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Liberating operators from the control room

07 May 2013

There is universal agreement that mobile devices will be making an appearance on more plant floors in the future, although agreement from automation suppliers on a timescale for this to become general practice is less easy to come by. Suzanne Gill reports.

When the maintenance team is trying to repair a failed transmitter or troubleshoot a drive at 2am it is useful to be able to check the inventory system for spare parts or review the online manuals for troubleshooting advice," said Eric Byres, CTO at Tofino Security, a Belden brand. "Being able to do that right where the problem is will be a powerful driver for allowing tablet devices on the plant floor – making maintenance and support the first applications for mobile device technologies in the process factory environment."

Considering the issues surrounding this, Byres continued: "This won't be pretty from a security point of view, but we will have to get used to it. Maybe it will drive the industry to deploy holistic security strategies rather than the security band-aids so often seen now.
"Information technologies are changing constantly. Trying to manage them with proscriptive rules is a hopeless task, because we can never keep up. Instead we need to work from general principles. For example, the definition of mobile device can be expanded from specific technologies (such as cell phones) to a definition based on their general functionality. One proposed definition is 'non-fixed location digital information storage or processing devices' which basically covers anything that can contain an electronic 1 or a 0 and isn't bolted down."

Byres argues that the only way to address this evolving 'mobile' technology is to use the zone and conduit concepts promoted in the ISA/IEC 62443 standards. "Properly done, zone and conduit security can result in operational requirements that define a security process, rather than proscriptive requirements," he said. Restricting devices may seem simple and comforting, but because it is so restrictive and inflexible, it encourages inventive staff to find ways around the rules so they can do their job. "Instead," ponders Byres, "having control points (such as industrial firewalls) between zones, can allow the traffic that improves productivity while filtering out risky messages such as uncontrolled random web browsing or internet games."

A more flexible solution
Neil Peterson, marketing manager for wireless plant solutions at Emerson Process Management, explained that his customers are already using mobile devices in a variety of ways to give field operators an overview, or localised view, of the process. For example, to replace costly fixed workstations in the process area. “Some customers have installed Wi-Fi and then take an ATEX Zone 2 laptop out onto the plant floor. This is a more flexible and cost-effective solution.”

Undertaking process turnarounds is another area where mobile devices can be beneficial. Peterson explained: “Today, standard practice for commissioning a new device is generally to use handheld equipment to calibrate, tune and configure it but then the engineer needs to return to the control room to check whether the installation has been successful. With a handheld device that can display the same operator interface and asset management software as the control room, this can all be achieved from the plant floor, greatly increasing productivity.

“We are finding that customers now install Wi-Fi and configure rugged laptop when organising a process turnaround. They can then proceed with the turnaround and leave the Wi-Fi in place to continue to reap the benefits of having someone able to walk around the plant and having a view of the process.”

Peterson believes that the motivation behind a move to mobile devices is about getting productivity gains. “Getting the tools into the hands of the person in the field can help make them more productive,” he said. In addition to seeing DCS information, for example, operators can also run work orders and can see all the online documentation for a device.”

Peterson highlights security as being one of the main concerns when considering mobile device technology in the plant. He said: “When Wi-Fi first came out, security was a problem…it was horribly unsecure. Since then, however, things have improved and it is now very secure. Emerson’s approach is to do ‘defence in depth’. We deploy Wi-Fi from our wireless partner, CISCO, who has a very good defence in depth strategy.”

Information where it’s needed
“Mobile application using Zenon SCADA software has been possible for around 15 years,” said Philip Werr marketing manager at Copa Data. “Our philosophy is to provide the right information, at the right time, in the right place, it has been looking at mobile technology.”
In 1998 the company introduced the first version of it ‘message control module’ which provided information remotely, independent of the users position. “We introduced this to meet demand from customers in the German automotive production industry,” he said.

In 2000 the company introduced a web server which enables the same HMI or SCADA application used on site, to be accessed via an internet browser from any location. The Copa Data product family is based around the Windows platform, which forms an important part of its mobile strategy. Currently the company is working with Windows 8 which enables native Zenon run time for visualisation projects directly onto a tablet. “When using the native product on a tablet we have all the same functionality and features that are available inside the Zenon product. This will come as standard with Zenon 7.10 which will is due to be released in March 2013,” said Werr.

So far, Copa Data is not seeing any demand for plant control applications from mobile devices. Werr said: “In some areas we believe this will happen, although there are many issues which need to be overcome. It would need to be done as an integral part of a greater concept of control and would need to be very clear which parameters could or should be controlled and which should not. I believe that this could happen within the next three to five years. Zenon has the technology available today. So, if one of our customers wanted to undertake control operations using a Windows 8 table, they would be able to achieve this now.”

Wireless portfolio
Honeywell has also long recognised the importance of mobile devices for plant operators and engineers and plant staff. In 2007 it released its OneWireless solutions portfolio, a multi-application, multi-standard wireless network designed to extend process control network into the field.

“The value of mobile devices that can connect to a wireless infrastructure is helping to improve plant safety records,” said Diederick Mols global market development leader – wireless at Honeywell. Process Solutions. “If you have real-time connection wherever you are in the plant you will remain better informed and problems can be notified more quickly.” Traditionally, electronic equipment has not been allowed into hazardous areas which has resulted in a slow notification process regarding potential plant floor problems.

