Model-Driven Operations Management User Experience

Model-Driven Operations Management User Experience

model driven operations managementTim Sowell always packs many operations management ideas into a brief blog post. Sowell is a VP and Fellow at Schneider Electric Software (Wonderware). I’ve looked at his posts before. He is always thinking out in front of most people.

His Feb. 14 post, Composite Frameworks What Are They, the Shift to Model Driven vs. Custom: How Do They Play?, takes a look at moving the user experience of operations management software into newer territory.

He probably says much more, but this is the take I’m going to analyze. He’s pointing out the difficulties of using traditional approaches to programming and presenting User Interfaces in a way that keeps pace with today’s expectations.

“Traditionally companies have built User Interfaces to an API, with the calls needed to execution actions and transactions; these have worked well especially within a plant. But a key to operational systems being effective and agile is their ability to adapt on a regular basis. This requires a sustainable and evolving system. This is especially important in form/ transaction activities where information is provided and where actions/ data input, and procedures need to be carried out.”

He does not stop there but proceeds to enumerate some challenges:

  1. Operational Process cross-over functional domains and applications
  2. Lack of governance
  3. AgilityResponsive manufacturing business processes
  4. Increase the performance of their people assets
  5. Too much Custom Code, making it unmanageable and evolutionary

He wonders why we can’t use techniques gleaned from Business Process Modeling. That’s a good question! He notes that some people will say that BPM is not real-time like manufacturing/industrial applications are. But he rebuts that “this also aligns with what the industrial world is very comfortable world with—that of ‘stable in control loops’.”

Operations management  solutions

Here are some proposed solutions:

  • Providing a graphical configuration environment for the capture and defining of operational process including the validation of data input, and guiding actions, working inline with the user Interface/ forms etc.
  • Providing a framework for building of reusable forms, and reusable procedures that can be managed as templates and standards to enforce consistent operational practices.
  • Empowering the operational domain people to develop, evolve and manage their procedures.

“Most of all empowering the different roles in the plant, that operational close loop moving to an “activity” centric system where information, and action is driven from a consistent operational model and practices.”

This is a consistent Sowell message. Let’s see what we can template-ize or project as a model rather than custom code everything.

More and more owner/operators and users I talk to are getting tired of the expense and lead-time for custom coded projects. They need the speed and flexibility of using models and standards for application implementation. I think this is where Sowell was headed (if not, he’ll correct me, I’m sure). This will serve to move industry forward as a more profitable contributor to enterprise health.

Operations Management Software Meant For Action

Operations Management Software Meant For Action

Two of my favorite thought leaders in the operations management space have been thinking about enterprise applications, ISA 95, and management. Of course I’m referring to Tim Sowell and Stan Devries of Schneider Electric Software (Wonderware).

It’s interesting that these thoughts come when the email reflector for the ISA 95 committee is really heating up with some of the best discussion I’ve seen in years.

Sowell nails the ultimate problem:

For the last couple of weeks Stan and I have been working with a number of leading companies in Oil and Gas, Mining, and F & B around their Operational Landscape or experience of the future.

Too often the conversations start off from a technology point, and we spend the initial couple of days trying to swing the conversation to the way in which they need to operate in the future and what their plans are around operations.

It becomes clear very quickly that there is a lot of good intent, but real thought into how they need to operate in order to meet production expectations both in products and margin has not been worked through.

Thinking about and discussing technology only leads only to futile intellectual exercise (unless you are a technology developer), to quote another smart person, “Full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing.”

Devries had begun the discussion showing how using ISA-95 and TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) together becomes a powerful model for understanding operations.

Operations Management


ISA-95 is the strongest standard for operations management interoperability, and its focus is on data and its metadata.  ISA-95 continues to evolve, and recent enhancements address the needs of interoperability among many applications, especially at Level 3 (between process control and enterprise software systems).  One way to summarize ISA-95’s focus is on business and information architectures.

TOGAF is the strongest standard for enterprise architecture.  One way to summarize TOGAF’s focus is on business architecture, information architecture, systems/application architecture and technology architectures.  When considered with this perspective, ISA-95 becomes the best expression of the data architecture within TOGAF, and ISA-95 becomes the best expression of portions of the business architecture.  Central to the TOGAF standard is an architecture development method (ADM), which encourages stakeholders and architects to consider the users and their interactions with the architecture before considering the required data. 

To drive this thinking toward action, Sowell notes, “Over and over again we see the need for faster decisions, in a changing agile world, and this requires an ‘understanding of the future’ this maybe only 1/2 hour. It is clear that modeling of future is not just something for the planner, it is will become a native part of all operational systems.”

Does this issue require forecasting or predicting? Devries answers:

  • At this stage, we propose a definition of “forecasting”: a future trend which is a series of pairs of information, where the pairs include a value and a time.  The accuracy of the values will be poorer as the time increases, but the direction of the trend (trending down or up, or cycling) and the values in the near future are sufficiently useful.
  • In contrast, “predicting” is an estimate that a recognized event will likely happen in the future, but the timing is uncertain.  This is useful for understanding “imminent” failures.


