Choosing the Right Maintenance Strategy

How do you choose the right maintenance strategy for your organization? Someone from the outside looking in might think the notion of choosing a maintenance strategy is as simple as choosing between ‘repair it’ or ‘replace it’, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. Beyond the surface, though, there are a number of different considerations that can have a long-term impact on a company’s bottom line and ultimate viability. Particularly when working with numerous or expensive essential assets that are subject to the continual wear-and-tear and eventual breakdown that plagues all machines, maintenance costs can take enormous bites out of revenue.

Fortunately, numerous maintenance strategies have evolved over the years, and technology allows us to apply new techniques using new models that were previously unheard of. Let’s review some of the more popular maintenance strategies:

Reactive Maintenance
This is the simplest strategy, sometimes referred to as ‘breakdown maintenance’. The premise is simple: Use something until it can no longer be used. Then, do what needs to be to repair it and get it back in action. If it can’t be repaired, replace it. There are some benefits when compared to other strategies, such as lower initial costs and reduced staff, as well as eliminating the need to plan. Of course, these benefits are usually negated in the long term by unplanned downtime, shortened life expectancy of assets, and a complete inability to predict breakdowns and maintenance needs. The only real viable reason for employing this strategy is an inability to afford the initial costs of any other strategy.

Preventative Maintenance
Preventative maintenance is performed while an asset is still operational in order to decrease the likelihood of failure. In this strategy, maintenance is performed according to a particular time or usage schedule. For instance, regular maintenance will be performed when this particular machine reaches 5,000 hours of uptime since the last maintenance. Predictive maintenance will typically keep equipment operating with greater efficiency and extend the lifetime of the asset compared to reactive maintenance, while also preventing unnecessary downtime. It does, however, require greater planning and man-power. Preventative maintenance is not a good choice for assets like circuit boards that can fail randomly regardless of maintenance. It is also not ideal for assets that do not serve a critical function and will not cause downtime in the event of a failure.

 

Predictive Maintenance
The purpose of predictive maintenance is to predict an imminent failure and perform maintenance before it occurs. This strategy requires some specific condition monitoring and will typically have a higher upfront cost due to the need to add sensors or other hardware, and will also require skilled personnel capable of anticipating failures based on the data points being monitored. Benefits include: the ability to prevent unnecessary downtime, and minimal time spent performing maintenance as it is only done when failure is imminent. Predictive maintenance is usually not a good option for assets that do not serve a critical function, or assets that do not have a predictable failure mode.

Condition-Based Maintenance
Condition-based maintenance is similar to predictive maintenance in that it involves continually monitoring specific conditions to determine when maintenance should be performed. Typically, however, condition-based maintenance is not just performed to prevent failure, but also to ensure optimum efficiency, which can not only improve productivity but extend the life of the asset as well. Because condition monitoring equipment and expertise can be expensive, initial costs can be quite high – prohibitive in some cases. In the long term, however, condition-based maintenance may be the most cost-effective strategy for ensuring optimal productivity and extended asset lifecycles. Condition-based maintenance is usually not a good choice for non-critical assets or older assets that may be difficult to retrofit with sensors.

When choosing a maintenance strategy, think about your goals: both long-term and short-term. Determine which of your assets are critical and which are not. Calculate the cost of downtime (per minute, per hour, etc.). Take into account whatever data may already be available for you to monitor. Determine the cost and viability of adding sensors to monitor things like temperature, vibration, electric currents, subsurface defects (ultrasonic sensing), or vacuum leaks (acoustic sensing). Estimate the costs of maintenance personnel in different scenarios. Estimate the difference in costs between each of the different strategies.

You may determine that a condition-based maintenance program would provide the greatest value, but you lack the resources to implement it right away. Can you deploy a simple predictive maintenance program in the meantime, while positioning yourself to make the leap to CBM in the future?

There is not going to be any one-size-fits-all “best” strategy, and not much drains a bank account faster than over-maintaining your equipment (yes, there is such a thing). Consider your circumstances and your goals, and choose wisely. It’s one of the most important business decisions you will make.

*B-Scada software provides data analysis, task automation, and real-time visualization for enterprises looking to implement a CBM program. Learn more at www.scada.com.

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3 Reasons Modern Farmers Are Adopting IoT Technology at an Astounding Rate

It seems like everything today is touched in some way by the Internet of Things. It is changing the way goods are produced, the way they are marketed, and the way they are consumed. A great deal of the IoT conversation has revolved around transformation in industries like manufacturing, petrochemical, and medicine, but one industry that has already seen widespread adoption of IoT technology is often overlooked: agriculture.

