A new approach to SCADA21 August 2018

Times have changed since the 1980s, says Tobias Antius, CEO of Novotek. Power suits are out, Madonna is no longer on MTV and IBM’s first PC now looks extremely outdated. So shouldn’t SCADA have developed, too?

Novotek was part of the team of companies that initiated PC-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) back in the 1980s. While it was revolutionary in the automation industry, manufacturing has changed enormously since then. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) means that there are far more connected devices around the plant, all of which need to be monitored by SCADA systems.

With increased connectivity comes the need for a new generation of SCADA system that is more flexible and innovative. If plants are investing in new devices to monitor the performance of their production against key performance indicators (KPIs), then they need a connected system in place to help them to measure this across the plant.

This is where the concept of a ‘system of systems’ (SoS) has emerged over the last decade. One of the most widely-accepted definitions is “a collection of task-oriented or dedicated systems that pool their resources and capabilities together to obtain a new, more complex ‘meta-system’ which offers more functionality and performance than simply the sum of the constituent systems”. (Taken from S. Popper, S. Bankes, R. Callaway, and D. DeLaurentis, ‘System-of-Systems Symposium: Report on a Summer Conversation’, July 21–22, 2004, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Arlington, Virginia, USA).

Increased connectivity bringing benefits

It’s easy to see how this relates to the modern plant. Increased numbers of connected devices, more data and better monitoring across a plant will offer improvements for the plant manager. But the key is connectivity.

Current SCADA systems were designed for more closed and controlled industrial environments, but many industries now require more data points to be monitored and controlled, meaning that self-contained systems are no longer viable. Many plant managers now want to integrate their own systems with enterprise systems and real-world applications to improve their overall monitoring performance.

“We expect that the next-generation SCADA/DCS systems will be an integral part of a large ecosystem of people, devices and processes that need to collaborate, in order to achieve goal-driven targets,” explain German academics Stamatis Karnouskos and Armando Walter Colombo.

Previously, before the development of the cloud, connecting systems to other systems on the factory floor never had great success. However, the cloud has made this much more accessible. At a much lower cost than an on-site solution, plant managers can access new functions and systems through applications in the cloud. However, they must be using a more modern SCADA system that can enable them to do this.

Alexa in SCADA application

Novotek recently integrated a standard GE HMI and SCADA system with Amazon Alexa voice control and Philips Hue to change the colour of the lights in the control room of the factory floor. This was to show customers that, with a modern SCADA system that can connect to the cloud, not only can they use additional industrial control systems, but also applications in the cloud that they never would have dreamed of for industrial applications.

While there are endless ways of using these applications, the integration of Philips Hue and Alexa showed one example of how increased connectivity can improve monitoring. The Philips Hue bulbs can be installed on machines or above screens, changing colour to show performance indicators at a glance.

A red bulb could be a visual indicator of a machine’s poor output and attract the attention of someone working on the shopfloor far faster than the operator in the control room monitoring the screens. This would lead to the problem being resolved in a more timely fashion, reducing the risk of downtime, if the problem had gone unnoticed.

The Alexa system can be used by plant managers as they walk into the control room. Simply by asking the Alexa module about the status of the plant, the plant manager could receive a verbal briefing of the most important KPIs or whether the last shift left any important notes for the handover period.

As it is a verbal system, it also frees up time for the operator to continue with other tasks in the meantime, increasing productivity and giving them more regular updates on how the plant is functioning. The integration with Alexa and Philips Hue is just one example of how SCADA systems can be brought into the modern age to fit with the needs of increasingly connected plants.

Old machinery must be brought up-to-date

Plant managers must also consider that, if they have old, outdated machinery, they should work with an experienced SCADA provider who is able to integrate their machines with the modern SCADA software. By doing this, they can remove the cost of procuring new equipment simply so it can be connected to the monitoring system.

Using a SCADA system that can be connected to create a SoS approach opens a realm of possibilities for the plant manager. They could integrate cameras, access systems or specialised analytics, which would all be connected and controlled via SCADA.

This allows plant managers to extend the monitoring of their plant much more easily than before. Without the need to connect new interfaces or configure the different system to communicate with the existing SCADA, it gives the plant manager much more freedom and flexibility to try out new applications.

However, none of this is possible without the right SCADA system. Without the connectivity and interoperability of a modern SCADA system, plant managers are greatly restricted in their choices of applications that could take their plant control systems to the next level.

While Amazon Alexa and Philips Hue are just a couple of examples of how non-industrial applications can improve plant monitoring, clearly opening the SCADA system up to the cloud can offer countless new applications for plant managers. Although the SCADA systems of the 1980s may now seem very basic with these possibilities in mind, it’s important that plant managers reconsider their monitoring applications and look towards the future of plant control.

BOX OUT: An impact on industry and beyond

SCADA systems are not only having a revolutionary impact in industrial settings, but also in wider applications.

GE Digital’s SCADA systems, for example, are used by Robotic Parking Systems Inc to change the way that people park their cars.

The company has developed an automated car parking facility in Dubai, using HMI and SCADA from GE. The garage has a capacity of 765, doubling the size of a conventional multi-story car park. Drivers simply park their cars onto a pallet at the entrance of the facility and then the pallet is transported using horizontal and vertical conveyors to a permanent position.

GE Digital’s SCADA system is used to control the functioning of the garage to ensure that the cars are safely moved into their automatically allocated parking position. Just one operator is required to control the system, who can access it through the HMI connected by an Ethernet link to the main server.

The SCADA system monitors and controls the servo motors that move the pallets across the garage. The pallets are moved at speeds up to two metres per second and are positioned within one-millimetre accuracy, so the control system must be very accurate.

As customer service is key to the business, the SCADA system also tracks the status of all the equipment and alerts the operator to any problems via an alarm system. The operator can then identify the problem through the HMI screen and resolve it in the necessary manner.

Adam Offord

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