Smart Operators on the Go

How mobility, analytics and geo-awareness are being used to optimize industrial operations.

By Alicia Bowers Product marketing manager, intelligent monitoring and control, GE Digital
By Alicia Bowers Product marketing manager, intelligent monitoring and control, GE Digital

Traditionally, companies have made disparate data actionable by reacting to it on screens. An operator sees a list of alarms on the control room screens, identifies a critical alarm and reacts to it. In most cases, the control room is reactionary rather than predictive, which results in higher downtime and inefficiencies.

With mobile technologies and innovative software apps leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), companies can drive real-time operational intelligence—taking the data from underlying plant systems and pushing it to operators, engineers and managers in an intelligent way. Operators no longer have to be watching screens while sitting in a control room. The right operator can receive the right information at the right time and place.

It sounds idealistic, yet it is happening now with today’s mobile devices and industrial software. The same way mobile devices and real-time information have changed our personal lives, mobile devices and operational intelligence are changing our industrial world.

The right information

Mobility, however, doesn’t mean replicating your control room on a mobile device. Technology allows us to be much smarter about how we filter and serve information.

Now, you can drive the data to the device that makes the most sense and identify the particular data that would mean the most to the mobile user. In some cases, that could be all of the display tags in the SCADA system. In most cases, the ideal scenario would be to deliver the key performance indicators (KPIs) that make sense for an asset, such as voltage or temperature.

By selecting the right data, users can access information in a mobile fashion to make better sense of it instead of sifting through hundreds of different pieces of raw data about a particular pump or machine.

Companies can also use technology to funnel the data into KPIs and trends. The information is easier to access and understand. This is the key difference between simply mobilizing automation systems vs. driving toward operational intelligence. The value is not just mobility—it is taking the mass of raw data, turning it into better information and making it available as a KPI on a mobile device.

Geo-intelligence

Businesses can also now leverage the availability of geographical information to improve operations. Mobile devices have inherently built-in geo-awareness, which adds tremendous value not just in dispersed applications such as water/wastewater or power, but also for a small manufacturing facility. Whether the signal is coming from GPS or Wi-Fi, or being triangulated through cellphone networks, you can deliver the appropriate information to the user’s location.

Today’s geo-intelligence technology can take all of the underlying systems’ data and assign it to particular assets, put it in context, and then apply a geo-location to that asset. This means that now, when operators approach a piece of equipment, they don’t have to navigate through all of the plant’s assets to identify that particular equipment.

Because it is geo-aware, the mobile device knows that the equipment it is next to is, for example, Pump two in the South River Pump Station. With this knowledge, the device can automatically display the appropriate screen, highlighting data such as KPIs. In addition, the device knows which other assets are close to the operator, according to an adjustable radius or field of view, and can, for example, display all of the pumps located within, say, three miles.

In a manufacturing environment, geo signals are even more accurate using Wi-Fi than they are using GPS and cell technology. Operators can be in a noisy factory and use the geo-intelligence and navigation to have the right information at their fingertips based on their specific location.

Beyond automatic screen displays and easing asset navigation, the benefits of geo-intelligence multiply when applied to alarms and analytics.

Simply put, the technology available to industry today makes it possible to evolve industry from one of centralized control and masses of raw data held in disparate systems to one characterized by smart operators on the go, optimizing operations and improving efficiency as they go about their day-to-day duties.

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