Streaming Video into HMI/SCADA

April 2, 2012
Video integration is easier than ever, and new applications keep cropping up. Here’s what you need to know if you want to add live digital video feeds to operator control panels.

The useful integration of video with industrial control systems has been a reality for a few years, but a burst of applications and installations is on the horizon. Cheaper bandwidth, wide availability of Internet protocol (IP) cameras, and greater familiarity with industrial Ethernet networks seem to be driving user interest. Basic video integration is just easier now, but good use of video takes some planning.

“Video integration became economically viable about four years ago,” says Neil Peterson,  senior manager,  wireless marketing, for Emerson Process Management ( “In that time, we’ve been investing in integrated solutions. Price points have come down and availability is up. Supply creates demand, and customers are calling us now.”

Other distributed control system (DCS) and SCADA software suppliers are reporting the same thing. They’ve teamed up with camera suppliers and makers of IP video management software to integrate and test complete systems. Schneider Electric, for example, acquired industrial camera maker Pelco several years ago, says Nathan Slider, specialist for SCADA and MES for Schneider. “Now that Pelco is inside Schneider, we built a plug-in module for the Vijeo Citect SCADA system that links to the APIs [application programming interfaces] of the Pelco cameras.”

Emerson has validated video management software from Industrial Video & Control (IVC) (, a Boston-area maker of cameras and video systems, for use with its DeltaV Operate HMI (human-machine interface). When an ActiveX control is embedded in HMI/SCADA software, not only can users view live video in a window on their screen, but they can also control pan-tilt-zoom cameras in the field to get a better view. Schneider’s API’s provide similar camera control. When users want to incorporate video into Invensys ArchestrA System Platform applications, they can use ActiveX or the latest Microsoft .NET technology to access IVC cameras or IVC’s Longwatch Historian video archives.

Although it remains the biggest issue with regard to streaming video, industrial network bandwidth has become cheaper. John Krajewski, director of HMI and supervisory systems for Invensys Operations Management (, says, “Before, if you had a remote site and you didn’t have a hard line to it, you had to pay to wire it or pay for satellite communications. Now, those bandwidth costs have come way down. That has made video much more viable.”

A report on video in SCADA by analysts at market research firm Frost & Sullivan sums it up: “As communication bandwidth for data transmission has steadily increased to meet growing needs over the years, video in SCADA now seems like an idea whose time has come. For a geographically dispersed facility with a mandate to ensure reliable and safe operations, video in SCADA is a concept that can help reduce needless windshield time for field staff (unproductive time spent travelling to and from remote sites), improve security, safety and process control, and heighten the accuracy of condition assessment to ensure better-prepared maintenance or intervention in the case of an incident.”

Applications: basic and advanced
Applications using live video feeds fall into a few categories based on the extent of integration with the SCADA system. Some integrate only “at the glass” (or now, in the age of flat screens, “at the LCD”) in the control room. These applications consolidate visual information on a single screen, rather than requiring a separately wired station. They may make use of existing closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras, or use sophisticated IP digital cameras and embedded camera controls.

Integration also goes deeper than the glass.  Digital Video Manager from Honeywell Process Solutions (, for example, is an IP video platform that integrates with Honeywell Experion Process Control systems and Honeywell EBI-Security Manager. It can handle thousands of cameras, respond to alarms, interact with security and process systems, and accommodate video analytics such as change-of-state response.

Honeywell and others also offer specific applications that use video signals in new ways. Emerson recently acquired NetSafety, a maker of gas flame detection equipment that has UV, UV/IR and Phoenix Triple IR flame sensors to detect a fire, and a second video imager that allows operators to see the area.  That solution has 4-20 mA signals coming from sensors at the flame detector going back to the Delta V SIS safety system, and a second wire pair delivering video signals to an IVC video relay server.

As technology changes make video capture cheaper and easier, applications continue to expand. Invensys’s Krajewski says, “As you go forward, everybody is going to have a camera in their pocket—consumers do now, with smart phones and tablets. How can we leverage those devices? That’s the next frontier: Video no longer in a fixed position. Instead, it’s completely directed by the user.”

Emerson is pursuing that by partnering with AudiSoft, a Canadian maker of hands-free cameras, audio headsets and “wearable PCs” designed to enable field inspection and reporting. The AudiSoft systems let a field technician use a high definition camera on his hard hat and a wireless microphone to exchange real-time voice and video with a remote location.

“Like a Skype phone call, you can centralize expertise or operations anywhere, and the expert can see exactly what the technician is seeing,” says Peterson. “And, that expert can support dozens of technicians, no matter where they are in the world.”

