SCADA considerations

22 February 2021

Rashesh Mody suggests that organisations focus on four key elements when using SCADA and HMI.

Pay attention to situational awareness: Problems often occur when users fail to specify and distinguish between the behaviour and interaction of their user interface – for example how a window is maximised or resized across multiple monitors, or how zooming and multi-touch, panning are performed. Realistically, a user’s acceptance of the ‘look and feel’ of a particular product will be based on a mixture of hands-on evaluation and conversations with existing users. So, organisations must ensure that all of the features required – including a graphics library, automation objects, faceplates, element style, and themes – exist out of the box.
Future proof design for scalability and total cost of ownership (TCO): Unlimited I/O licensing can help organisations scale for future production growth. However, they must ensure that their industrial systems are built to handle it. This can be achieved by ensuring that the SCADA system has been thoroughly tested to handle a large number of I/O points to avoid slow response times and other issues caused by a SCADA system not designed for such use. Too often the TCO is only considered at the time the project is designed and implemented. The real cost, however, relates to how long the project can continue to provide a return on investment while continuing to enable the manufacturing facility to be competitive. Built into this calculation is the cost of the ‘operational lifetime of a project,’ which considers the ability to upgrade and add new functionalities, as well as maintaining and the system. Ultimately, it is integral that an organisation fully identifies and analyses what is required of its own internal operations as this will need to be aligned to the company’s operations, as well as its products and service offering.

Pay attention to how the product is configured: Pre-configured demo systems can be vaporware. However, a system should not be judged on this. Instead, it should be judged on its usability and day-to-day functionality; particularly the time it takes to perform standard day-to-day tasks – both as an administrator and an operator. Organisations should also question whether various personas with varying technical skillsets are able to perform configuration changes. A surprising number of products require the same information to be entered in multiple places.  For example, a tag name might need to be manually typed as part of the RTU/PLC program and the same is also true for a database configuration, as part of a report configuration. This will result in a system that is slow and difficult to configure, and one that is also likely to contain many errors. 

Think Cloud first and mobile delivery: SCADA is an integral part of a business, not just its operations. The flow of data from the control room to the board room must be seamless. In the past, supervisory control and manufacturing information systems have not been integrated. This is changing and companies are realising that both of these investments only achieve their full potential when they are capable of seamlessly working together. Likewise, native cloud and web technologies are imperative to harness the domain expertise of multiple engineering centers. Fundamental to a successful project implementation is the deployment of the best domain experience. It is very often necessary to use several engineering houses to build a total system – but as soon as a company does this, issues of integration, consistency and maintainability come to the forefront. 

Rashesh Mody is senior vice president and head of monitoring and control  at AVEVA.

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