Utility Makes Use of Flexible Cloud-Based SCADA System

A utility was able to monitor difficult-to-access assets with the same type of capabilities as its traditional SCADA system, but without the capital outlay. They could get it ramped up quickly as well.

Stephen Coward, Sage Automation
Stephen Coward, Sage Automation

How can you obtain and manage data without the high costs of building and hosting a traditional supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system? With nearly everything else going into a cloud-based service, we asked ourselves, “Why not SCADA?”

Working 25 years in wide-area SCADA and control systems has taught me that there’s always a new problem and always a new way to solve it—no matter the industry. The past five years have been no exception. Industry 4.0 enablers like cloud platforms and advanced data analytics and visualization are giving the industrial sector new capabilities for less capital expenditure.

One of our utility clients was able to make a tangible gain through such an approach.

Challenge: The utility faced the same challenge as its competitors: It wanted to monitor some of its below-ground and low-lying assets to assist in providing a higher level of service to its customers. Like many other utilities around the world, they have thousands of below-ground assets that are difficult to access and costly to monitor.

Complexity: Because these assets typically don’t have mains power, the solution required a battery-operated monitoring system with a sleep-based remote terminal unit (RTU) data logger. But the client’s IT infrastructure and monitoring system was unable to support the devices, so an interim solution was needed fast.

Solution: Stratus, a cloud-based SCADA service, provided the answer. We purpose-built Stratus using ClearSCADA on the cloud platform Amazon Web Services (AWS). Users could securely log in via an Internet browser to monitor, respond to alarms, and extract data for reporting.

Outcome and benefits

This solution gave the client access to a cloud-based SCADA with a similar user experience to its existing system, without the capital infrastructure outlay.

They were able to achieve remote monitoring of more than 70 below-ground and low-lying assets in a matter of months. One of the sites had hardware supplied, configured and installed within 24 hours, illustrating how quickly this cloud-based infrastructure could be used.

Opportunity for industry

Besides Stratus being a SCADA system, it has become a very handy tool to collect data from remote sites from a diagnostics perspective, such as plant equipment or in the ground. Stratus has allowed us to demonstrate true end-to-end solutions instead of just presenting ideas.

The system is being sought out because it allows monitoring and all the functionality of a SCADA interface without the capital outlay; this is true Internet of Things (IoT) in practice.

Other usage examples

  • SCADA monitoring pre-endgame SCADA integration: We have a civil client that has built a wet well for a water utility that is live in the perspective of sewerage, but it has not been handed over and is not connected to the utility’s own SCADA system. We have rented a battery-operated RTU data logger with some float switches that communicates to Stratus. This offering has allowed our client to monitor the site’s operation and report potential spills via email and SMS.
  • Live monitoring of radio subsystem performance: We are monitoring freeway on-ramp signals’ radio performance. Concerns of various on-ramp signal displays turning off pointed to possible poor radio performance or signal interference. Because these radios are isolated from the client-owned SCADA system, Stratus was used to collect the radios’ diagnostic data in real time.

Key lesson for others looking at leveraging cloud and IoT

Don’t be afraid to consider different ways to achieve traditional goals. Cloud solutions are secure and quick to set up, and they offer a quick return. If you consider what you are trying to achieve and apply the right approach and execution, then you can achieve almost any goal.

Stephen Coward is a senior project manager at Sage Automation, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Sage, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

 

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