Capturing far-flung data

12/03/2013


Integration with SCADA Systems

SCADA systems have progressed over recent years, taking advantage of more intelligent sensors and controllers, more powerful computing architectures, and sophisticated applications. They can better analyze data and provide operations personnel with improved monitoring and management capabilities.

Modern SCADA systems can simplify engineering and provide a superior HMI with operational efficiency over thousands of distributed assets. Template-driven tabular summaries of large quantities of similar assets now come with task-based dashboards leading the operator and pipeline controller exactly to the assets that need their attention. What once was a time-consuming monitoring activity is now performed in seconds, and every operator is the best operator by using consistent tools that can evolve as best practice updates. And if a pipeline connects to a process plant, today’s SCADA system can serve as an integrated, common HMI of the DCS. There is no longer a need for different operator platforms.

However, with the wide range of RTUs and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) currently on the market, SCADA system engineers and decision-makers face several challenges. Which class of units provides the optimal functionality, expandability, and cost-effectiveness for a given SCADA application?

Generally speaking, PLCs are designed to address plant floor, programmable automation applications with large quantities of local I/O. Wide area SCADA applications at remote sites are the core competencies for RTUs. They meet user requirements in terms of communication network interfaces, both for local sub-systems and remote uplinks, communication protocols, intelligent operation of wide area networks, inherent data logging, and low power consumption.

RTUs also have to operate in hazardous and harsh environments associated with oil and gas, power, and utility applications.

With their functionalities in communication peripherals, storage, and processing, RTU controllers are capable of delivering complex communication handling (e.g., encryption), or intensive front-end data processing involved with time stamp protocols or time stamps for historical data logging and retrieval. SCADA system designers are also employing distributed RTUs to reduce overall architecture deployment costs.

Ongoing developments in RTU technology—integrated as part of SCADA systems—are driving a progressive trend in functionality. This is creating a shift from basic data collection and local control, to smart and intelligent data management that can significantly increase operational efficiency, improve reliability, lower maintenance costs, and reduce operator trips to the field.

These solutions, employing advanced capabilities such as built-in HART I/O with field device integration, provide new insights into the production potential of distributed assets through efficient remote monitoring, diagnostic, and asset management capabilities.

Paul Vellacott is a product marketing manager for Honeywell Process Solutions.

Key concepts:

  • The desire to gather more information from operating assets is driving greater sophistication of communication hardware.
  • While there are various ways to aggregate data, RTUs are designed specifically for this purpose.
  • Signal transmission options have also expanded, providing more ways to send information back to a centralized control system. 

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