Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing: Taking Manufacturing Control and Oversight to the Next Level

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 22, 2000 — Production lines at Delphi Automotive Systems’ Packard Electric division run day and night, producing 40 billion parts annually in 36 countries. Coordination is more than important. It’s critical.

“You need to know you are producing the right part number for the right customer at the right time,”
said Frank Ventura, Delphi Packard Electric manager of manufacturing information systems.

Delphi Automotive Systems (NYSE: DPH), a world leader in mobile electronics and transportation components and systems technologies, began adopting Windows DNA for Manufacturing technologies three years ago to improve control and oversight of these processes within its plants in North America.

The investment has paid off. Delphi Packard Electric has realized productivity improvements every time it has networked more of its machines or improved other machine processes using Windows DNA technologies, Ventura said.

Now Delphi Packard Electric wants to extend this integrated approach by bringing all of its plants, suppliers and customers around the world into the network. And it expects Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing to do the job.

Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing is a new platform of software and services Microsoft is developing to allow manufacturers to coordinate their operations around the globe over the Internet and smaller intranets, and over communication networks within buildings and organizations.

Microsoft announced its vision for Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing at this week’s ISA Expo 2000 in New Orleans. At the annual gathering of instrumentation, systems and automation professionals, Microsoft will also offer a look at products powered by Windows CE 3.0. The latest version of Microsoft’s embedded operating system is designed to enable developers to build customized, Internet- and intranet-connected compact devices, such as those many manufacturers rely on to visually track and control much of today’s high-tech machinery.

Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing will extend Microsoft’s new .NET strategy of any time, any place, any device computing and communications via the Internet and intranets onto assembly lines and into processing plants and other manufacturing environments. The company’s vision extends the possibilities of Windows DNA for Manufacturing — the technology that links operations within plants — to a much broader network, thus allowing manufacturers to leverage open Internet standards, reduce costs and speed up their time to market. Microsoft calls this vision
“See.Use.Act.”

“Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing is the logical extension of Windows DNA for Manufacturing,”
said Ron Sielinski, Microsoft’s technical evangelist for manufacturing.
“DNA for Manufacturing allows manufacturers to integrate operations within their plants. Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing will integrate operations outside of the plant as well. They will be able to see, use and act on their most important information and operations, closing the loop between their plants, their suppliers and their customers.”

Uniting operations, supplies, orders

As envisioned, Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing will unite these disparate functions using an array of new, current and future products, all linked using the universal, Web-based language eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and other technologies.

It is a vision that Delphi considers vital. The manufacturer is still studying how to integrate Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing, but already recognizes the platform’s potential for reducing the challenges of operating plants around the world and serving a global market.

Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing promises Delphi the opportunity to send manufacturing instructions and other information via the Internet, almost without regard to the type of servers and infrastructure used by customers, suppliers and at manufacturing locations.

“Delphi anticipates Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing has the potential to change the way we manufacture and manage information, by basically creating an information service provider that everyone around the world can access and receive information from,”
Ventura said.

Soon, Ventura expects, Delphi will no longer think of an intranet as something inside its plants and the Internet as something outside.

“With Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing, all of the great things about the Internet start coming down to the plants,”
he said.
“We think Microsoft .NET will give us the ability to look at the whole supply chain internally and externally.”

BizTalk translates, orchestrates

One of the keys to creating this single-provider system is the new BizTalk Server 2000, available this month in beta release. Its XSL Transformation engine allows the server to convert data of all types — such as raw materials provided in pounds by one supplier and barrel loads by another — into a single, common format. Another feature, BizTalk Orchestration, allows a manufacturer to write a business process, then connect the applications, protocols and transports needed to implement the process remotely before shipping it to other locations via the Internet.

When customers place orders, Biz Talk Server 2000 routes the appropriate information to everyone in the manufacturing process, from the machine operators to the business manager, tailoring the information to each employee’s needs. It also synchronizes computer systems to check for and set aside adequate materials and available manufacturing time, Sielinski said.

VerticalNet, a leading online coordinator of business-to-business product transactions, maintains connections with 8,000 suppliers of everything from poultry to semiconductors. BizTalk Server 2000’s ability to easily connect buyers with sellers — coordinating the virtual paperwork and translating the online communications — should allow VerticalNet to grow ten-fold, to more than 80,000 suppliers, said David Ritter, the company’s vice president and chief technology officer.

VerticalNet could have grown just as large with its current, custom-built solution.
“But it would have been dramatically more expensive,”
Ritter said.
“BizTalk Server 2000 makes it a lot easier, a lot faster and a lot less costly to perform this kind of integration.”

“We’re increasingly moving BizTalk Server 2000 to the center of our architecture to facilitate the orchestration of business processes with our partners,”
Ritter added.

SQL Server 2000: Data management made easy

SQL Server 2000, scheduled for release Sept. 26, is another key component of the Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing vision. It provides the data management and analysis backbone for Microsoft’s entire .NET vision. Among SQL Server 2000’s features: the ability to store or retrieve data in XML, allowing users to search databases without first transferring the data between servers.

