Operational Excellence Extends Beyond HMI/SCADA

June 26, 2023
Manufacturing and processing organizations need modern industrial software to scale from the edge to the control room to the enterprise, enabling collaboration and team alignment to achieve maximum operational excellence.
Most industrial manufacturing and processing companies have already incorporated digital control and monitoring technologies to great effect, improving operational efficiency and operator effectiveness. Yet even greater gains are possible when digital transformation can be extended from the operational edge up to the control room, and throughout the enterprise.

Human machine interfaces (HMIs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems already provide operational visibility for users. The most modern versions augment basic functionality with a rich visualization experience, scalable to mobile and web-based platforms, with added features such as analytics and customization.

This type of modern HMI/SCADA platform is fundamental for manufacturers, but truly maximizing teamwork and decision-making on a production line, at a factory, and throughout an enterprise calls for industrial software that can do even more.

Aligning the enterprise

Operations teams may work at the plant/field, control room, or enterprise level. They each have specific needs and must be able to collaborate effectively.

Frontline workers at the operational edge require local monitoring and control capabilities. Supervisory and management personnel rely on a unified plant model for promoting standardization and implementing a manufacturing execution system (MES). Enterprise visualization across regional or global operations calls for useful convergence of operational technology (OT) with corporate information technology (IT) resources.

To holistically integrate these unique yet related operational elements, an organization should rethink their approach to operations control. Software tools and applications must overcome architectural and cybersecurity limitations to span actual or perceived barriers so that teams can be connected with real-time data and capabilities to gain insights and take action.

Establishing operations control

A user-centric operations control software platform builds on traditional elements, such as HMI/SCADA, while delivering new capabilities (Figure 1), as listed below:

• Vendor agnostic: Because every operation is built from a myriad of hardware/software assets, often assembled over years or decades, it is essential for a complete operations solution to be vendor agnostic. Drivers and integrations for all types of third-party devices are vital, along with an easy-to-use development environment, and comprehensive system health and diagnostic tools. Licensing based on users—rather than on tags, displays, or functions—best supports this model. Just as an office software suite provides users with word processing, spreadsheets, and more as needed, a user-centric industrial software framework will deliver the right functionality to each user.

• Unlimited and secure operational visibility: Visualization with complete mobility—whether on the factory floor, at the control room, or in a corporate office—must offer a clear perspective relative to the user’s role.

• Data analysis: Each user needs the ability to access data, drill down through information layers, and leverage tools. This empowers them to examine issues in detail, and to produce reports and dashboards. These types of data-driven insights lead to actionable measures.

• Collaboration: To fully bring teams together and promote operational continuity, each user needs the ability to connect with other users in the proper context. This could be via a chat, a request for help, or other messaging means, all in support of dynamic interactions.

• Coordination and learning: Workforce challenges call for new methods of retaining knowledge and streamlining onboarding. Industrial software can deliver documentation and drawings, enable digital logbooks, support building a digital library of procedures and lessons-learned, and help train users and develop skillsets—all without operational interruptions.

• Tiered digital thread: Industrial software must tie together the preceding elements seamlessly so all users can interpret the information and outcomes in context, without the need for wasteful translation and duplication of effort.

Assembling and integrating a custom arrangement of disparate software to meet these needs would be a costly and risky experiment. A better approach is a flexible architecture supporting onsite and cloud in a hybrid deployment.

This requires partnering with a proven industry leader that offers a software subscription model consisting of packages and applications tested to work together. End users can access just what they need, and then purchase add-on packages for additional functionality as required, including advanced options such as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Transforming the operation

Although the implementation of digital control and monitoring technologies is relatively commonplace throughout industry, taking scalability and collaboration to the next level in support of complete operational excellence is less widespread. Organizations should examine the market and look for an industrial software supplier grounded in HMI/SCADA, but also offering a complete and coordinated portfolio able to support enhanced analytics, collaboration, and learning across the entire enterprise.

Doug Warren leads AVEVA’s monitoring & control business, which includes HMI/SCADA offerings from the edge to the enterprise. He has decades of experience with measurement, automation, and software solutions used by industries throughout the world. Doug graduated from the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 1985 with a degree in Natural Gas and Petroleum Engineering Technology.