“Mobile devices can also help to reduce unscheduled downtime which can seriously reduce profitability,” continued Mols. “It is a proven technology that can help enable business transformation, helping to drive plant safety improvements and reduce unplanned downtimes. Mobile operation can empower the operator in the field. The operator can access the required information in real-time using technology such as our Experion Mobile Access, which can hugely increase efficiency.”

Honeywell can also offer Field Advisor, a software suite connected to an expert system which enables operators to gain access to past process experience in real-time while on the plant floor. Such technology can help plants cope with the challenge of the ageing workforce. Mols quoted feedback from one oil major which has deployed this mobile solution at 25 sites. “The company has been able to nearly halve its record of safety incidents across all sites through implementation of Field Advisor and unscheduled downtimes in the facilities have been reduced by between 20% and 80%.”

Augmenting…not replacing
Siemens sees mobile devices in general as offering augmentation of existing, traditional user interfaces. Rene Wolf, who is responsible for global product management of Siemens HMI product lines, including industrial PCs – hardware and software, explained: “When you run a machine you will always need an HMI device which runs 24/7, reporting data, measurement, alarms, etc. However, we do see potential for having the additional ability to access some information from the machine via a mobile device, wirelessly in a secure manner to collect KPI information or to view initial diagnostics, for example.”

One particular area that Wolf sees mobile devices being put to good use, is by mechanical engineers in a cabinet, where automation equipment needs to be installed. He explained further: “Before you put a programme into a PLC and can test its functionality, there is still a great deal of wiring to do and it is necessary to ensure that everything is wired properly. However, until you have the PLC programme, it is not currently possible to test this.”
Siemens is in the process of creating a smartphone App that can do this. It will build capability into the hardware to allow it to test whether a system is correctly wired on the outputs and inputs and then show the results via a mobile device so it is not necessary to hook up a specific programme or a PC with specific software. “Typically, wiring is done by a mechanical person, who may not be familiar with the tools available today which allow this to be tested,” said Wolf. “ We expect the App to be ready by the end of 2013 for Android and IOS.”

Consider the implications
“When considering the use of commercially available mobile devices within an industrial environment it is always necessary to consider the security implications,” said Ian Harwood field business leader – industrial components at Rockwell Automation. “Anyone who has used even the most reliable of these devices knows that they are capable of behaving unpredictably and when machinery is involved this could have undesirable, even dangerous potential.

“One of the limiting factors in the introduction of mobile technology, until recently, was the cost of implementation. This meant that such functionality would only be considered for use on major pieces of plant, which were inherently more significant in terms of their risk; both of cost (damage or production lost) and actual, physical potential to do damage.

“However, as the cost of interfacing mobile devices into PLC environments has reduced, so the idea of using a smartphone to control and get information from small, discrete items of plant, has become a real possibility. In itself, this reduces, even eliminates, the potential for damage to be done,” said Harwood. Interrogating a drinks dispenser or waste compactor to check on levels or future availability, or receiving a message to inform you how much money a remote car wash has made, is unlikely to provoke a problem. “In such applications, it is easy to see the potential for both cost efficiencies and environmental benefits; this in addition to the sheer convenience of what can be achieved,” said Harwood.

“For an OEM or machine builder who is currently using a small PLC in a product, there is no longer a real cost argument for not including mobile technology within the machine in circumstances where it would benefit either the manufacturer (remote diagnostics/maintenance) or his ultimate customer,” said Harwood.

On any glass
At SPS/IPC/Drives 2012, ICONICS, a developer of real-time visualisation and HMI/SCADA solutions, demonstrated how its software can run on ‘Any Glass, Any Time,’ a solution which enables data to be viewed remotely from any device. The software behind AnyGlass is MobileHMI. Delivered via HTML5 or Microsoft Silverlight, it is designed to increase workforce mobility for process manufacturing.

With MobileHMI Apps, HTML5- or Silverlight-driven HMI can deliver graphics to any device with consistency and reliability without requiring multiple development efforts, says the company. On the plant floor this makes it possible to view data and control operational assets remotely in real-time.

Developing technology
Being based on Windows technology, the Adroit SCADA/HMI offering has been able to offer the ability to run SCADA on a mobile device for some time, explained Nigel Ball of Adroit Technologies. “The company has been developing this technology further and now offers the Smart UI, which makes use of Microsoft’s smart client technology which has the ability to run on mobile devices.”

The latest Adroit software includes the SmartUI 4.2 which sees the SmartUI Designer being given a Microsoft Office menu look and feel, replacing the previous menus and provides faster, more intuitive access to functions for behaviours, tool windows and vector graphics.

Visualisation App
InduSoft has recently launched a visualisation App for Windows 8 and RT. Said to be the first available SCADA/HMI app designed specifically for Windows 8, the InduSoft Visualisation App offers mobile access to the company’s Web Studio application on Windows 8 devices, allowing users to develop interfaces with easily customisable widgets that display alarms and trend history in an easy-to-read format, viewable from anywhere.


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