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  Enable true collaboration – the importance of workflow software to the process industries

24  August  2012

  Workflow allows process companies to manage the flow of information and ensure that each operation has been completed correctly, at the right time and in the right sequence. In the event of deviation from plan, it also ensures that the action is authorised by someone with an appropriate level of responsibility. This can reduce downtime and improve quality by establishing clear chains of action in the event of a problem or change requiring a procedure to be followed.

For example, if an operator is using a piece of machinery and something goes wrong or there is a quality issue, it may well be that he or she lacks the skills or level of authorisation to fix the problem. A good workflow would guide the operator through the process of finding the right person to help them solve it or deal with it on their behalf.

Automated workflow software, such as Wonderware’s ArchestrA Workflow, which can stand alone or interface with the company’s System Platform product, actually deals with the process initiating the workflow and ensuring that the procedure is followed. It’s a highly sophisticated BPM (Business Process Management) application that captures and enforces operational processes across business and production systems to automate the response to process exceptions. At its best, it removes the opportunity for human failure from the chain of command.

With well written and effective workflow software this process can be as invisible or as visible as you want it to be. The heart of the ArchestrA Workflow system, for instance is a graphical flow chart, which is easy to change and manage and can be either at the forefront of the graphical interface or an invisible foundation for it.

Workflow software integrates work instructions right down to operational level, providing clear step by step information as to how to proceed with any manufacturing process. It can interface with scheduling and e-mail software as well as interfacing to plant maintenance, schedule and other plant systems to achieve its objectives within a workflow orientated environment.

A worked example would be that the HMI on the plant floor interfaces with the work flow product in the event of a problem and e-mails the quality manager. If the quality manager doesn’t respond within a set timeframe, this could be escalated to a higher level. Equally, the initial alarm could be managed in relation to a group of people with sufficient responsibility to deal with it, so it doesn’t have to rely on only one individual.

Similarly, the system could also notify the engineering manager, who would send an engineer. If a repair is required, and the engineer making the repair has to order parts, ArchestrA Workflow will notify the upstream and downstream processes, such as warehousing and packaging, that there is going to be a delay. This system adds more flexibility into the production process by sharing information and allowing everyone involved to make the decision to move production into another line if required.

Typical applications for workflow software include materials quarantine, escalation of incoming materials inspection to respond to quality or performance issues and corrective or preventative action enforcement, responding to unscheduled downtime or other unplanned activity within the plant.

The importance of this kind of software was highlighted recently by Bob Mick from the ARC Advisory Group. “Workflow automation for manufacturing and industrial applications has been growing in importance for plant operators and engineers,” he explained. “This is primarily due to their increased responsibility for compliance, quality and tracking, as well as knowledge capture.

“Wonderware’s unique approach of embedding workflow software within its ArchestrA technology enables customers to implement standard operating procedures and corrective actions, basically structuring repeatable, managed responses to process exceptions across the enterprise. This can be especially effective for processes and workflows that cross organisational boundaries such as operations, maintenance, laboratories and other business domains. For most customers, a workflow application should help reduce delays in responding to abnormal events, thereby significantly increasing productivity”, concluded Mick.

I believe that that there will be even greater need for automated workflow software as the process industry evolves, In the current economic climate companies are going through restructuring processes resulting in de-skilling – which is stripping away some of the ability to simply deal with problems. However, more important is the fact that workflow software can itself evolve hand in hand with the company. For me this is crucial in the fast moving modern manufacturing environment, informed as it is by the downbeat economic landscape overall.

Furthermore, because ArchestrA is SCADA based, it can interface with the countless control systems and devices that might be used on individual pieces of equipment in the plant. As a result, you never have to strip out the existing systems and start again.

Good workflow software can take the paper based system of workflow and digitise it, but it can also bring a great deal more than that to the party. It can absorb and improve upon your existing paper based systems but crucially, it’s about taking the process control structure to the next level, not replacing the control systems that already exist. Flexibility, plant wide communication and systems that are as human-error proof as possible are just the start.

For further information contact:
Margaret Lunn, Marketing Manager, SolutionsPT Ltd,
Unit 1 Oakfield Road, Cheadle Royal Business Park, Cheadle, SK8 3GX
Telephone: +44 (0) 161 495 4600
Fax: +44 (0) 161 495 4690
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