The Rough Hierarchy of Industrial Software

Aug. 26, 2019
In part three of our 3-part series on automation, we talk technology stack and how it looks and works on the food and beverage plant floor.

Read parts one and two of our 3-part series here: Digital Brains Make Machines Work Smarter and How Food and Beverage Companies Can Use Networks and Data To Their Advantage

High-level software follows a hierarchy, but it’s not hard and fast; many functions bleed into one another, and high-level software often can perform lower-level functions. But the levels flow approximately like this:

The most basic level, a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, interfaces directly with plant-floor controllers, allowing control of multiple processes. SCADA often connects with a manufacturing execution system (MES), a higher-level system that connects manufacturing processes and data across a plant.

In food plants, SCADA/MES software is useful for tying together disparate operations, especially processing and packaging. Processing is often a relatively slow batch operation, while packaging is a high-speed, discrete one; keeping them in harmony is easier with higher-level software connected to controllers from both.

Other software applications operate at roughly the level of an MES, but have functions that complement manufacturing. These include warehouse management systems (WMS), which keep inventory records and direct logistics like truck loading and unloading, and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), which keep track of maintenance that has been performed and is due to be performed.

An MES, WMS and CMMS in turn will often connect to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which coordinates multiple aspects of a company’s entire operation, from buying supplies to fulfilling orders. ERPs are designed to balance the entire enterprise, calculating the effect that changes in one sector will have on every other aspect of operations.

ERPs can interface with a variety of other applications that often are designed for long-range planning, like advanced planning and scheduling (APS) software. APS apps, like Preactor from Siemens, break down long-term plans into specific demands on inventory, production, warehousing, etc.

Communication often skips levels; for instance, Preactor can interface directly with a WMS or CMMS. Conversely, many ERPs have modules that can perform WMS or CMMS functions.

Want to learn more about IIoT and how manufacturers are using data? Check out our sister site Smart Industry for the full complement of digitization information

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