Today’s business climate is putting plants under intense financial pressure, and operations and maintenance budgets are among the first to be cut. Fewer personnel are expected to operate and maintain more equipment, manage larger and often remote systems, process greater volumes of data and supervise increased levels of automation — all at a lower cost.
In addition, these plants must also maintain staffing proficiency, while also delivering higher throughput, higher availability and higher profits with aging assets. Unfortunately, these trends show no sign of changing, so plants must therefore increase the productivity of their existing maintenance and operations teams while continuing to look for ways to reduce costs even more.
One of the areas where significant opportunities for improvement exist is the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software used to control and operate these systems. The previous post, “7 Tips for Selecting the Right SCADA System for Your Needs”, covered considerations (connectivity, scalability, total cost of ownership, support, longevity, ease of upgrade, and safety) when choosing a SCADA solution.
This post focuses on areas of SCADA that can help you run your operations more economically, provides answers to questions like: Do your operators make decisions to optimize business value, Does your SCADA drive consistency across multiple sites and ways to reduce learning times for new and less experienced employees.
Do your operators make decisions to optimize business value?
When selecting supervisory control software, you need an out-of-the-box solution that goes beyond great graphics to deliver solutions that solve core operational performance challenges and reveal opportunities in your organization. Libraries of graphics that ease the stress in operations personnel and allow them to rapidly see what to do and take corrective actions in abnormal situations ought to be included. While the phrase “situational awareness”, as the library is known, has been in the industry vocabulary for some time and most notably in refining and petrochemicals where safety is of utmost importance, it is now something that benefits most industries.
It is a valuable benefit that operators and users derive from using specific best practices when they design their displays and user interfaces. These best practices were initially developed in safety-critical industries, to ensure maximum operator effectiveness and to mitigate the risk of abnormal situations which could result in a catastrophe. But now these proven principles are being applied to help maximize productivity and availability while minimizing costs, such as raw materials, energy consumption and waste, and are generally applicable to a majority of industries. This is particularly important when we consider the quickly and ever-changing global economy, competitive landscape, material science, costs and sources of energy, and so much more.
While it has been technically possible to apply these principles in an SCADA deployment for a long while, until recently the necessary expertise to do so has been scarce and expensive, and the architectures of most SCADA systems did not allow software vendors to offer robust support for these principles within their products. The burden for developing SCADA screens to these standards was left to the implementation teams. What’s more alarming is that a majority of SCADA users, not being familiar with these techniques or recognizing how beneficial they could be, have not specified the inclusion of situational awareness in their SCADA implementations.
The most modern SCADA systems now provide deep support for these principles and directly embed best-practice principles into the product. This can dramatically change the design challenge – instead of concerning themselves with the mechanics of building elaborate graphics, your design teams can now focus on the decisions the operators should be making to optimize business value.1
Empower your operators to focus on the real problem, not become distracted by nuisance alarms
With fewer operators managing more systems, alarm management is mission critical. When an alarm is triggered, operators need to be able to quickly locate the source of the problem. Equally, operators can’t be fatigued by nuisance alarms that will cause them to ignore potential serious issues.
Based on industry recommended standards and the proper use of color, alarm aggregation allows your operators to focus on the real problem, not become distracted by nuisance alarms.
Does your SCADA drive consistency across multiple sites?
Your company is very different from site to site, but customers, shareholders and regulatory agencies expect quality, consistency and safety. Different equipment, operations staff experience, and raw material variability are challenges to be managed.
Your SCADA software should have you covered with standardized applications and the ability to enforce consistency across your entire business, utilizing common practices and procedures while maintaining the individuality of how each plant is configured. Consistency and user-friendly interfaces also simplify training requirements for new and less experienced employees.
All of the above can help you run your operations better and more economically, which in turn provides for safety, efficiency, and increased productivity.
1 Couling, Phil 2015, March 2015: Next-gen Thinking: The Advance of HMI and SCADA Software
2Krajewski, John, Situational Awareness – The Next Leap in Industrial Human Machine Interface Design