Process Spec Language for Manufacturing: For Better Control of the Business Process

Computers can’t think for themselves; humans need to tell them exactly what to do and when. In a bid to help systems—especially manufacturing systems—work more autonomously, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has released new process specification language (PSL) software that allows users to more precisely define a business process.

"PSL lets you express, using precise and powerful means, exactly what you intend when you are talking about sequences of activities that relate to each other in a specific way," says Steven R. Ray, chief of NIST’s Manufacturing Systems Integration Division.

Conrad Bock, a senior computer scientist at NIST, says PSL helps users ensure that business processes are following not only stated business rules but implied rules as well. It will, for example, allow scheduling and planning applications to talk to each other and determine how to execute a process or a step before beginning it. In real-world terms, this means, for example, that a manufacturing tool will have the ability to know that it must wait for paint to dry before placing an item in a packing box and to interpret what the word dry means.

Ray is working with software developers to take PSL out of the lab and integrate it with applications. One company, CAPI, has developed a prototype of a tool to help users define a set of business processes and generate a PSL specification that represents those processes.

It will be several years before the CAPI tool and others like it appear in business applications. The reason: Using PSL requires a new programming infrastructure, including authoring systems, and systems that can check applications for consistency and syntactic integrity.

But stay tuned. "We see this as a standard with real promise," says Ray.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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