4 Ways Mobile Devices Have Transformed Remote Monitoring and Process Control

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Mobile devices have changed many things about the way we live and work today. They’ve changed the way we interact with each other, consume new media, purchase goods and services – they have become essential lifestyle accessories in a relatively short period of time. This is true not only for individuals, but entire industries have been impacted in a significant way.

With that in mind, here’s a look at 4 ways in which mobile devices are changing remote monitoring and process control.

Remote Device Monitoring

Mobile devices can be used as portable HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) to monitor remote equipment in the same way that standard HMIs are used. Field operators can quickly and easily assess the current conditions of a process or piece of equipment without being tied to a workstation.

This can be particularly useful for checking the system-wide effects of repairs or configurations that are made to field equipment, rather than manually visiting each piece of equipment to take measurements or waiting until someone in the control room lets him/her know about any potential problems or abnormalities.

There may also be situations in which a problem can be diagnosed and corrected without even visiting the site. By giving field operators and technicians the ability to access real-time data from wherever they may be, it may possible to eliminate any travel time or expense, freeing the operator or technician to work on other tasks. This may also eliminate the need for the technician to call back to the control room for updated information. This means the control room operator now has more time as well.

 

Viewing Documents and Other Media

In addition to monitoring and controlling processes and equipment, mobile devices can also serve as a sort of repository for useful information, providing a handy reference for materials that would ordinarily fill several books and would be nearly impossible to carry around over the course of a work day.

New workers can reference training materials like manuals, pictures and videos. Use tablets and smartphones to access safety guidelines or troubleshooting procedures. View schematics and diagrams.  Review incident reports or outstanding work orders.

If you think of mobile devices as nothing more than a portable library of relevant media, this use alone is enough to justify the investment.

 

Filling out Forms or Checklists

Operators and technicians frequently have a need to add information to a database regarding certain tasks performed – or simply as part of their day-to-day responsibilities. Whether performing inspections, completing service orders, updating personnel files, or any number of other tasks, mobile devices can save employees a tremendous amount of time by allowing them to perform these tasks from anywhere at any time.

 

Field technicians can update the control system instantaneously from the field – without having to return to the control room to fill out a form or deliver the results to a control room operator over the phone.  It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a technician in the field, several miles from any control room, can use a single device to read a procedural document, review a checklist, enter relevant information into a form, then check to confirm that the information was entered completely and accurately – without any unnecessary travel time or phone calls.

 

Collaborating

One of the most profound applications of mobile devices is as a tool for instant collaboration. By allowing continuous access to live process data, personnel from different departments can collaborate and make decisions with up-to-date and accurate information at their fingertips.

Mobile devices can be used to document best practices by uploading pictures or videos of particular procedures and allowing these items to be reviewed by workers at other locations in other facilities. Smartphones and tablets allow personnel to access rich media at any time as a means of conveying a certain set of information to relevant parties. Use displays of real time and historical data in meetings or presentations. Mobile devices allow off-site personnel to participate in real-time activities with on-site personnel. Many possibilities are introduced by mobile technology.

Excerpted from the whitepaper “The Benefits of Data Mobility”, downloaded at www.scada.com.

The History and Evolution of Data Visualization

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Data visualization is a very old idea – ancient in fact. Stretching back to the very beginning of human history, we recognize that actual observed data was used to generate everything from star charts to maps. These ancient visualizations were also very integral to the lives of our ancestors, as they were used to plan essential activities like planting food or hunting.

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Figure 1 – This Egyptian star chart was found in the tomb of Ramses VI (reign 1145 BC to 1137 BC). This Egyptian star chart was found in the tomb of Ramses VI (reign 1145 BC to 1137 BC)

Star charts were common and widespread throughout the ancient world, and like all historical data visualizations, used recorded data from the past to make predictions about the future. The same could be said about all of the wonderful, detailed maps that were created and then used to navigate our ancestors through periods of colonization in the past. Observed data was recorded and then used to direct future activity. This same notion carried through all the way to the modern world, when in the late 18th Century new types of historical data visualization were created by Joseph Priestly and William Playfair. Priestly is credited with creating the timeline chart, while Playfair invented numerous types of graphic displays to visually depict social and economic data: introducing in 1786 the line, area, and bar chart, then 15 years later the pie chart and circle graph.

These types of visualization are still very commonly used today.

dataviz.pngFigure 2 – This trade-balance time-series chart was published by William Playfair in 1786.

Again, diagrams of this sort used historical data to direct actions occurring presently or in the future.

Today – maybe more than ever – we still value charts, graphs and other forms of data visualization that allow us cognitively assess data in a way that appeals to our senses rather than our intellect.
Excerpted from the whitepaper “Real-Time Data Visualization Essentials”, downloaded at www.scada.com.

3 Things to Consider Before Choosing an IoT Platform for your Business

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Like many others, you may be considering ways to leverage new IoT technology to advance your business. Whether that means buying new sensors, servers, routers, or other devices – that depends on your goals and expectations. No matter what you envision, though, you are very likely to need some sort of software platform to enable it. Your software is what will transform your operational data into meaningful information, and your software will provide the interfaces your staff will use to interact with the information provided. Ideally, your software platform will provide many other benefits as well, including an ability to archive data, a way to automate certain tasks and enforce rules, and an ability to be customized and/or scaled to meet the needs of your growing business.

How do You Start Your Search?

Before selecting a software platform, it’s good to start with a clear idea of your needs, expectations, and goals. Then, when evaluating different platforms, see how they measure up against your checklist. This won’t necessarily help you choose the right platform, but it can certainly help you identify the wrong ones.

There are countless things to consider if you want to be rigorous to the point of decision paralysis, but if you’re eager to move forward, here are 3 important things to consider:

Think About Security

Every organization has a particular structure that must be maintained. Staff members need to have access to certain information to do their jobs and nothing more. This is not just a matter of security, but simple efficacy. There is no reason to burden someone’s mind with information that has no impact on their personal responsibilities within the organization.

It’s important that your software platform provides a means of managing user access. A maintenance technician logging in should not see the same information as a C-level executive. The technician does not need to see a graph depicting recent trends in discretionary spending any more than the executive needs to see a list of open work orders.

Of course, this should not be a matter of simply directing a certain user to a certain dashboard. The system should include the ability to completely lock down certain sets of information so that they cannot under any circumstances be accessed by another user.

Think About Your Existing Systems

Is this new system going to completely replace all your existing management systems? Or is it being installed as a supplement to what’s already in place? It may be possible to enhance and add value to your existing systems if done correctly. Will the new system communicate with your old systems and devices? Will it be read-only or bi-directional?

Unless you want to do a full replacement of your current systems, there will be many questions to ask about how all of these moving parts will fit together.

 

Think About the Future

Implementing your new IoT system will require some significant investment – both in resources and time. It’s important that the work done today doesn’t need to undone tomorrow when your work practices or business processes change. Ensure that the system you put in place today can be extended or modified as needed.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, it won’t be long before you’re thinking about expanding. Make sure your IoT software system doesn’t handcuff you.

Excerpted from the whitepaper “Choosing the Right IoT Platform”, downloaded at www.scada.com.