The AudiSoft application works over Wi-Fi on an oil platform, for example, then via satellite to control room technicians onshore.  The company’s “secret sauce” is its means of managing of the communications stream regardless of the latency associated with the different wireless and network communications, says Peterson. “The Audisoft video compression algorithms allow them to stream audio and video through a mesh network despite its inherent latency. We have not found another solution that can stream voice and video through a Wi-Fi mesh network. It looks and sounds great,” he adds.

The simplest applications can still be the most useful, however. The Yellow River Conservancy Commission in Zhengzhou, China uses Invensys ArchestrA System Platform (formerly Wonderware System Platform) to feed video and process data into a central database from points along 700 kilometers of the Yellow River.  Forty-three sluice stations and management sites along the way communicate with a centralized water reclamation center. “They’re using video as a visual validation of what the system says it’s doing,” Krajewski says.

Pain points
When it comes to integrating video with HMI/SCADA, the pain points can occur in three areas: field devices (cameras), network infrastructure and at the glass (in the logical and technical integration of video with the SCADA screens). DCS and SCADA system vendors sometimes do the system integration and optimization so users don’t have to. Other experts tackle just specific pieces.

Moxa (, for example, a California-based industrial Ethernet solutions company, addresses the bandwidth issues. Moxa provides centralized IP video management software or distributed IP video recorders, then it uses intelligent bandwidth management technologies to ensure video signals and input/output (I/O) transmissions can both operate smoothly over HMI/SCADA networks.

In general, video management algorithms and camera functionality has improved in the past few years. “These are not your casino or carpeted lobby type cameras,” says Emerson’s Peterson. “They can survive in Class 1 Division 1 or Class 1 Division 2 industrial environments.”

IPV reported that its R&D expenditures were up 65 percent in 2011, with major expansion in both software and hardware engineering. Bill Richards, IVC’s vice president of engineering said, “We have several patents pending on advanced technologies we have developed. These technologies will be incorporated into a new line of lightweight, portable pan-tilt-zoom and fixed explosion-proof cameras, and a line of very low-power, cooled cameras for remote monitoring in desert environments.”

Advice from the field
Automation World asked members of its LinkedIn group ( and other social media groups for their advice on what to watch out for when combining video feeds with SCADA systems.

Shaun Croman, site support manager at United Biscuits ( in Carlisle, United Kingdom says, “The main thing to watch out for is network bandwidth. This all depends on your switch/network layout. You may wish to have cameras on their own VLan [virtual local area network] especially if you’re providing a high level of control over existing Ethernet. If there are a lot of unmanaged hubs or switches, then you would look to limit the cameras broadcasting rate.”

Adam Harris, Asia Pacific Gas Manager for Honeywell Process Solutions near Melbourne, Australia explains what affects network bandwith: “Frames per second, picture resolution, digital compression and picture format, as well as the number of concurrent recordings or viewings. If the system has the capability to optimize these variables with good compression functionality, then you don’t need to consume much bandwidth at all. 
As an example, we have implemented a digital video system that now has more than six cameras integrated into the SCADA system over a microwave satellite connection to a remote unmanned platform. Video is integrated into operator HMI displays and into the alarms and events.” 

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Having the images on the same screen as the process variables and alarms helps operators focus on the problem at hand, says Fernando Granier, owner of Chilean system integrator Interlog ( “The most important aspect is reducing the time to locate the camera that is being used in the area. 
Real integration must be capable of synchronizing SCADA alarms and events with video recordings,” he says.

Screen design is key for success. Bill Hollifield, principal alarm management and HMI consultant for PAS (, Houston, Tex. discusses this in his book, “The High Performance HMI Handbook.” He says that, in many cases, an operator must monitor external CCTV screens showing flares or remote equipment.

“Often these screens are added in the easiest (cheapest) way possible, without much thought as to proper integration into the console or control room,” Hollifield says. A proper Process Overview display contains key process indicators, trends, the most important alarms, and other indications, and “it might be tempting to incorporate the video as a separate window or inset on this screen, because inexpensive hardware exists to merge multiple video sources onto a single screen in a windowed fashion. We would advise resisting this temptation, as the large screen’s space is very valuable for more important process monitoring.”

A better solution, he says, is an inexpensive flat-screen LCD display adjacent to the large screen, for the video use. Schneider’s Slider agrees: “It is still a SCADA system after all. It’s not a video monitoring tool. So you wouldn’t want to pull five or 10 live video feeds into SCADA. Specific camera software is optimized for creating that kind of video wall.” 

So, just because you can easily pull video into SCADA systems doesn’t mean you should. But, the ease of integration does mean useful video applications could be just a click away.