The worth system integrators bring to industrial automation

A supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system upgrade at water authority addressed challenges.

By Scott Kiser December 7, 2023
Courtesy: ICONICS

SCADA insights

  • System integrators (SIs) are crucial in aiding discrete manufacturing and process production industries to embrace technology, improve productivity and remain competitive.
  • The LCMUA project involved a comprehensive upgrade of the existing supervisory control (SCADA) system, employing a suite of ICONICS products like GENESIS64 and CFSWorX, to enhance data quality, operational visibility and efficiency in facility management.
  • The successful implementation of the new SCADA system at LCMUA led to improved data management and enhanced workforce efficiency — even with a lean staff.

The discrete manufacturing and process production industries embrace technology to improve productivity and stay competitive. However, many companies don’t have the skills or are spread too thin to immediately benefit. This is where system integrators (SIs) play a pivotal role, one like Shane Stevens, the owner of Impact Automation and Controls in Lewisville, Texas. Stevens is an ICONICS gold-certified system integrator with more than 20 years’ experience, primarily in water & wastewater and secondarily in buildings, and was the SI for the integration project at the Lake Cities Municipal Utility Authority (LCMUA).

LCMUA is located in Lake Dallas, Texas, and provides drinking water, fire protection and pressure to the Shady Shores, Lake Dallas and Hickory Creek areas (together known as the Tri-Cities). LCMUA operates 21 lift stations, 3 elevated storage tanks, 3 ground storage tanks, 10 pumps on the water side (with 3 altitude valves), and 46 sewer pumps on the wastewater side.

Some details

LCMUA had an aging infrastructure system that needed help from top to bottom. For example, a large portion of LCMUA’s budget at the time was spent on callouts, false alarms and failing equipment. The existing supervisory control (SCADA) system was a combination of three competitor products, which ended up giving LCMUA personnel three different sets of operating data. The company prioritized an upgrade to better manage and maintain the facility.

LCMUA needed a unified solution with a new human-machine interface (HMI) and SCADA system that could handle distributed network protocol (DNP3) communications and interface with the existing Ovarro Connecting Technologies TBox combined programmable logic controller/remote terminal unit (PLC/RTU) hardware installed at every lift station, pump station and elevated storage tank in its system. To accommodate a lean, often remote workforce, it needed a solution with 24/7 operational visibility and notification alerts whenever the situation warranted attention to potential issues.

LCMUA wanted to replace the older SCADA system, reduce related costs and efficiently manage the facility with a lean workforce. LCMUA chose to work with Impact Automation and Controls and together selected to deploy product solutions as follows:

  • GENESIS64 web-based HMI/SCADA suite with WebHMI

  • MobileHMI data mobility software suite

  • AlarmWorX64 Multimedia OPC alarm management software

  • ReportWorX64 enterprise reporting, charting and analysis software

  • CFSWorX intelligent notification software

  • Hyper Historian high-speed plant data historian.

Beneficial results for the facility

The HMI/SCADA met quality and maintenance needs within the water and wastewater system without any of the previous issues or data discrepancies. The upgraded SCADA improved data quality, visualization and management of water and sewer levels, monitoring and control of potable water and wastewater, elevation, PSI, intrusion pumps, pump monitors/controls, pump failure status and temperature.

Intelligent notification software streamlined work and empowered personnel to move past the break/fix model toward more proactive facilities and equipment management. The human/machine interfaces provided crucial monitoring and control of connected systems from the field using iPads through “Any Glass” (a user interface that delivers 2D and 3D real-time operational visualization and intelligent dashboards).

LCMUA now considers its visualization to be “top notch,” its alarming to be “solid” and its data mobility to have an “impressively fast response time.”

With graphic displays in place, the system integrator completed the system upgrade. Alarms and notifications capabilities, including voice and text messages, added to team efficiency and collaboration. Rather than everyone getting the same alarms all the time, managers decide who gets what alarm and when. That’s important because operators are not always on shift.

Messages can go to personal smartphones, which allows personnel to switch to the mobile app for contextualized details before acknowledging alarms or making relevant decisions.

Team resources are allocated based on real-time data for improved response times and reduced downtime. The software addresses challenges around efficient onboarding of new hires into the present workforce. The team is better equipped to run the facility efficiently, even with a lean workforce.

Integration of disparate systems and technologies to create a unified central system of control can be challenging. Courtesy: ICONICS

Integration of disparate systems and technologies to create a unified central system of control can be challenging. Courtesy: ICONICS

Digitalization role

It takes years to develop the expertise and experience system integrators possess. An organization that hires a system integrator is banking on this investment. Five key areas where system integrators play a pivotal role are the following:

Specialized expertise and experience

Digital transformation encompasses a range of technologies, including the internet of things (IoT), data analytics, cloud computing and machine learning. SIs not only possess in-depth knowledge of the technologies but also help to drive trends, best practices and industry standards. Their expertise enables them to design, implement, and thus optimize complex digital solutions tailored to the client’s unique needs.

Seamless integration of systems and technologies

Integration of disparate systems and technologies to create a unified central system of control can be challenging. SIs can bridge gaps among different data sources, software applications and hardware components. They also have the know-how to connect to legacy systems with modern solutions, achieving seamless data flow and interoperability.

Customization and scalability

Every organization has distinct requirements and digital transformation goals. SIs know the importance of project customization and scalability. They assess each organization’s infrastructure and processes and take into consideration the organization’s expectations and needs, including future needs. System integrators then implement solutions that align with the organization’s objectives and design systems that can scale with the capacity to grow and evolve over time.

Change management and risk mitigation

Since digital transformation involves significant changes in technology, processes and culture, substantial operations disruption can manifest itself as resistance from employees. SIs have experience with change management strategies. They can support the human element of digital transformation to enhance user understanding of the technology’s value.

Continuous innovation and futureproofing

Technology continuously evolves. Staying up to date is hard work, but crucial for success. Since SIs constantly monitor the technology landscape, they can help organizations identify innovative and best-fit solutions. They can also ensure systems are future-proofed, so organizations more easily adopt evolving technologies.

Final remarks

Mark DiCiaccio, Lake Cities Municipal Utility Authority operations manager had this to say, “CFSWorX has been great. With the previous application, we would constantly worry if the system was working. Before we would leave on Friday, we would always send a test alarm to make sure we would get alarms over the weekend. That is no longer the case. We have yet to miss a single alarm since moving to CFSWorX.”

Beyond the value already recognized, Lake Cities Municipal Utility Authority anticipates expanding remote worker support with worker location capabilities, push notifications and priority calling.

When implementing or upgrading, be sure to plan thoroughly. Stevens recommends, “Know the capabilities and limitations of the software package before committing. A system integrator will advise and help plan, which will avoid headaches later. The keys to success are communication and project understanding. A system integrator can develop the best system in the world, but if it doesn’t do what the customer expects, it’s junk.”

Given today’s labor shortages and supply chain complexities, there is demand for automation solutions and experts on design and implementation of these systems. Leverage the expertise and specialized knowledge of system integrators. Companies can maximize investments in new technologies and ensure smooth, successful digital transformations.