Redefining the boundaries of automation

04 August 2020

Production challenges do not wait on IT developments, and getting to the root of a problem does not always have to be rocket science, says George Walker.

Modern automation systems go beyond the confines of the physical machines on the factory floor. According to Deloitte Insights, smart factories can not only operate within the four walls of a factory but can also connect to a global network of similar production systems, and even to the digital supply network.

Though factories may be distributed rather than centralised, modern industrial operations software provides a centralised environment to rapidly build industrial applications. This can support engineers, managers and staff throughout an industrial business to improve plant operations and act upon information independent of factory location.  

Teams at all levels of an organisation can make better decisions based on real-time and historical plant-wide application data, including historian software, manufacturing execution systems (MESs) and third-party data. Users can monitor, control, enter data and perform analyses. Historian software is often embedded or used in conjunction with standard distributed control systems (DCSs) and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), to provide enhanced data capture, validation, compression and aggregation capabilities. 

With historian software, users may analyse data in context from industrial operations software. Industrial operations software delivers aggregation and visualisation of automation data across plant-wide operations. This provides a visualisation toolkit with simple connectors to common data types, to blend and present information in a way that allows for the different needs of team members to see it.

Novotek’s industrial operations software allows developers and users to assemble displays through a library of widgets, and to arrange them to provide responsive operator visualisation. This development environment provides responsive layouts for pages across desktop, mobile and tablet platforms, including actions, conditions, and formulas, as well as QR code navigation for mobile applications. 

Role-based permissions may be granted at the page level. Plant operators may define data sources and entities for connected devices and create queries to access and transform data into actionable information for operations. Drag-and-drop design allows for simple placement and configuration of visualisation components on the display, then dragging the query or data source onto the component quickly enables the data connections. 

Using connected systems allows information sharing with frontline workers, providing them with knowledge of what is happening. Responsive design allows application building to make information readily available on PC displays, tablets, and mobile phones – allowing access to information and insights into operations from anywhere anytime. A single, seamless MES for process, discrete and mixed manufacturing environments establishes a digital foundation for continuous improvement. 

New normal
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for solutions that support social distancing, remote operations and supply chain issues have completely upended plants and factories.

This requires deploying MES, HMI/SCADA, historian and analytics solutions capable of visualising operations, analysing data and optimising production, then providing that smart information in real time to the appropriate personnel regardless of their location so they can respond quickly and correctly without any detriment to performance. Automation has truly extended beyond the factory floor, and the data can improve operations at every level.

George Walker is managing director of Novotek UK and Ireland.

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