SOA can light up manufacturing IT

IT directors can help simplify the diversity of manufacturing systems in the business by implementing an efficient SOA platform, says Colin Masson

IT directors can help simplify the diversity of manufacturing systems in the business by implementing an efficient SOA platform, says Colin Masson

Of all the opportunities presented by service oriented architecture (SOA), the brightest lies in manufacturing. But implementing SOA in manufacturing requires much higher fidelity, or more closely specified, services, event definition and monitoring than in other sectors, as well as the deterministic orchestration of services and the execution of triggered and scheduled workflows.

If it is to be successful in the sector, IT needs to think beyond enterprise SOA, business process management and business activity monitoring towards the real and immediate requirements for high-fidelity manufacturing, operations process management and real-time event monitoring.

Manufacturing software is catching up on 20 years of pent-up demand, and finally getting the attention it deserves after gross underfunding relative to its contribution to the bottom line. Even so, it will still be difficult to catch up on the applications backlog.

There is no equivalent for manufacturing of SAP, i2 or MatrixOne, which deliver on the demand for enterprise-class applications. The market for commercial manufacturing execution system (MES) software has only just broken through the $1bn mark. At best, the commercial market for all manufacturing software may be £2.5bn to £3bn – a far cry from today’s £10bn ERP market.

IT spending research suggests that almost two-thirds of the manufacturing investment will be on in-house applications development and the extensive customisation of manufacturing applications. It is a market ripe for the efficient development of composite applications and service providers.

But manufacturing may continue to resist standard applications deployment. The vast majority of MES suppliers have built their applications on Microsoft .net technologies even though composite applications have also been around for a long time in manufacturing – long before the term was associated with SOA.

No one has developed a universal manufacturing model that addresses a cross-section of the manufacturing styles in process and discrete industries.

There is still no convergence on a standard set of manufacturing processes, nor integrated software functionality to allow MES suppliers to achieve the economies of scale that their ERP counterparts take for granted.

Building composite applications was a necessity in manufacturing long before the SOA label appeared, and manufacturing is well placed to be the first demonstrable beneficiary of broad SOA adoption.

The landscape is fragmented along industry lines – largely based on type of manufacturing. An MES for batch manufacture bears little resemblance to an MES targeted at low-volume, engineer-to-order discrete production scenarios. Similarly, advanced process simulation/control (APS/APC) applications do not crop up in manufacturing environments with little or no automation and process control.

Legacy systems add to the complexity. Historically, manufacturing plants operate autonomously and with tight cost constraints. Software is purchased at the plant level with a focus on cost containment – in other words, purchases have been tactical, not strategic.

As a result, a big manufacturer may operate 40 or more plants, many of them acquired through mergers, and the software landscape within each plant is often dramatically different.

This complexity has been, and will continue to be, a major driving force for supplier adoption of SOA for manufacturing operations. Suppliers serving this space have been compelled to embrace web services to create standard interfaces to legacy assets, preserving the value of their IT investments and obtaining leverage from them in new ways.

A critical next step is to define the process for maintaining these “new” services: defining how they should be used, who can use them, and the performance and version requirements to maintain usefulness. Manufacturing is a market ripe for applying the more efficient SOA development model to the backlog of composite applications.

Higher fidelity is required for manufacturing SOA, operations process management and real-time event monitoring. By contrast, IT architectures for enterprise SOA, business process management and business activity monitoring are grounded in the low-fidelity world of business systems, with well-defined business processes, data models and transactions.

Time-based competition and the need for business process innovation is stimulating a desire to remodel the current generation of monolithic business applications on more flexible process platforms.

So while you are waiting for your ERP supplier to deliver this new business process platform, or convincing the business that the subsequent and massive redeployment will be worth it, manufacturing services are already widely available and, frankly, are the only pragmatic way of realising the compelling supply chain benefits from demand-driven manufacturing.

However, you will need to augment your enterprise SOA with higher fidelity capabilities to leverage highly distributed manufacturing SOA.

Colin Masson is research director at AMR Research

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