Out with the old, in with the new SCADA

Times have changed since the 1980s. Power suits are out, Madonna is no longer on MTV and IBM’s first PC now looks extremely outdated.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 since the 1980s too? Here, Tobias Antius, CEO of industrial control and automation specialist Novotek, explains why SCADA systems need to develop to meet the needs of the connected food processing plant.

Novotek was part of the team of companies that initiated PC-based SCADA back in the 1980s. While it was revolutionary in the automation industry, plants have changed enormously since then, so SCADA systems must reflect this. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) means that there are far more connected devices around the plant, all of which need monitoring by SCADA systems.

With increased connectivity comes the need for a new generation of SCADA system that is more flexible and innovative. If food and beverage 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 of this concept comes from Popper et al in 2004, which 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.”

It’s easy to see how this relates to the modern plant. Increased 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 food plant managers now want to integrate their own systems with enterprise systems and real-world applications to improve their 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”

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.

At Novotek, we 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 or the factory floor. This was to show our 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 could 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 the plant manager 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 the plant’s function.

The integration with Alexa and Philips Hue is only one example of how SCADA systems can be brought into the modern age to fit with the needs of increasingly interconnected plants. To help more plant managers achieve this, Novotek has partnered with Kepware to ensure that all its SCADA systems are able to be connected to whatever application is required.

The systems support over 1000 devices and have over 100,000 licences in operation across a wide range of industries, meaning that the plant manager’s needs can be met.

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 through the SCADA system.

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.

With Alexa and Philips Hue just a couple of examples of how non-industrial applications can improve plant monitoring, opening the SCADA system up to the cloud can offer countless new applications for plant managers. While 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.