Traditionally, process manufacturing – the making of products such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food and drink – has been the preserve of clipboard-toting men in white overalls, strolling from machine to machine, checking dials and making sure machinery on the plant floor perform as expected.
But while traditional manufacturing software has enabled process manufacturers to generate schedules, allocate resources and manage batch ‘recipes', it has done little to
monitor machinery on a second-by-second basis.
So 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 Automsoft CEO Paraic O'Toole.
Automsoft's technology is intended to overcome this. It enables users to pull data from their plant-floor machinery 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. "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.
In many manufacturing sectors, 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, according to O'Toole. If the cause cannot easily be found, a number of batches may be spoiled.
As a result, Automsoft already boasts eight of the world's top 25 pharmaceutical companies as customers.
Before 2001, revenues bumped along at about $500,000 annually. Last year, revenues grew to just over $1 million and are expected to reach between $3.5 million and $4 million in 2002. Furthermore, services companies, including the 'big five', are now queuing up to become implementers of Automsoft's technology.
In the current cautious climate, that is quite an accolade.