Of course, many of us are very familiar with some of the efforts that have been made to optimize food production. As populations continue to grow, there has been a serious and sustained drive to increase the crop yield from our available arable land. Some of these efforts have not been particularly popular with consumers (i.e. pesticides, GMOs).

With the advent of new technology and the Internet of Things, farmers are finding new ways to improve their yields. Fortunately for us, these new ways are decidedly less disturbing than toxic chemicals and genetic manipulation. Using sensors and networked communication, farmers are discovering ways to optimize already-known best practices to increase yield and reduce resource consumption.

If it’s surprising that the agricultural industry would be technological innovators, it’s worth considering how agriculture is in many ways an ideal testbed for new technology.

There are a few good reasons for this:

1. Ease of Deployment

Unlike in other industries, deploying sensors and other connected devices on a farm can be relatively easy and inexpensive. In a heavy industrial environment like a factory or refinery, new technology must replace old technology that is thoroughly embedded in the production infrastructure. There are concerns about downtime and lost revenue, as well as concerns about finding the right products or group of products to integrate into their existing technological ecosystem. On a typical farm, there is no need for downtime, and usually no concern for any existing technology that may be incompatible. Inexpensive sensors placed in various parts of a cultivated field can quickly yield very useful actionable data without disrupting a single process.

2. Instant Value

Another reason that agriculture has provided such a fertile testbed for IoT technology is the speed with value and ROI can be realized. Pre-existing metrics of precision agriculture can be applied more easily, maximizing the already-known benefits of established practices (knowing what types of crops to plant when, knowing when and how much to water, etc.). Farmers have also had success safely and naturally controlling pests through the intelligent release of pheremones. Of course, there is the obvious and very tangible benefit of decreased resource consumption and increased yield. A modest investment can yield measurable results within a single season.

3. Continual value

In agricultural IoT deployments, the same practices that provide instant value will continue to provide value for as long as they are employed. Conservation of water and waste reduction provide repeated value, as well as the increased yield brought on by precision farming. There are also opportunities to improve the equipment that farmers use every day. A connected combine or tractor can record useful information about its operation and maintenance. It can also allow for certain processes to be optimized and automated.

There are some real concerns about our ability to feed our ever-growing population in the future. While controversial technologies like genetically-modified-organisms have helped to increase food production, these techniques are not exactly popular with the general public, several of whom have voiced concerns about the long-term impact of a genetically-modified diet.

The good news is that similar increases in food production are possible without the need to modify the food; we simply have to modify the processes used to produce it. And it’s not just about food production. Plants are also used for biofuels and as raw materials in manufacturing. By increasing yield and reducing resource consumption, growers are also having a positive impact on numerous other industries.

For instance, a Colorado-based company called Algae Lab Systems is helping algae farmers improve their output by introducing sensors to measure environmental factors like temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen in their photobioreactors and algae ponds. Algae growers are now able to continuously monitor their crops from any location, also allowing for larger and geographically dispersed operations.

A case study detailing Algae Lab Systems provides some insight into how they are transforming the algae farming industry, and aquaculture in general.

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To Each His Own: Creating Custom Dashboards for Operators and Analysts

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It’s always very annoying when I try to perform what seems like it would be fairly routine maintenance on a home appliance or worse – my car – only to find out that this seemingly simple thing I would like to do is actually quite difficult with the tools at my disposal. A little bit of research usually reveals that it actually is quite simple; I just have to buy this proprietary tool from the manufacturer for what seems like a ridiculous price, and then I can proceed.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the manufacturer doesn’t want to make it easy for end users to service their product. They want you to buy a new one, or at the very least buy this overpriced tool from them so they can scrape every morsel of profit afforded by their built-in obsolescence.

It really makes me appreciate the simplicity and widespread application of some of our more traditional tools. Take a hammer, for instance. If you need to drive a nail into wood, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big nail, a little nail, a long nail, or a short nail. It doesn’t matter who manufactured it or when. All that matters is that it’s a nail. Just get a hammer; you’ll be fine.

This got me thinking. What if we had a hammer for every type of nail available? What if each hammer was perfectly sized, shaped, weighted and balanced for each particular nail? And what if that perfect hammer was always available to you every time you needed it. This isn’t realistic, obviously, but it reminds me of some of the things I hear from our customers.

