's BizTalk and IBM's WebSphere B2B Integrator both leverage XML in connecting trading partners for electronic commerce. BizTalk is a gateway that uses XML to support the exchange of business documents, such as purchase orders, between applications using different formats. IBM's WebSphere is the company's first use of its Trading Partner Agree ment Markup Language, (tpaML), a set of extensions that take XML beyond a data transport protocol to include capabilities that enable companies to integrate business processes, workflow, security and other services into a B2B transaction.

Taking it to the Web

The extensive range of the Internet and the rapid advances in XML technology have inspired several companies to use the Web to exchange information among plant systems and users worldwide. "With the use of new Web-based technologies we will have the ability to deliver a much broader range of plant floor data to a wider audience than ever before," said Janie West, Wonderware visualization product manager. "We can take the same information we've leveraged on client/ server systems and leverage that same information out to clients with no preinstalled software required."

Scheduled for release in July, Wonderware plans to introduce a new technology that will capture and manage on a central Web server all of the information being collected from factory floor operations and distribute that information to anyone in the business enterprise who needs it. According to West, the product will take, for example, plant-floor data typically captured by existing human-machine interface (HMI) products and convert it to XML. Then, any browser client with the appropriate security clearance, can view the information in real time, turn things on and off, or acknowledge an alarm.

Also employing the Web, Rockwell Automation recently announced a new secure Web functionality for its RSView32 HMI software that will be released this spring. RSView32 WebServer will allow users to view remote projects via the Internet using any browser that supports HTML 3.2. Users can view snapshots of graphic displays, tag data and alarm data using any operating system including Unix, Windows CE, Linux or Macintosh.

"We are just at the beginning of the industry's investment in integrated systems," said Divins. "Within the next five years we should see customers having a fully integrated system strategy that reaches all the way from the plant floor to the front office -- over the Internet to the world."

Software Vendors

ABB Automation
Norwalk, Conn.

Adaptive Resources
Pittsburgh, Pa.
Phone: 724/746-4969

Advanced Production Systems
Louisville, Ky.
Phone: 502/423-0882

Milwaukee, Wis.
Phone: 414/382-2000

American Software Inc.
Atlanta, Ga.
Phone: 404/261-4381

AremisSoft Corp.
Westmont, N.J.
Phone: 609/869-0770

BatchMaster Software Corp.
Seal Beach, Calif.
Phone: 562/799-8888

Bradley Ward Systems Inc.
Atlanta, Ga.
Phone: 404/256-4855

Camstar Systems
Campbell, Calif.
Phone: 408/559-5700

Catalyst International
Milwaukee, Wis.
Phone: 800/236-4600

Chesapeake Supply Chain
New Providence, N.J.
Phone: 908/464-8300

CI Technologies Inc.
Charlotte, N.C.
Phone: 704/329-3838

Westerville, Ohio

CyboSoft, General Cybernation Group.
Rancho Cordova, Calif.

Dakota Software Corp.
Pittsford, N.Y.

Datastream Systems Inc.
Greenville, S.C.

Engineered Software Inc.
Lacey, Wash.

ESHA Research Inc.
Salem, Ore.

Fisher-Rosemount Systems
Austin, Texas

FMC Food Tech
Madera, Calif.

Fourth Shift
Minneapolis, Minn.

GE Fanuc Automation
Whitehall, Pa.

GSE Process Solutions Inc.
Baltimore, Md.

Hilco Technologies Inc.
Earth City, Mo.

HK Systems Inc.
New Berlin, Wis.

Lexington, Mass.

Norwood, Mass.

Buffalo Grove, Ill.

J.D. Edwards
Denver, Colo.

J.J. Keller & Associates
Neenah, Wis.

Kewill ERP Inc.
Foster City, Calif.

Kronos Inc.
Chelmsford, Mass.

Lilly Software Associates Inc.
Hampton, N.H.

McHugh Software International
Waukesha, Wis.

Northwest Analytical Inc.
Portland, Ore.

Oracle Corp.
Redwood Shores, Calif.

Ortems Americas Inc.
Lisle, Ill.

Parity Corp.
Bothell, Wash.

Pavilion Technologies Inc.
Austin, Texas

QAD Inc.
Carpinteria, Calif.

Realtime Info
Butler, N.J.

Rockwell Automation
Milwaukee, Wis.

Ross Systems Inc.
Atlanta, Ga.

Malvern, Pa.

Sequencia Corp.
Phoenix, Ariz.

SoftPLC Corp.
Spicewood, Texas

SSE Software Corp.
Louisville, Ky.

System Software Associates (SSA)
Chicago, Ill.

Trihedral Engineering Ltd.
Bedford, NS, Canada

Universal Dynamics Technologies Inc.
Bellingham, Wash.

Wonderware Corp.
Irvine, Calif.

Zontec Inc.
Cincinnati, Ohio

Sidebar: The industry's Internet

Looking to offer food and beverage manufacturers a single place to connect with each other, conduct transactions and better manage their supply chains, a new business-to-business (B2B) Web site set to launch this summer.

Available to all food and beverage manufactures and raw material and packaging suppliers, the site will feature tools to enable procurement for goods and services, auctions, reverse auctions, bid/ask exchanges, strategic sourcing, spot buying, customer-specific pricing, electronic payments and online community forums. "This di gital marketplace will facilitate faster price negotiation, and once transactions are completed, it will allow us to track orders more easily and spot bottlenecks in the delivery pipeline more quickly," said Bob Lumpkins, vice chairman of Cargill, one of the site's investors.

While the primary investors currently include Cargill, B2B commerce solution provider Ariba Inc. and venture capital firm Crosspoint Ventures Partners, the site will be operated by a neutral, independent company. will derive revenues from transaction fees and income from its service offerings. The company will not own the products on its site, but plans to be a conduit to facilitate transaction between the supplier and buyer.

Sidebar: Plant-centric software provides real-time asset management

Knowing when to schedule maintenance is one of the biggest challenges plant managers face. Providing a solution isMaintenanceSuite, a suite of software applications from Wonderware that helps managers plan maintenance based on real-time information from the plant floor.

Scheduled for release this month, the software gathers information, monitors equipment performance and notifies operators of impending problems, which enables them to properly schedule maintenance before a critical failure.

"In many plants the manufacturing and maintenance functions are isolated from each other. The costs associated with lost production capacity due to improper maintenance processes can reach high levels," said Joe Cowan, senior vice president, worldwide sales and marketing. The software also provides detailed equipment information that enables a plant maintenance staff to make informed decisions on critical issues such as repair versus replacement, understand and eliminate repetitive failures and evaluate the level and frequency of preventive and predictive maintenance work.

The system also works with Wonderware's SCADAlarms, to notify operators via phone, fax or email of impending problems.