Good Busi­ness

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At the

heart of any con­trol and au­toma­tion sys­tem is a soft­ware so­lu­tion that, when de­signed cor­rectly, pro­vides valu­able in­sight into a plant’s op­er­a­tional and busi­ness ob­jec­tives. How­ever, with so many vari­ables to con­sider, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of com­pa­nies have dif­fi­culty iden­ti­fy­ing the right so­lu­tion for their par­tic­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion.

“While there are a num­ber of fac­tors to con­sider when de­sign­ing a new soft­ware so­lu­tion or up­dat­ing an ex­ist­ing sys­tem to meet chang­ing re­quire­ments, a so­lu­tion can be de­vel­oped that will meet a cus­tomer’s op­er­a­tional and busi­ness ob­jec­tives by fol­low­ing a sys­tem­atic process,” ad­vises Jeff Phoon, engi­neer­ing team leader at Global So­lu­tions, Rock­well Au­toma­tion.


The first step in de­vel­op­ing an ef­fec­tive soft­ware so­lu­tion is to de­velop a User Re­quire­ments Spec­i­fi­ca­tion to iden­tify spe­cific cus­tomer re­quire­ments. “This is where IT and au­toma­tion cross be­cause tra­di­tion­ally this step is per­formed by busi­ness an­a­lysts in the IT world, but now our en­gi­neers also pro­vide this ex­per­tise,” says Phoon.

The next stage in de­vel­op­ing a soft­ware so­lu­tion is de­ter­min­ing the func­tional re­quire­ments of the sys­tem. This in­volves iden­ti­fy­ing and analysing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties that the sys­tem needs to pro­vide. By adopt­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive method­ol­ogy, the en­gi­neer to­gether with the end cus­tomer work to­gether to iden­tify these re­quire­ments.

“In the early stages of soft­ware de­sign, it’s dif­fi­cult for the cus­tomer to have a com­plete un­der­stand­ing of all their sys­tem re­quire­ments. By adopt­ing our col­lab­o­ra­tive method­ol­ogy, we can lever­age our do­main ex­pe­ri­ence to de­liver a de­tailed anal­y­sis of the func­tional re­quire­ments for a par­tic­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion,” Phoon ex­plains.

“We can also con­duct a FIT- GAP anal­y­sis where we look at the stan­dard fea­tures of a soft­ware plat­form in re­la­tion to the re­quire­ments of a spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tion and de­ter­mine if any­thing has to be done to ex­tend the fea­tures to meet the cus­tomer spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Sometimes even the most com­plete ‘off the shelf’ soft­ware pack­age re­quires some level of cus­tomi­sa­tion.”

Once the User Re­quire­ments Spec­i­fi­ca­tion and func­tional re­quire­ments have been de­ter­mined the soft­ware so­lu­tion moves into the im­ple­men­ta­tion stage. This in­volves de­tailed de­sign and de­vel­op­ing the so­lu­tion for test­ing.

The User Ac­cep­tance Test­ing phase pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for the end user to ver­ify that the so­lu­tion meets the func­tional re­quire­ments. Once com­plete, op­er­a­tor train­ing can be con­ducted and then the soft­ware so­lu­tion can ‘go live’.

Adopt­ing best prac­tice in the soft­ware de­vel­op­ment life­cy­cle re­duces risk and al­lows end users to get a bet­ter han­dle on pro­ject costs. Phoon em­pha­sises that poor plan­ning es­ti­mates can lead to pro­ject fail­ure but with proper plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion, soft­ware so­lu­tions can be de­vel­oped ef­fec­tively on time and within bud­get.


In the big data era, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion is more im­por­tant than ever as global com­pet­i­tive pres­sures mount. As a re­sult of ad­vances in con­nec­tiv­ity and ac­cess to op­er­a­tional in­for­ma­tion from con­trol sys­tems, the amount of data that is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble has in­creased ex­po­nen­tially. How­ever, the as­sump­tion that more data is bet­ter data is not nec­es­sar­ily cor­rect, mak­ing iden­ti­fy­ing the im­por­tant data a key pri­or­ity to pro­vide op­er­a­tional in­sight and value.

