Modern batch systems deliver data-driven control for flexible and consistent production and accelerated business performance.
Process-centric industries face a dynamic and complex manufacturing landscape. But thanks to the increased use of digital technology on the plant floor, more data is available to help address these challenges than ever before.
Modern batch systems are a critical part of the contemporary industrial ecosystem. Not only do they deliver data-driven control to support flexible and consistent production processes, but they also allow for business systems — and help drive continuous optimization across a Connected Enterprise.
The Evolving Role of Batch Systems
Since their inception, automated batch systems have shared a common goal: making a complex process easier to manage. Across much of the industry, automated systems have replaced manual, paper-based processes to reduce human error and paved the way for better data collection and greater production efficiencies.
At the same time, traditional batch systems are limited in the value they can deliver. Designed for tight control — not speed — conventional systems can’t take full advantage of the processing power now commonplace in industrial environments. In addition, traditional systems typically are based on proprietary technology and isolated for security purposes. This makes data extraction and business systems integration challenging at the very least.
Modern batch systems are beginning to dispel conventional mindsets. Featuring contemporary interfaces and a design for security approach, these systems solve batch processing in a standardized, modular and efficient way. They also permit fast and secure information integration that accelerates business performance.
Understanding the Relationship: Modern Batch, MES and ERP Systems
Achieving optimal information integration throughout the enterprise depends on system architecture and a clear understanding of the system hierarchy that can deliver that information most efficiently.
Not so long ago, a clear delineation between batch, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems was marked by proprietary networks and complex gateways. The system’s hierarchy and distinct functionality were understood easily, but these distinctions also made information integration difficult to achieve.
That began to change with the convergence of operations technology (OT) and IT — and the adoption of Ethernet and the IP protocol as the de facto networking standards for industrial automation and control systems (IACS).
Convergence — and the promise of a more information-enabled architecture — is a transformative development in manufacturing. But it has blurred the lines within the hierarchy. Specifically, when MES and ERP systems have a more direct path to plant floor information, the value modern batch systems can deliver throughout the enterprise may not be clear.
Certainly plant-level transparency to MES and ERP systems does not replace process execution. And easing recipe management and allowing for repeatable quality through enforced workflows and standard operating procedures are critical functions a modern batch system performs.
But so, too, are the advanced analytics and reporting modern systems, which support process improvements, product development and regulatory compliance.
It’s the Information
At its core, a modern batch system extends beyond process execution to collect, secure and share data. And, more important, modern systems can transform unique process data into contextualized information for use across The Connected Enterprise.
Information Collection. Automated batch systems always have collected data. But traditional batch systems have struggled to keep up with modern applications and the amount of information contemporary equipment generates. For example, a modern filtration process in a craft brewing application could include more than 60 steps and produce copious amounts of data. While a traditional batch system can maintain procedural control, it is not designed to collect the quantity of data this system can produce at typical production speeds.
To deliver optimal value to higher-level systems, a modern batch system must be responsive and robust enough to capture the goldmine of data today’s smart equipment produces.
Simply put, modern systems collect an extraordinary level of process granularity — plus real-time material and equipment tracking. And they centralize that information in a database that can be used to improve procedural control and resource management.
Information Security and Sharing. In many ways, collecting and centralizing data is the relatively easy part of the process. Sharing that data with higher-level systems while maintaining data security is more complex.
Restricting physical access to batch servers is one way to help secure systems. Using proprietary, closed networks that isolate batch systems is another. But these methods — still in place across much of industry — can make any integration with business systems difficult.
Data integration usually involves multiple gateways, OPC servers and custom tools and is anything but seamless. Despite precautions, closed networks and complex integration methods do not guarantee system security.
A modern batch system uses a “design for security” approach that secures production systems and intellectual property while helping ease data integration. Modern batch systems help make possible secure data sharing across multiple lines and multiple sites.
Simultaneously, these systems make data available for continuous improvement analysis and help protect the integrity of data so that it can be maximized in regulatory and quality control reporting.
First, the system confines recipes to the production area through encryption, which renders the data indecipherable off the batch server. Second, modern systems rely on a defense-in-depth security architecture, based on unmodified Ethernet. This network security framework supports IT/OT convergence and creates critical layers of protection between production and enterprise systems.
Last, a modern approach eases data sharing across systems by using industry standard formats, such as structured query language (SQL), instead of proprietary languages.
Data Conversion into Actionable Information. Modern batch systems are designed to be tied to a range of plant and business systems and to share event-driven process data with those systems. Modern batch systems also make use of shared information to execute actions that optimize production performance.
A key characteristic of modern systems is the speed at which actions can be executed. For example, a modern system can interface in real time with a laboratory information management system (LIMS) in the quality control laboratory. Based on testing results reported by the LIMS, the batch system automatically proceeds with production — or pauses or aborts the process based on the exception condition.
In addition, modern batch systems can reassign equipment and processes dynamically based on the lab results to manage resources better. They also provide Web-based exception reports that can be accessed by business systems.
Sharing a common network infrastructure with the rest of the plant, modern systems also allow for more streamlined reporting and easier integration with manufacturing intelligence systems. Of course, they can provide reports that solve common needs such as production exceptions and track-and-trace genealogy.
But unlike traditional systems based on propriety platforms, modern batch systems provide information that can be combined easily with HMI and other systems to create a cohesive, single reporting structure. The systems also can deliver real-time information to manufacturing intelligence systems, which aggregate that data and provide additional context from other systems.
The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.