One of the great benefits cited by our end users is the ability to create custom dashboards for the different work responsibilities in their organizations. The same system is used to create maintenance dashboards for technicians, control panels for operators, system overviews for managers, reports for analysts, and even special dashboards for contractors and vendors. By providing every member of the team with a real-time view of exactly the information they need to do their jobs and nothing more, each person is empowered to do their jobs with the utmost efficiency – improving the speed and accuracy of decision-making as well as increasing the capacity for planning.

In the past, so much of our data visualization was tied to the device from which the data was drawn. If you wanted to know something about a particular machine, you had to look at the same picture as everyone else, regardless of what you needed to see.

Some modern software platforms like B-Scada’s Status products eliminate this need to tie visualizations to the device from which the data is drawn. It is now possible to visualize data from multiple devices at multiple locations through the same interface. This allows for a new concept in user interface design: rather than displaying all available information about this particular thing, you can now display all information relevant to a particular task or set of tasks.

It’s not quite “a hammer for every nail”; it’s more like a complete tool set tailored to every job, containing exactly the tools you need and nothing more. It’s really been a transformative development for many organizations.

B-Scada recently released a case study detailing how one prominent North American electric utility used Status to create a system of customized views for their operators, managers, and analysts, providing specific insights into the real-time status of their generation resources:

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The Four Biggest Challenges to Enterprise IoT Implementation

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After endless cycles of hype and hyperbole, it seems most business executives are still excited about the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, a recent survey of 200 IT and business leaders conducted by TEKSystems ® and released in January 2016 (http://www.teksystems.com/resources/pressroom/2016/state-of-the-internet-of-things?&year=2016) determined that 22% of the organizations surveyed have already realized significant benefits from their early IoT initiatives. Additionally, a full 55% expect a high level of impact from IoT initiatives over the next 5 years. Conversely, only 2% predicted no impact at all.

Respondents also cited the key areas in which they expect to see some of the transformational benefits of their IoT efforts, including creating a better user and customer experience (64%), sparking innovation (56%), creating new and more efficient work practices and business processes, (52%) and creating revenue streams through new products and services (50%).

The IoT is Expected to Impact Organizations in Numerous WaysThe IoT is Expected to Impact Organizations in Numerous Ways

So, with the early returns indicating there are in fact real, measurable benefits to be won in the IoT, and the majority of executives expect these benefits to be substantial, why are some organizations still reluctant to move forward with their own IoT initiatives?

As could be expected, security is the biggest concern, cited by approximately half of respondents.

Increased exposure of data/information security – 50%

With the World Wide Web as an example, people today are well aware of the dangers inherent in transmitting data between nodes on a network. With many of these organizations working with key proprietary operational data that could prove advantageous to a competitor if exposed, the concern is very understandable.

 

ROI/making the business case – 43%

This is a classic example of not knowing what you don’t know. Without an established example of how similar initiatives have impacted your organization in the past – or even how similarly sized and structured organizations have been impacted – it can be very difficult to demonstrate in a tangible way exactly how these efforts will impact the bottom line. Without being able to make the business case, it will be difficult for executives to sign off any new initiatives. This is likely why larger organizations ($5+ billion in annual revenue) are much more likely to have already implemented IoT initiatives, while smaller organizations are still in the planning phase.

 

Interoperability with current infrastructure/systems – 37%

Nobody likes to start over, and many of the executives surveyed are dealing with organizations who have made enormous investments in the technology they are currently using. The notion of a “rip and replace” type of implementation is not very appealing. The cost is not only related to the downtime incurred in these cases, but the wasted cost associated with the expensive equipment and software systems that are being cast aside. In most cases, to gain any traction at all a proposed IoT initiative will have to work with the systems that are already in place – not replace them.

Finding the right staff/skill sets for IoT strategy and implementation – 33%

With the IoT still being a fairly young concept, many organizations are concerned that they lack the technical expertise needed to properly plan and implement an IoT initiative. There are many discussions taking place about how much can be handled by internal staff and how much may need to be out-sourced. Without confidence in their internal capabilities, it is also difficult to know whether or not they even have a valid strategy or understanding of the possibilities. Again, this is a case where larger organizations with larger pools of talent have an advantage.