People tell me that the most important application for the Industrial Internet of Things is predictive maintenance. GE sells that with its jet engines. Companies whose production requires huge, expensive assets are seriously implementing it.

Sowell and Devries take us the step beyond into operations management as well as maintenance.

This is important for manufacturers and producers to digest.

Operations Management Software Features Integrated Scheduling

This press release from a company new to me came from a PR person whom I have known for years. So, I trust him to not feed me much BS (as some try to do). This is from an MES developer called Critical Manufacturing whose product is cmNavigo.

The software sounded interesting, but some words were used in the release that raised my “meter” level. The phrase, “the most modern, comprehensive and unified MES system available for complex manufacturing operations”, just laid there inviting questions. So, I asked. Here is the answer by way of introducing this company and its latest product.

I asked about “most,” “modern,” “comprehensive,” and “unified.” Each of those words are important, but beg for explanation. Here is the response. “Key to the argument is the fact that their system is designed for complex processes used in manufacture of high technology products such as semiconductors, electronics and medical devices. cmNavigo is modern in that it is built on the latest Microsoft platform; it is comprehensive in that it integrates more than 30 MES functions; and it is unified in that all of this functionality is native to cmNavigo, not relying on third parties. They know of no other MES vendor designing for this market that can make all three of those claims.”

That is fair.

By the way, there is a webcast with Julie Fraser moderating  February 19th webinar. Register here.

Press release

Critical Manufacturing, a supplier of integrated manufacturing execution systems (MES) to empower operations of the global high-technology manufacturing industry, introduces cmNavigo 4.0, the industry’s first comprehensive MES software with embedded finite scheduling. By tightly unifying scheduling into critical MES functions in a modern, Microsoft-based operations management system, cmNavigo 4.0 software improves on-time delivery, shortens total cycle time, and makes better use of plant resources.

“As margins in global high-technology manufacturing shrink, many manufacturers are finding that their legacy MES systems don’t have the flexibility and functionality to meet the demands of today’s volatile markets. The new scheduling, quality control, warehouse management, and shift handoff capabilities we are announcing today reflect our commitment to provide the most modern and unified MES solution available,” said Francisco Almada-Lobo, CEO, Critical Manufacturing. “This new functionality will help manufacturers improve cost control, better manage inventory, and boost productivity of advanced, discrete production operations.”

New Scheduling Functionality Optimizes Production to Meet Customer Demand

cmNavigo 4.0 scheduling models plant floor resources and defines the role of each in fulfilling a mix of orders in an optimal near-term time frame, driven by customer demand. Schedules can be weighted around multiple production criteria and key performance indicators, such as minimizing delivery delays, maximizing machine loads, and reducing cycle times.

Built on Microsoft application development layers, the new scheduling application integrates with more than 30 extensible MES applications. These provide visibility and traceability, operational efficiency, quality management, factory integration, operations intelligence, and factory management. The modern architecture empowers operations managers to configure and extend models and define workflows without the need for programming.

Integrating scheduling and other MES functionality so tightly avoids duplication of master data, allows real-time updates across different areas of the plant floor, and eliminates the need to maintain separate interfaces. Other new cmNavigo integrated applications announced today deliver the following capabilities:

  • Lot-based sampling enables automated calendar or time-based sampling of production.
  • Document management provides visualization, control, and approval of shop-floor, operations-related documents.
  • Warehouse management synchronizes exchange of information and material between the warehouse and the plant floor.
  • Durables-tracking simplifies tracking of durable components such as boards, fixtures, tooling and masks, supporting recipe management, maintenance, exception handling, and data collection.
  • A shift logbook enhances both performance and safety by regulating exchange of critical information between shifts.

The new scheduling, sampling, factory management, tracking and logbook features of the software combine to address a wide range of MES needs in semiconductor manufacturing, electronics manufacturing, and medical device manufacturing and other manufacturing industries that might have both high mix and high volume lines. cmNavigo 4.0 software is available now for implementation throughout the world.

Model-Driven Operations Management User Experience

Systems Integration and Configurable Manufacturing Software

timSowellTim Sowell, Schneider Electric Fellow and Vice President, is always thinking two or three steps ahead of the rest of us. His weekly blog is on my must-read list. This week he tackles the future role of systems integrators—assuming that manufacturing software becomes much more configurable out of the box (therefore requiring much less custom code).

“In a number of discussions this week and last year it was clear that in the next 5 to 10 years the role and way traditional System Integrators work in the Industry Supervisory/ Operational/ Information space, will transform significantly. Especially those serving the smaller to medium industrial market, customers will demand accelerated solutions with a different model of project management, e.g., no RFP, no long project cycle, expect pre canned domain knowledge. They will want setup fast, and results with understandable costs. Similar to Sales where your CRM system can be set up in days, is the model that early adopters are testing in 2014, and I expect to grow in 2015.”

I tweeted this out Sunday and wound up in an interesting Twitter conversation with Andy Robinson (@archestranaut). A couple of other people chimed in. More on that below.

