Long before Industry 4.0 or any thoughts of storing manufacturing data off-site—let alone in a cloud environment managed by another company—data historians have been a fixture in manufacturing operations of all kinds and sizes. These data historian technologies enabled the logging of production data created by a manufacturing system for storage and retrieval or analysis as needed.
Though arguments over the value of historian technologies were rare, there was never a shortage of complaints about how much data was being captured by these systems while also largely being ignored. This common scenario began to change with the advent of data analytics software, increasingly powered by artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, that could automatically sort through all this stored data to find the data points and trends to help direct decision making around production process—and business—optimization.
While many of these AI-powered analytics programs exist in the cloud, the historians supplying them with data have remained on-premises in manufacturing and processing plants. With GE Digital’s release of Proficy Historian for Cloud in the AWS Marketplace, the on-premises constraints of historians have changed. GE Digital claims Proficy Historian for Cloud is “a best-in-class historian software solution designed to collect industrial time- series and alarms and events data at very high speed” and is the first instance of a cloud-based historian.
How it works
According to GE Digital, Proficy Historian for Cloud provides for “secure encrypted OT (operations technology) data streaming to the cloud designed to reach up to 150,000 values per second per interface and to provide store-and-forward capabilities to protect against data loss if the cloud or network is unavailable. Because it is designed for the cloud, Proficy Historian for Cloud provides the benefits of cloud-based technologies including zero downtime upgrades, data replication, and high availability. This historian technology is designed to compress industrial data at the source to reduce data transport, compute, and storage resources, while enabling plant floor users to query data via tools like Excel and provide the ability to retrieve data from last month or 10 years ago at speed. Operational historians help simplify the task of creating value on the plant floor by performing aggregations like returning the average value over a time period without [requiring users to build] a complex query.”
Steve Pavlosky, director of product management at GE Digital, points out that Proficy Historian for Cloud is not exclusively targeted at manufacturing companies already leveraging cloud-based technologies. “Proficy Historian for Cloud could definitely be a first foray into the cloud for small- or mid-sized manufacturers,” he says. “It offers these companies a cost-effective and lower maintenance approach to managing their OT data.”
Explaining how this new historian technology ensures access to data if a user’s connection to the cloud is disrupted, Pavlosky says, “For data collection, the collectors are on-premises and can buffer the data so that even if cloud connection is unavailable, data is still stored locally and transmitted to the cloud when connection becomes available. The access to historical data from on-premises, however, could be impacted if the cloud connection is lost. We mitigate this risk through three approaches: 1. The cloud historian application itself is designed for high availability and fault tolerance to minimize any application downtime. It utilizes highly resilient managed AWS services that offer 99.9% uptime such as Amazon EKS and Amazon EFS; 2. Customers can choose to set up redundant network connections to AWS to minimize the risk of network failure; and 3. For mission-critical workloads, customers can deploy an additional historian instance on-premises so they can always have access to data locally in case the cloud connection is unavailable.”
Pricing for Proficy Historian for Cloud is available as a term license or a subscription basis. “The term license is based on a flat price per tag and is desirable by users who want predictability,” says Pavlosky. “The subscription is metric-based consumption pricing with simple sample-based metrics. Typically, IT departments prefer this [because] it involves variable billing based on usage; also, the customer is billed by AWS, which supports their overall IT strategy and investments.”
In line with the current trajectory of automation technology suppliers making most, if not all, of their software available as a service, Pavlosky says the same is true for GE Digital. “We are committed to supporting our customers in their cloud-based initiatives, and in addition to Proficy Historian for Cloud, we also released Proficy Smart Factory—Cloud OEE, as another recent example. Our Cloud OEE software is fully hosted in AWS and managed by GE.”
Other GE Digital software currently available via the cloud as a service include: Proficy Operations Analytics, Cimplicity and iFIX HMI/SCADA, Asset Performance Management, Proficy Manufacturing Data Cloud, Operations Performance Management, and Process Analytics (Digital Smelter, Outage Planning Analytics). Pavolsky notes that GE Digital’s MES Production and Quality modules are also available for cloud deployments by customer request.
To prove the value of its new historian technology, GE Aviation has been using Proficy Historian for Cloud to manage OT data in 32 manufacturing plants. “Managing this amount of data is costly,” said Bill Andrews, technical product manager, GE Aviation. “By moving from 32 distinct deployments to a single deployment of Proficy Historian on AWS, we can dramatically reduce management costs and downtime while improving value, scalability, and reliability.”
GE Aviation expects to reduce infrastructure costs by more than 20% and annual resources by $185,000 using Proficy Historian for Cloud. The company also expects to improve system availability by eliminating more than a month of planned downtime with the help of this software while also establishing a common data store accessible by thousands of its employees.