The full results break down like this:

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Many Organizations are Hesitant to Invest Much in IoT Initiatives at this Stage

 

There are some valid concerns, and not all of them lend themselves to simple solutions. In truth, many of the solutions will vary from one organization to the next. However, in many cases the solutions could be as simple as just choosing the right software platform. Finding a platform that eases your concerns about interoperability can also help ease your concerns about whether or not your staff can handle the change, as there will be no need to replace equipment. Likewise, a platform that can be integrated seamlessly into your current operations to help improve efficiency and implement optimization strategies will also make it much easier to demonstrate ROI.

B-Scada has released a new whitepaper on choosing the right IoT platform for your project. If you’re thinking about taking that leap into the IoT, it’s well worth the read.

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Oh, The Possibilities … When the IoT Grows Up

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The Internet of Things is something like a gangly, acne-covered adolescent with knobby knees and a clumsy gait.
We can see the bright eyes, the long legs and strong hands, and we know it is chock full of “potential”, but it sure is awkward right now.

Notwithstanding all of this awkwardness, however, this clumsy youngster has already made a tremendous difference in the world. The very thought of its possibilities has sent a tremor to the core of our civilization, touching every aspect of our material and intellectual lives. Just consider the fact that the sentence you just read – as blustery and over-the-top as it may seem – is not even inaccurate. Sure, a person can still live a simple life without all of the trappings of modern technology or communication media (I assume?), living only from sustenance won by his or her bare hands directly from the natural world, never interacting with another living soul. I suppose this is possible, and maybe this person could make a strong case that his/her life remains untouched in any way by the Internet of Things. This person, however, will not be reading this and need not be a part of the conversation.

So, to reiterate: the Internet of Things – or at least the thought of it – is influencing every component of our world today. This is because it is not simply an evolution of technology; it the sort of technological/philosophical movement that transforms civilizations. On the order of agriculture, kingship, or industrialization.

Yes, it is that significant.

That is to say, the technological/ philosophical movement started by the Internet itself is that significant. After all, the words, images, videos, and applications that inhabit the regular old Internet are themselves ‘things’. The concept behind what we call the Internet of Things is simply the dawning of the realization that the Internet is not just about people communicating with people; it’s about everything communicating with everything.

Consider what we already see happening to:

 

Cities

In Oskarshamm, Sweden smart building technology has helped reduce the city’s power consumption by 350 MWh, reducing their carbon footprint by 80 tons of CO2. Houston, Texas has used new sensing technology to retrofit 40 municipal buildings for energy efficiency, delivering $3 million in yearly energy and water savings.

Entire cities are changing the way they govern their populations, the way they distribute resources, the way they police themselves. Cities are changing the way they transport goods and people, the way they measure and control their impact on their environments. Everything that defines what a city is and does is being transformed by not just new technologies, but the new ideas inspired the Internet of Things.

 

Agriculture

One of the foundational elements of civilization, a technological/philosophical movement that predates history itself, is being profoundly influenced by the Internet of Things. Farmers large and small are using networked data to maximize the already-known benefits of established practices (knowing what types of crops to plant when, knowing when and how much to water, etc.). Farmers have also had success safely and naturally controlling pests through the intelligent release of pheromones. Decreased resource consumption and increased yield are very tangible benefits that have the potential to solve some very serious problems related to food shortages and ever-increasing populations, while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of farming and bringing the family-owned farm back into the global marketplace.

 

Industry

This is the realm of autonomous factories and self-healing machines. Through the convergent development of advanced computing power, sophisticated network technology, sensors, robotics, and analytic techniques, we are seeing the integration of industrial systems both vertically and horizontally. Machines to Machine communication, predictive maintenance, and continuous improvement programs are completely reinventing manufacturing.

Companies like Honda and ABB are using IoT technology to consolidate and organize their manufacturing and maintenance operations through systems of real-time communication and process automation. Companies are using advanced analytics to discover unknown opportunities for improved efficiency. Consider how Kennametal reduced their production cycle time by as much as %40 by simple modifications to their processes like changing the angle of a cut in a particular machining operation.

Real-time consumer data is helping companies be more responsive to the needs and expectations of their customers, and eliminating gaps between supply and demand. Predictive analysis is helping to reduce maintenance costs and incrementally improve production processes through systems of continual improvement. A unique quality of the impact the Internet of Things is having on Industry is its benefits extend beyond the marketplace. Whereas previously profit increases were sought by increasing the scale or speed of production, the new paradigm focuses on increasing efficiency, reducing resource consumption and eliminating waste. The new industrial landscape of smart, connected devices will incidentally lead to a cleaner, safer, more sustainable planet, which leads to the next item…

 

Environment

It is certainly possible to see new technologies as a double-edged sword in this arena. Historically, what humankind has deemed to be good for itself has quite often seemed to be detrimental to our environment. As the Internet of Things makes it easier for us feed and accommodate larger populations, and populations continue to grow, it is not difficult to see how this could negatively impact the environment. An interesting quality of the philosophical thrust behind most Internet of Things initiatives, though, is the tendency toward reduction and conservation.  Use fewer resources. Create less waste. Do as much as possible with what is available to us. In a way that may be unprecedented, this worldwide technological evolution may actually improve our relationship with the natural world.

