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Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Preliminary Report on Research Needs
Five fundamental business processes include the design of new products and processes, the steps from customer order to delivery of a product, material management and production scheduling, contracting or estimating, and planning.
Media include twisted-pair, coaxial, and fiber-optic cabling and (wireless) radio frequency. Protocols range from serial asynchronous to full ISO stacks (e.g., ISDN, MAP), usually truncated at intermediate layers as in Ethernet, Netbios, TCP/IP, and SNA-Token Ring.
The proliferation of technology has been accompanied by an increase in barriers to interconnection associated with the development of proprietary products, reflecting commercial interests in capturing a set of customers at the expense of interoperability. Equipment suppliers, always anxious to “differentiate” their products, obscure generic elements in their control computers, thwarting change and raising the cost of acquisition, operation, and maintenance. Not only do these designs intentionally block communication with competitors’ products, but they also block communication with adjacent machines, with older capital equipment and networks previously installed within a single plant. Communication is further confounded by network architectures that typically channel communication into hierarchies that mimic the power structure of the organization, inhibiting or complicating the exchange of simple messages between peers.
None of the work in OSI, for example, has addressed this problem.
Some relevant work has been undertaken in the context of the X.500 directory standard, and further work on implementing that standard is necessary.
See Tenenbaum, Jay M., and Richard Dove. 1992. “Agile Software for Intelligent Manufacturing,” presented at Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Workshop, National Science Foundation, May 5–6. It recommends research on EINet, a national information infrastructure system supporting manufacturing, design, engineering, and analysis.
Some manufacturers have begun to implement or plan such systems, although with less customization of product than that envisioned in this report. See, for example, the discussion of Motorola’s fusion program for producing pagers in Trobel, Russ, and Andy Johnson. 1993. “Pocket Pagers in Lots of One,” IEEE Spectrum 30(9):29–32.
System-level issues have received relatively little attention, both because of their difficulty and because they relate to problems that fall between the offerings of individual vendors.
Electronic contract documents and order qualifications, which are envisaged as part of our future enterprises, will require both identification and authentication.
Aside from the emerging, largely message-based groupware products, today’s tools are aimed at supporting individual professional performers rather than collaborating teams.