“Once we have a clear un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tant data points, the next step is con­tex­tu­al­is­ing this in­for­ma­tion so that op­er­a­tors can see in­for­ma­tion that is im­por­tant for their role,” ex­plains Phoon.

“For ex­am­ple a pro­duc­tion man­ager may be in­ter­ested in an over­all pro­duc­tion sum­mary dashboard whereas a plant floor su­per­vi­sor would need more de­tail in terms of a daily sum­mary report so they can delve a lit­tle deeper as to the rea­sons why a ma­chine may have shut down. We have the tech­nol­ogy and ap­pli­ca­tion knowl­edge to present the data based on who is look­ing at it and what their roles are.”

The ul­ti­mate goal is to get the right data to the right peo­ple in as close to real time as pos­si­ble so they can make in­formed de­ci­sions to op­ti­mise pro­duc­tion and im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity.


Smart mo­bile de­vices have be­come an es­sen­tial part of ev­ery­day life. We now have the tech­nol­ogy to view, an­a­lyse and re­spond to op­er­a­tional in­for­ma­tion from any­where at any time. “Although man­u­fac­tur­ing in­for­ma­tion is of­ten be­hind the rest of the IT world, in­dus­trial op­er­a­tions are now ben­e­fit­ing from bet­ter ways of pre­sent­ing data through web por­tals, tools and li­braries,” says Phoon.

The Rock­well Au­toma­tion web-based man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness in­tel­li­gence plat­form, Fac­to­ryTalk Van­tagePoint, now pro­vides ac­cess to pro­duc­tion in­for­ma­tion on mo­bile de­vices as well. Pro­vid­ing the right in­for­ma­tion to the right per­son at the right time de­liv­ers flex­i­bil­ity in man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses, pro­vid­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity to make de­ci­sions re­motely, im­prove ef­fi­cien­cies and re­duce down­time.

Through the use of real time alarm­ing, mo­bile de­vices can alert op­er­a­tors to is­sues that if left unchecked, would im­pact on pro­duc­tion. This al­lows the op­er­a­tor to ad­dress the prob­lem be­fore it es­ca­lates, re­duc­ing down­time and im­prov­ing ef­fi­ciency and re­li­a­bil­ity.

“The soft­ware de­sign process can also take into ac­count mo­bil­ity re­quire­ments by iden­ti­fy­ing im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion for op­er­a­tors, pro­gram­ming alarm­ing as re­quired and best prac­tice for data pre­sen­ta­tion. This process pro­vides a so­lu­tion that ad­dresses the op­er­a­tor’s re­quire­ments and al­lows them to make smart busi­ness de­ci­sions quickly,” says Phoon.


The in­for­ma­tion- en­abled Con­nected En­ter­prise can de­liver greater pro­duc­tiv­ity, bet­ter util­i­sa­tion of as­sets and im­proved de­ci­sion mak­ing. When de­signed cor­rectly, smart soft­ware so­lu­tions can un­lock data pro­vid­ing op­er­a­tional in­sight and im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“Ad­vanced soft­ware so­lu­tions are de­signed to get the most from hard­ware so­lu­tions. For ex­am­ple, Rock­well Soft­ware can im­prove op­er­a­tions and lower the to­tal cost of own­er­ship by bridg­ing the gap be­tween the plant floor and busi­ness en­ter­prise sys­tems,” said Phoon.

“In speak­ing with cus­tomers, we find that iden­ti­fy­ing the spe­cific data re­quired and then con­fig­ur­ing the sys­tem to meet these unique re­quire­ments is a chal­lenge they need to ad­dress. To help with this, our lo­cal Global So­lu­tions team works with cus­tomers to help de­sign and con­fig­ure the soft­ware to suit spe­cific re­quire­ments and re­duce im­ple­men­ta­tion time.”

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