Strategic advice: MESA International conference generates guidelines for process innovation

As with this year’s political campaigns, the 2008 MESA International conference—held Sept. 21-23 in Orlando—focused on change. 


John Dyck, global director, software business development, Rockwell Automation, assumed the chairmanship of MESA International at the organization's recent Plant 2 Enterprise conference.

As with this year’s political campaigns, the 2008 MESA International conference—held Sept. 21-23 in Orlando—focused on change. For MESA, the major changes occurred in four areas:
• The organization named a new chairman;
• It released updates to its strategic initiatives guidebooks;
• There was a demonstrated commitment to sustainability as a business strategy; and
• A guidebook for using service-oriented architecture (SOA) in production environments was unveiled.
First, the organizational housekeeping: Matt Bauer, director of commercial marketing, Rockwell Automation , and chairman of MESA International for the past two years, stepped down after this year’s conference. He has been replaced by John Dyck, global director, software business development, Rockwell Automation.
On the strategic initiative front, MESA announced last year’s conference plans to produce guidebooks to help its members maximize performance in five critical areas:
• The real-time enterprise;
• Quality and compliance;
• Lean manufacturing;
• Product life-cycle management; and
• Asset performance management.
MESA working groups spent the past year preparing those guidebooks, and the initial drafts were presented at this year’s event. (Find out more in a series of MBT podcasts on MESA’s five key strategic initiatives.)
As outgoing MESA chairman, Matt Bauer noted, “Innovation in manufacturing—[as it relates to productivity, globalization, and sustainability]—will be built on information.” Thus, Bauer said, the need for guidebooks
The guidebooks—currently in draft stage—will be updated and refined grassroots fashion. The guidebooks will be posted on the MESA Website in wiki format, allowing members to continuously edit and update them.
Green initiatives
Sustainability played a major role in conference presentations. The most notable was delivered by Dr. Peter Williams,
“There is not much difference between lean and green,” Williams said. “They go hand in hand because green is all about the smart use of energy and materials.”
Williams noted that much of IBM’s Big Green Innovations programs are based on “an enhanced understanding of planetary and human systems gained via more sensing, advanced metering, and application integration.”
Williams also argued that customers will soon start driving manufacturing to deliver greener products. “Customers will want companies to provide green products so they don’t have to think about it,” he said. “As a result, the price of being green will be the price of doing business.”
The topic of changing businesses through innovation was another recurring theme at the conference, and SOA was at the center of many of those discussions.
Several sessions, including one featuring Jan Baan (founder of former ERP company Baan, current CEO of business process management (BPM) solutions supplier Cordys —often described as a serial entrepreneur (he WebEx )—focused on the use of SOA as an enabler of change that will position
“The old IT was all about transactions,” said Baan. “The new IT is about BPM. It’s about getting work done by embracing human interaction management.”
SOA is seen as a catalyst for this transition in the way software enables work to get done by permitting data from specific devices and applications to be accessed and altered without the complex coding integration previously required. With SOA, devices and systems can be accessed in an ad hoc manner without changing the underlying structure of software used to operate a plant-floor device or system.
MESA panelists were quick to point out that SOA isn't just another technology in search of an application.
“Driving the need for this [SOA] capability is the need for business adaptability,” said Dave Noller, Manufacturing Solutions Development, IBM. “Legacy systems on their own cannot respond to the new requirements of global manufacturing operations.”
Standards from groups such as ISA, OPC, Mimosa, WBF, and OAGIS are playing an important role in driving the expanded use of SOA in manufacturing. The OpenO&M group is working now to map and blend existing relevant standards from the aforementioned groups for use in SOA applications.
“Integration standards are needed to connect SOA to bus data,” said Noller. “Developing a services bus to aggregate all the data from plant-floor systems and devices for use by SOA is the first step, which is then followed by mapping and transformation.”
Participants in a “SOA in manufacturing panel” noted that a services bus is not required to use SOA to connect to the plant floor for business process management uses, but it does serve to create a useful entry for point-to-point connectivity.

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