Process manufacturing – the making of products such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food and drink – has traditionally been the preserve of clipboard-toting men in white overalls, strolling from machine-to-machine, examining dials and making sure everything performs as expected.
But when companies have automated those processes, they have generally found no means of recording the ‘event’ data on a second-by-second basis. That is because standard relational databases lack the capacity and are too
inflexible to be able to store the volume of data and reproduce it, exactly as it happened. When something in the manufacturing process goes wrong, there is no easy means of working out why and quickly fixing the problem.
“You might have a tolerance of, say, a temperature or pressure on a particular device. If something goes wrong, an alarm will go off, but there’s no storage of data and no analysis,” says Paraic O’Toole, CEO of Automsoft, an Irish process-manufacturing software vendor.
Automsoft’s technology is intended to overcome this. It enables users to pull off the data from their manufacturing devices in real time and store it in a way that can recall all the prevailing conditions at any given moment in the manufacturing process. These might include temperatures, pressures and valve settings.
Automsoft developed its own system based on a raw object-relational database ‘skeleton’ from Objectivity, a database partner. “It allows you to gather and store multiples of 64 terabytes of data and manage between 100,000 and three million events per second,” says O’Toole. Such capacities are beyond the ability of a packaged relational database, such as Oracle’s 9i or IBM’s DB2 products.
However, businesses will need to spend some time – and money – customising Automsoft’s software to work with the machines running their various manufacturing processes. In addition, users will also need training in order to get the most out of the software.
But in many industries, Automsoft’s technology will seem compelling. For example, when a pharmaceutical company has to scrap a batch of tablets, the cost can be phenomenal – between $1 million and $10 million (EU1m-EU10.2m), according to O’Toole. A number of batches may be spoiled if the cause cannot be identified quickly.
Automsoft can already boast the custom of eight of the world’s 25 biggest pharmaceutical companies. But growth only started to lift off in 2001 after company founder Tony Prylowski stepped aside and experienced management – including O’Toole – was appointed.
Before 2001, revenues bumped along at about $500,000 (EU512,000) annually. Last year, they grew to just over $1 million (EU1m) and this year they are expected to be between $3.5 million and $4 million (EU3.6m-EU4.1m).
Furthermore, a number of major IT services companies are looking to become implementers of Automsoft’s technology, says O’Toole.