Remote monitoring adds more control to your control system
Easy online access to the knowledge that describes device performance and maintenance helps decrease the complexity and uncertainty in decision making and reduces the workload of operators and maintenance people.
Implementing secure remote maintenance monitoring and real-time diagnostics reporting can contribute to the reduction of maintenance cost. Device performance has a strong influence on process performance and reliable operation in distributed process automation architectures. Easy online access to the knowledge that describes device performance and maintenance helps decrease the complexity and uncertainty in decision making and reduces the workload of operators and maintenance people.
There are many preventable problems that could ultimately have an impact on your control system. These vary from system to system, but can be as simple as equipment that is not properly maintained, unintentional human error, or intentional exploits of system security vulnerabilities. So what is needed is a proactive solution that discovers problems before they cause downtime.
One possible solution to performing this preventive-type maintenance is to hire personnel to walk around and inspect the control system on a regular basis. They would look and listen for abnormalities that may lead to system failure, such as observing debris built up on moving parts, hearing unusual vibrations, or detecting components that might be running hotter than usual. Unfortunately, hiring personnel for such duties is not very cost effective. In addition, people make mistakes, whether overlooking certain aspects of the control system, skipping scheduled walkthroughs due to other priorities, or other unintentional mistakes.
The better solution is to automate the monitoring of your control system, taking advantage of the infrastructure already in place. A control system is already made up of many interconnected sub-systems, each of which comprises many components. These components may be connected through a hardwired physical connection or possibly tied together through some form of wireless communications. In order for the control system to function, these components need to exchange some level of information, or process data, over the communications link Another important piece to the control system is the ability to visualize and analyze the characteristics of the running process.
Typically a HMI/SCADA is already part of a facility’s automation solution. By using HMI or SCADA to collect real-time process data and by comparing the results with expected operating conditions, operators can determine whether the system is running as expected or possibly leading to failure.
Performing real-time monitoring should not be limited to the boundaries of the control system. Today’s technology is advanced enough to give operators the ability to remotely monitor their systems as if they were on-site. Of course, security must always be considered first when granting outside access to any system. Security vulnerabilities often are the cause of a system shutdown, which is why protecting the access to any automation system is vital.
The appropriate use of technology will vary based on an organization’s particular environment. Most organizations will likely look to leverage their existing infrastructure because it proves more cost effective. For instance, most manufacturers have a HMI/SCADA already integrated with their control system via OPC, an open industry standard. Utilizing open technologies that take into account security is a safe choice to make the best use of an organizations’ existing infrastructure investment.
In fact, OPC’s latest Open Unified Architecture (OPC-UA) was designed with security in mind and allows for the secure transmission of data over the Internet, the backbone between the user and the control system. With the additional pressures placed on today’s maintenance staff, and the demands for improved financial performance with fewer resources, implementing secure remote monitoring bridges the gap between maintenance costs and skyrocketing labor rates.
The latest technology and automation communication advances are leading to fewer analysts performing analysis on more machines. On-site maintenance and manual analysis will transition to remote monitoring with proven automated machine condition assessment processes.
Many operations are difficult to monitor because they are in hard-to-get-to places such as mining sites or even the ocean floor where oil and gas are increasingly being produced. Others, such as fuels terminals, require considerable coordination and collaboration to ensure every aspect from safe operation to supply chain integrity. Due to such growth within these industries, the remote monitoring and service space is maturing—not only from increased adoption of remote applications or an increase in the number of assets being monitored remotely, but also from the ways that organizations are using remote monitoring technology and services.
Concerned with increasing uptime, organizations want to have a stake in optimizing the processes around the use of their assets by investing in the remote monitoring of process control and automation systems, which typically includes predictive and preventive maintenance.
Paine is the president and co-owner of Kepware Technologies (www.kepware.com). Paine joined Kepware, a leading provider of automation protocols and communications interoperability. He is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the OPC Foundation, where he helps to drive the technical direction of the automation industry. Paine has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maine.