No offense meant to the sales function, but manufacturing operations software is of necessity much more complex. Sowell implies that there is some beta or alpha testing going on, but it will be interesting to see how that develops. One of the biggest challenges is for the customer to rationalize and understand its operations such that a configurable solution will be feasible.


Sowell continues:

“So what is changing is that users are now wanting:

  • Solutions faster, minimal project removal of the project RFP process
  • Less involvement
  • Expect domain experience built in
  • Minimal impact on internal resources
  • Minimal risk
  • “Good enough” will do if it improves and minimal impact or up front cost
  • Minimal up front cost.


“So the new generation of System Integrator in the industrial world will be a “solution provider”. Providing a service of domain solutions hosted and built on an digital industrial platform from vendors such as Schneider-Electric. They will engage the customer in 3 to 5 year service contracts, but projects will be in weeks not months, years, RFPs will go away to selecting modules and completing configuration questionnaires.”


This begins another crucial thought process for systems integrators. I remember the height of the open systems movement from the late 90s through the early 2000s. SIs wondered if open systems would put them out of business. No more custom coding proprietary systems.

I suggested that open systems would require even more work from SIs, because someone would have to tie the parts together. In many ways, I don’t think open systems were as revolutionary as we thought they would be. However, the thought process did yield a number of standard interconnect technologies.

Now onward to operations management software. My next post after this one, as fate would have it, concerns just such a configurable system as Sowell envisions. In that case, much of the work can be done without systems integrators. The process is designed for small-to-medium-sized businesses presently, but it will be interesting to see how far the concept can be stretched.


Here is a glimpse of the twitter conversation I had with Andy Robinson:


@garymintchell – Controversial to system integrator community? “System Integrators Transformation to Solution Providers” …


@archestranaut – it will take a massive shift in thinking for customers but must start with the software platforms first


@archestranaut – yes bc the current solutions aren’t even close to good enough to just point click configure.


@archestranaut – also until customers are ready to accept 95% out of the box functions ala salesforce or google docs we aren’t there


@garymintchell – yes. How about need to rationalize processes before adding software? You can’t just slap software at a problem?


@archestranaut – agreed. We are light years from even the WordPress model where out of the box gets you 80% +19% with 3rd party themes


@archestranaut – but then again Tim thinks way out beyond what average folks are thinking.



GE and PTC Expand Product Design and Operations Management Software Collaboration

GE and PTC Expand Product Design and Operations Management Software Collaboration

Collaboration and consolidation/integration seem to be the new year’s keywords for manufacturing software. This solution appears to be more in the genealogy of Germany’s “Industry 4.0” digital manufacturing than the US “Smart Manufacturing” initiative. But either way, it’s a step forward for manufacturing.

Here, GE Intelligent Platforms have announced an acceleration in their joint effort to bring to market a solution that helps manufacturers close the loop between product design and production execution on the shop floor.

Beginning immediately, GE will resell the PTC Manufacturing Process Management software in combination with GE’s manufacturing execution system (MES) software. While manufacturing information can be passed directly from the PTC Windchill solution to the GE Proficy for Manufacturing Discrete product today, the companies expect to deliver an expanded closed-loop integrated solution in 2014.

PTC and GE share a common vision of an “Industrial Internet” where the future of manufacturing is transformed by the surge of smart, connected products. As a result, the two companies kicked off a series of joint sales, marketing, services, support, and product development initiatives designed to collaboratively meet this fast-growing market demand. GE and PTC are integrating offerings that are based on industry best practices for product lifecycle management (PLM) and MES business processes.

The joint solution will manage a closed loop of product information among engineering, manufacturing production and service. Product structures and 3D product representations defined by engineering become the basis for manufacturing routings and manufacturing bills of materials (mBOMs) which are then used to manage shop floor activity and coordinate with ERP systems. Shop floor information, such as the “as-built” BOM, can also be shared with PLM and ERP systems to complete the closed loop with engineering. The complete view of a finished product can also be shared with a company’s service organization to optimize service delivery and performance. Customers of the integrated offering could achieve faster time to deployment and lower total cost of ownership.

“Manufacturers place a premium on their ability to introduce products faster, keep production costs low, and keep product quality high,” said Jim Walsh, general manager, Software and Services, GE Intelligent Platforms. “Essential to meeting these goals is ensuring that products are built precisely as they were designed. PTC’s PLM solution is the best complement to our GE Proficy solution and our organization is energized by the opportunity to offer a truly differentiated solution to solve one of our customers’ most significant challenges.”

The “Industrial Internet” rapidly increases the complexity of creating ever smarter, connected products. By closing the loop between early-stage engineering design activities, production processes on the plant floor and the service organization, manufacturers can reduce errors, increase flexibility in how they manage late-stage engineering changes, reduce work-in-process, and, ultimately, accelerate new product introductions. “The seamless flow of information across a discrete manufacturing organization, from design to manufacturing to service, is the dream of all executives,” said Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO, PTC. “That dream becomes a reality with the GE-PTC solution and we are excited to be deepening our relationship with GE to address a real market need.”