In an earlier post I discussed common transactions between enterprise, manufacturing execution, and control systems. At the heart of this exchange of information is Extensible Markup Language (XML) to pass types of data between systems in a standard, text-based way.
For instance, if you subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, it means you have an RSS reader which translates the XML data in the RSS feed and displays it in a readable format.
Another example is our Google search appliance that crawls the Emerson Process Management website to help you find things faster. The search results are in XML with eXtensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) to make the returned search results readable. Also, the latest version of Microsoft’s Office (Office 2007) switched from saving data in a binary format to an XML format.
The uses for XML extend far beyond these examples and include the work being done with OPC Unified Architecture standard and many more.
I caught up with Dave Marschall who is an integration consultant in our Life Sciences industry center. He shared with me how he and his team were using the XSL/XSLT stylesheets in the process of creating custom electronic batch reports which contain information from the enterprise planning systems, manufacturing execution systems and control systems. XML is commonly used to store this batch report data from these various systems.
The XSL/XSLT stylesheets allowed the team to create different renditions or views of the same XML data. A production view might include process operations events and alarms, operator comments, equipment usage statistics etc. A quality assurance/quality control view might contain material usage, lot history, expirations, environmental data, laboratory data requests/results, etc.
Dave described a recent project where the addition of Quality Specifications data allowed the customer to add intelligence to these views of information. Instead of just displaying the data in a tabular format, the XSL/XLST stylesheets could perform comparisons between actual results versus the specifications, and change the color or highlighting of any discrepancies.
This change of colors was used to help the process manufacturer quickly scan dozens of pages of report data and identify areas of concern like out-of-spec conditions. The logic also triggered additional batch details where these abnormal conditions occurred to assist in the review process. The net effect of embedding this intelligence into the batch end report was quicker reviews of the batch which meant quicker release of the final product.
By using a text-based standard XML and XSL/XSLT approach, the solution can be well documented and more easily changed over time to meet the changing needs of the process manufacturer.
Update: Welcome readers of Gary Mintchell’s Feed forward blog! Also, it was interesting timing to get a ControlGlobal.com email this morning discussing The ABCs of XML, Parts 1, 2 & 3.