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Every manufacturing plant needs to operate as efficiently as possible within the limits of its budget. In the past, reaching this  seemingly simple goal was almost impossible for most manufacturing  sites because of the lack of integration between plant systems  and business systems. Plants were forced to fly blind, resulting in less-than-optimal production output and inventory levels.  The reason for this discrepancy? Most plant information systems were designed to run a plant, and connectivity to any other system or application was an afterthought. Until the last five to  seven years, few manufacturers even mentioned that they needed the automation layer, the manufacturing execution system (MES) layer, and the enterprise resource planning (ERP) layer to be able to talk to each other.

However, as the need grew to share data among plants within a distributed manufacturing network, IT developers cobbled together direct links between the different layers of applications.

This kind of point-to-point integration made sense at the time, but it has resulted in a cobweb of hundreds, even thousands, o brittle interfaces. The complexity of linking large and disperse  landscapes has literally crippled the health and flexibility of most  manufacturing IT architectures and hence business performance. Adapting those systems and applications to communicate can take so long that entire generations of business opportuneties can grow old while the IT department fiddles with the wiring.  Over time, more innovative industries, such as electronics, have solved the same problem deviling IT by implementing standardized ways to assemble components into a product, enabling parts to be replaced and extended – plug and play. This process is now actually taking place in the IT industry. In this instance, software called composite applications is built by assembling components that can be exchanged and upgraded at will.

The underlying concept is enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA), which allows you to change and improve your business processes without an expensive IT integration project. With enterprise SOA, you can simply replace or add components to create new processes: the software version of plug and play.

Enterprise SOA goes beyond the fundamentals of a service oriented architecture (SOA). SOA is a distributed software model that uses independent Web services to support business processes, but the enterprise SOA approach – as defined by SAP and its partners and customers – elevates the design, composition, and management of Web services through the use of enterprise services.

This white paper describes enterprise SOA and the business opportunities it creates for manufacturers. To clarify this concept, we begin by describing the parallel paths followed by software and electronics developers into the new era of plug and play.

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