Why are unmanned process plants often un-monitored?
Often, process plants are not remotely monitored with SCADA or HMI software applications. Sometimes this is because it is believed that the telecommunication challenges related to the site are too great to be overcome but generally it relates to cost. This situation especially applies to unmanned plant e.g. generators and other equipment or assets that require few operational adjustments during their life cycle.
Can IOT platforms be used to manage remote assets?
Many plants have very reliable control equipment with local annunciation on switchboards to alert maintenance staff when general problems have occurred. At the lowest level, plant trained engineers use low-level diagnostic software for debugging control systems or tuning performance according to specific process parameters. It is when this process adjustment becomes frequent that HMI software applications are often justified. This occurs when the cost to visit sites for constant adjustments and tuning, outweigh the cost of implementing the required infrastructure. Other factors to consider are safety to personnel, access to site during seasonal changes and the lower costs of other technologies to manage “less complex” remote equipment. In recent years, IIoT platforms are being used to manage distributed assets by class. This is particularly true for new asset classes which come bundled with an IoT platform, but is this good for the organisation i.e. another software platform or system for operators to work with? Other organisations use Enterprise Historians to centrally manage all information about remote sites in a single repository. This is by no means a replacement for SCADA, as SCADA has its place in managing control systems and online operations but it does demonstrate a more holistic approach to data aggregation management by a single source of truth.
Traditionally SCADA/HMI software is used for operators to monitor critical plant. Today with high speed database systems and web server performance as it is, virtual real time management of plant can be achieved with IIoT. Many OEM devices are also bundled with an IP stack to allow communications to occur to any system, so there isn’t a dependence on a specific IoT platform. This is especially good news for organisations who don’t wish to have new technology to manage less critical plant. This means that asset managers (operators) have options to integrate more of their plant into existing platforms.
Do Low Cost Plants need Expensive Infrastructure to support Operations and Historical Data Management?
The equipment in the remote plant used for monitoring can be standardised and contains its own unique identification. This allows the centralised repository to differentiate between disparate plants no matter where they are located and what medium is used to transfer the data sets. The primary requirement to manage any plant is using a standard industrial automation interface such as DNP3 or an IoT interface such as MQTT. These are not the only options, but they do provide an example where standards (i.e. general global acceptance) is emerging for managing distributed critical infrastructure assets. For organisations that implement IoT software platforms along with devices to manage remote plant, there are also options to bridge IoT repositories into Enterprise Class Historical Database Systems (process historian), so that operationally and from an asset management perspective, the organisation is unified.