SQL Server 2000’s data mining capabilities allow manufacturers to track business trends undetectable from the large volumes of raw data collected by the systems that run their sales and operations systems. For example, an industrial parts maker might use data mining to pinpoint the factors present on their production floor and within their systems at times of peak productivity.

“Companies gain valuable understanding of the hidden patterns and relationships in their data. These are things that only a computer can identify because of its ability to examine hundreds of thousands of variables, evaluate a staggering combination of attributes, weight various outcomes, analyze rules and apply statistical methods,”
said Amir Netz, architect and development manager of Analysis Services in SQL Server 2000.
“Generating this type of knowledge can help companies make better decisions, automate their decision process, identify and avoid problems, discern business opportunities and optimize their systems.”

Windows CE 3.0: Real-time response and distributed communications

Much of the promise of Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing relies on Windows CE, the operating system that manufacturers use to control and visually monitor machines. Microsoft released Windows CE 3.0 in June, along with Platform Builder 3.0, the software tool that makers of embedded devices use to build the operating system into their latest products.

When these new devices arrive, manufacturers can expect in-demand, new features, such as
“real-time”
capability for controlling fast manufacturing processes and support for the data-exchange standards needed to easily transfer documents and other information over the Internet.

“Microsoft relied heavily on input from manufacturers when developing Windows CE 3.0,”
said Ed Lansinger, product manager for Microsoft’s Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group.
“That’s why we added ‘real-time’ features and Microsoft’s Distributed Component Object Model, or DCOM.”

Lansinger explained that an operating system for manufacturing devices must be as precise as a stopwatch and able to run around the clock.

“Many manufacturing operations are driven by software and require thousands of calculations per second for accuracy. Miss a calculation while drilling a hole, for example, and a part could be ruined,”
Lansinger said.
“If one machine isn’t producing good parts, or stops for some other reason, then the whole assembly line has to be shut down until the problem is fixed. This can cost a tremendous amount of money in lost production. Windows CE 3.0 is a robust operating system that helps equipment manufacturers build responsive software for controlling sophisticated manufacturing processes.”

Because of the highly
“componentized”
nature of Windows CE 3.0 (meaning components of the operating systems can be used for different purposes), it is a great fit for industrial automation, retail point-of-sale, and Internet access devices, Lansinger added.

In addition, DCOM allows Windows CE 3.0 to link all of the devices and other systems in a manufacturing plant easily and transparently, Lansinger said.

“Let’s say you are a manufacturing supervisor who needs to check whether the machines on the plant floor are running smoothly. DCOM technology allows your desktop PC to talk directly to machines running Windows CE 3.0,”
Lansinger explained.
“With the help of a vendor-supplied supervisory control software package, each machine can be contacted via DCOM. Live production information can be delivered directly to your desktop.”

Windows CE 3.0 will be at the heart of Siemens Energy and Automation’s latest machine control panel, the MP370, due around the beginning of the year. The operating system’s real-time capabilities are one reason why.

Other Siemens control panels have had to incorporate additional software and complexity for the customer to perform the same functions Windows CE 3.0 performs automatically with real-time, said Mark Leinmiller, Siemens’ product marketing manager.

“Real-time,”
Leinmiller said,
“is what we’ve been waiting for.”

Other products add benefits

Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing also draws on other Microsoft products, such as Windows 2000 and Project 2000, and new additions to the Microsoft product line, such as Visio 2000 and Visual Studio.Net.

Scheduled for release after this year, Visual Studio.Net will allow users to more easily translate and use information from the Web in other applications. For example, it will allow a manufacturer’s customers to more easily track the status of an order. Manufacturers will be able to determine the whereabouts of an order of raw materials or parts, without writing a tracking program to search for each specific order, Sielinski said.

Visio provides manufacturers a tool that can create a wide range of different types of diagrams, including flowcharts, network diagrams, software models, facilities plans and schematics.

Think & Do, a developer of electronic control, communication and information technologies, has sped up development of its automation products and reduced training since it began using Visio 2000. It has done so by incorporating system design, project documentation and other tasks into a single, graphical interface, said Andy McMillan of Think & Do.

“Visio’s addition to the Microsoft product line just strengthens our belief that Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing will be the platform of choice for developing manufacturing applications,”
McMillan said.

Project 2000 provides an incorporated view of other vital information. It provides manufacturers an extensive overview of project costs, risks, dependencies and resource allocation when managing complex manufacturing systems. Project Central, a new Web-based companion product, allows for tracking and sharing of management information across large teams more easily.

Delphi is already realizing benefits from another piece of the Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing framework. Windows 2000, Microsoft’s newest operating system, has reduced the time it takes computers linked to its Delphi Packard Electric division’s Web portal to update information from the Internet.

“We are hearing from our users that they are much happier now that they have a more responsive system,”
Ventura said.

Delphi officials hope Windows 2000 allows the company to realize similar benefits on its manufacturing floors, where it is beginning to use the operating system to track production information and activity.

How important is increasing the information flow in manufacturing plants that pump out an average total of 93,000 parts a minute?

“Seconds matter,”
Ventura said.
“Response matters.”

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