Inteqnion develops control and automation solutions for the process industry. With more than 20 years of experience in process automation, the company provides reliable and innovative solutions in more and more market segments worldwide. In the re-development of the product Batch Explorer, Inteqnion collaborates with NetRom Software. Project manager Charl van Kesteren gives an impression of the process and the results.
"We are working in various sectors of the process industry: from the compound feed, pet food, fish feed and grain processing industry to the food and bulk goods industries. This last group of industries includes the production and processing of tobacco, metal, plastics, rubber, minerals, building materials, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals. Together with the TriOtt group we realize complete plants. We are responsible for the integrated automation. We provide the complete electrical installation including control panels, as well as the integration, development and implementation of specific software for Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Motor Control Centres (MCC) and Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA). SCADA is software for the collection, transmission, processing and visualization of measurement and control signals with the purpose of reporting, alerting and the control of the processes.
Continuous versus batch processes
In this industry, you have two kinds of processes. First, there are continuous processes such as the production of flour, in which the raw materials enter the plant in a continuous flow and the end products come out in a continuous stream. Second, there are batch processes, where the product is manufactured in separate lots: think of the production of compound feed, premixes and pet food. In many plants worldwide, these batch processes are supported by our modular product Batch Explorer.
Batch Explorer is Manufacturing Execution Software (MES). It optimizes processes via PLC and MCC thanks to links with administrative and ERP software. Batch Explorer is integrated with Siemens SCADA software. It runs on a MS SQL database and it supports all processes, from weighbridge handling through dosing, grinding and mixing until loading and shipment. In 2012, we decided to re-develop Batch Explorer. Apart from more functionality, we needed a new look and feel and a better user interface. Equally important was that we wanted to update this product on the basis of the latest technology, in order to make sure that there won't be any future obstacles for the integration with other systems or for any other improvements, including new functionality.
It was clear that in house software development would require much more capacity than we actually had. A conservative calculation showed that we would need more than eight years. Hiring external capacity in the Netherlands would lead to an investment we couldn't justify. Therefore, we decided to investigate foreign outsourcing options. We quickly discovered that it is possible to hire capacity but we had serious concerns about co-ordination and management, especially since we were expected to keep these responsibilities ourselves.
Structure of co-operation
In the first interviews, NetRom Software immediately showed that they do it differently. They like to take responsibility for the project, accepting the obligation to produce results. On this basis, we decided to start a pilot project in early 2013. To start the cooperation, I went with a colleague to Craiova to take a look and to get acquainted with Han in 't Veld, Mircea Negrilă and our development team. That visit reinforced our positive first impressions and after the pilot we convinced that we had found the right partner for re-developing Batch Explorer. We started late 2013 and as we speak, three people are working in .NET/C#, Java and HTML. We're at about 60% of the development work and I expect to have a version completed for internal testing and pilots before long. The next step is that we select a customer with whom we will enter an extensive testing process. Only when the results of that live pilot have been processed, our new standard product Batch Explorer 4.0 will be available to the market.
Expertise and direction
For us, co-operating with NetRom Software is adding lots of value. They have great expertise in areas such as programming languages, development platforms and tooling and they are really fast in analyzing business logic. Since collaborating in nearshore development projects is all they do, they know exactly how to divide tasks and responsibilities in the most optimal way. We had to get used to dealing exclusively with our project manager in Craiova, and hardly with individual developers. For the transfer of specific domain knowledge, we would sometimes prefer to communicate directly with individual developers. However, NetRom Software has a very strict policy in controlling and structuring the communication and we are definitively satisfied with the results and the expertise.
Because we are constantly transfering a lot of knowledge to the team in Craiova, I expect that in the near future we will be handing over more responsibility for the design and documentation processes to NetRom Software. That will imply that we will be able to focus even more on the relationships with our customers - and that we will provide them faster with the solutions they deserve."