Jeff Stevens, Elecsys Corp.
It is now possible to have your cake and eat it too. For several years industries like oil and gas, electrical, water/wastewater, industrial manufacturing, railroad and agriculture have been trying to find a way to make incompatible systems work together; such as a SCADA or controls system integrating with ERP, maintenance programs, or other auditing and reporting tools.
Road blocks, like purpose built equipment with proprietary protocols tightly coupled with applications, create data silos through being specifically designed to interface with specific equipment or systems. For many years protocol converters have been used, so the large investment made in equipment can become compatible with other vender software packages, but it still doesnt solve the issue when the equipment is coupled with an application.A vast amount of very useful data is locked in these applications. In an age where everyone is looking for efficiencies and asked to do more with fewer resources, data is the key to success.
Other business units are coming to the SCADA or industrial control departments for data because they know these departments already have it or can access it. Unfortunately SCADA and industrial control departments are becoming bogged down trying to supply data the other business units need or in some cases simply would like to have. Most companies have tried to start using process historians or some other type of data repository as their data server for the other business units seeking access to the data.
Data repositories like historians are fantastic at what they are designed for, trending and logging historical information of an industrial process for future reference, but they are expected to act beyond the scope of that design. Over time these systems become frail because so much custom programming is involved to make the application do something its not designed to do. Eventually the mind set of dont touch it because it might break sets in as the system becomes no longer supportable. All of these things tied together drive data further into silos and is frequently the reason innovation is halted with in an organization.
Many companies have found a very good solution with drop-in products readily available on the market today. Migrating to a scalable publish and subscribe architecture with data brokers and using the MQTT protocol enables decoupling the equipment from the applications, breaking free the data to be used by all interested parties in the business. This is all being done without affecting the reliability of the SCADA or control systems. They dont have to worry about who manufactured the equipment, how old it is, what protocol is being used, how it affects communications speeds, what business systems need what data in what format, etc.
Once these systems have been implemented and a standard is set, communications become much more reliable and bandwidth consumption is greatly reduced. The overall efficiency of the system allows for gathering much more information allowing the entire business to operate at a higher level of accuracy and efficiency. The result is that operational systems are no longer being held together by band-aids or bogged down by non-essential data being gathered by the critical systems. The other business units are allowed to independently subscribe to the data that is important to them.
In conversations about these systems and working with system architecture design teams it has become apparent that this quickly becomes a conversation that not only involves SCADA or control system management but draws a lot of interest from CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and CTOs. The interest is generated because something that is relatively simple, like this type of architecture, can be so transformative to how a business operates, greatly improving the overall business. Several years ago this may have been a new concept or idea but it has certainly caught on and becoming the standard for venders, manufactures and industrial companies that realize what ease of access to data can mean to the bottom line.
For more information please visitwww.elecsyscorp.com