Out of the box

The TCS and SIMTech teams at the SmartBox launch in SingaporeSmartBox is a trailblazing industrial controller that integrates plant-level operations with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. It is an embedded software solution that can perform complicated algorithms, regulate large equipment and processes, and bring desktop technologies to the shop floor. SmartBox allows the manager on the top floor to track and command, by way of remote control, operational effectiveness at the plant.

This standout solution is the fruit of a 10-month research and development collaboration between Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Asia's leading software organisation, and the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), a research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. The initiative involved four professionals each from the two organisations.

"The smart controller will deliver unprecedented capability to deploy advanced automation applications as modular and scalable solutions," said Ravi Gopinath, global head of TCS's manufacturing practice. "This will result in tremendous cost reduction and will be critical in increasing operational efficiencies through automation." Gopinath was speaking at SmartBox's project completion function in Singapore on 16 January 2003. The project was kicked off in February 2002.

Unlike other devices of its kind in the market, SmartBox uses completely flexible and open architecture that allows it to work on vendor-independent hardware. This enables manufacturers to create low-cost and malleable point solutions quickly and easily. SmartBox succeeds in doing what engineers have tried to do for years — bring high-level control closer to the actual production process.

This is a controller that can collect data over a communication network from virtually any device or system. It can then control, monitor and optimise the operations of any system, be they large and complex plants or simple, single-user devices. Using SmartBox manufacturers can run mission-critical embedded applications in existing or new production and process equipment. These applications can be developed, controlled and diagnosed remotely over the Internet using a personal digital assistant and other web-enabled devices.

TCS's marketing strategy for SmartBox focuses on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and end users in industries that require real-time responses, such as semiconductors, process manufacturing, cement and automobiles. SmartBox's capabilities allow manufacturing orders and commands to be remotely issued and shop-floor status to be accessed quickly and non-intrusively. Remote applications of this kind are critical in areas where human access is restricted, such as in semiconductor clean rooms and unmanned automation systems.