Rockwell hosted a recent webinar highlighting its batch technology. It introduced the new capabilities of FT Batch V13 which were summarized as follows:
Modern: faster, more reliable, intuitive, scalable, connected and secure
Distributed: controller based with opportunity for high speed or standalone units.
SQL Friendly: Improved SQL feature set with backup and restore of batch records
Install Friendly: better install process
Responsive: HTML5 for mobile devices available
Let's start with the last few items. A big "thumbs up" in making the SQL feature set capable to backup batch records and restore them to the database for future analysis. This is a very important capability that allows users to properly manage their batch history. Up to now, we have had to rely on custom code or very large disks to support clients that have been running busy FT Batch installations. File sizes forced user action to keep things running. An integrated solution is welcome news.
An install friendly capability is also a sigh of relief. The install procedure has up to now required "hundreds of clicks" and was hours of concentrated effort to ensure a reliable configuration even if loading a virtual image. The ability to fill out a form and allow the install to run will save hours of frustration. Also excellent news!
Responsive Design is certainly going to be more and more important. Stakeholders in management, quality, and IT want to access batch information, as it is important to provide web friendly technologies that can be accessed anywhere within the organization. For the moment, we have utilized FT View SE configurations on the floor but it would be shortsighted not to expect this to change in the life cycle of any modern installation. Also, allowing batch prompts and procedure prompts to coexist in this design is also going to push this capability to be more widely adopted.
In my eyes, the most pivotal change in FT Batch V13 is the integration of it with Sequence Manager. Earlier this year, Optimation installed a system using Sequence Manager and has quoted on several additional projects. We like the power and flexibility it provides. Since Sequence Manager resides in the controller (no Batch Server required) the ability to execute phases is lighting fast (milliseconds instead of seconds), it has ability to archive the data to drive all the Standard FT Batch SQL reports that FT Batch offers, and it has a sequence based interface with conditional transitions, steps, and branches. It is an excellent single unit batch solution and a great place to start for clients ready to try batch.
FT Batch V13 can now import a Sequence Manager based solution right into an FT Batch Recipe. This means that if you have a bunch of units written with Sequence Manager, such as skids or simple processes, they can be expanded to have unit coordination and material handling offered in the FT Batch package without starting over. For that matter, new designs with FT Batch will likely be more desirable to build the Sequence Manager directly in the controller and moved up to the server to help streamline the workflow. This ability to have faster sequences that grow from single unit solutions to multi-unit solutions is what makes the strategy "modern."
It is clear that batch is more than a process solution. It is truly a way to take control of your production, offering recipe-based flexibility and insightful reports regardless of discrete or process requirements. Who doesn't want controller based units with fully timestamped operations in a SQL database?