 

Yes, the Internet of Things is a gangly, awkward, stumbling bunch of possibilities right now, but it is already changing our world. And while we may not have reached that tipping point yet – the point where what is possible becomes what is necessary, and a movement truly transforms our civilization – I think most of us can feel the axis tilting.

There will inevitably come a time when what is happening becomes what has happened, and we will only recognize the revolutionary quality of it when we look back at it in retrospect. In the case of the Internet of Things, I think we have reason to be optimistic.

(Originally published on the B-Scada, Inc. blog.)

3 Keys to Effective Real-Time Data Visualization

Everybody appreciates the value of a good picture. Each one says a thousand words, after all, or so the saying goes. If we really dig in to this metaphor, we’d probably admit that some pictures say substantially more than that – while others probably come in well under a dozen (just look at a random Facebook wall for some examples).

Ours has become a very visual culture, and one occupying a place in time defined by an overwhelming abundance of information all around us. Considering these two facts, it is not at all surprising that we see such an increased interest in data visualization – that is to say the process of placing a particular, specific set of data points in a highly visual context that allows it to be quickly consumed and analyzed.

It’s not a new concept; data has been visualized in pictures for centuries. A map is a type of data visualization, for instance, as are the many charts and graphs that have been used since the end of the 18th Century. What is new is the massive quantity of data available to nearly everyone, and the wide array of tools that can be used to create compelling visualizations. Think about the cool infographic you saw the other day. Was it created painstakingly over several days of carefully reviewing ethnographic data compiled by a dogged scientist over the course of his career? Maybe, but probably not. It was more likely created by some marketing department somewhere (not that there’s anything wrong with that) using somebody else’s data and somebody else’s visualization tools.

The purpose of this post, though, is not to discuss the merits of data visualization in general, but rather the specific subset of data visualization that deals with real-time data. This is a completely separate species of data visualization and should be treated as such.

Real-time data visualization refers to visualization of data that is continuously updated as new data is generated by connected devices or people. This is the type of data that is used to make real-time decisions and, when done correctly, can truly transform business processes.

There are a number of important factors to consider when attempting to visualize data in real time, but we will focus on three simple and obvious keys: clarity, consistency, and feedback.

 

Clarity

Real-Time graphics should emphasize pertinent information and use design principles that promote ease-of-use and accessibility above aesthetics. Things like size, color and brightness can be used to distinguish primary details from secondary and tertiary details. Special graphics can be created to emphasize different information under different conditions (i.e. a special set of graphics to be used when a certain alarm is triggered).

 

Hierarchical Data
Hierarchical Data Makes its Relevance Obvious

Clear visualizations provide actionable information at a glance, and clearly show the current process state and conditions. Alarms and indicators of abnormal conditions are prominent and impossible to ignore.

Clarity encompasses both content and context.

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Contextual Controls Allow You to Assess Current Conditions at a Glance

 

Consistency

Consistent visualizations are standardized and consistently formatted. Interaction requires a minimum of keystrokes or pointer manipulations.

Shapes, colors, and layouts should be used consistently through all screens. If the color red is used in one place to designate an abnormally high value on one screen, that same color red should be used to indicate all abnormally high values of the same type on all screens. If navigation buttons are on the left side of one screen, they should be on the left side of all screens. A consistent visualization system is arranged in a logical, hierarchical manner, allowing operators to visualize both a general overview of the system as well as more detailed information on different components as needed. Navigation and interaction of any type should be as easy and intuitive as possible.

Consistency is closely related to clarity.

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Color is a Great Way to Distinguish One Property from Another, As Long As it Is Consistently Applied.

 

Feedback

An operator should be fully confident that the choices they make are having the desired effect. Screens should be designed in a way that provides information, putting relevant data in the proper context. Also, important actions that carry significant consequences should have confirmation mechanisms to ensure that they are not activated inadvertently.

Controls will function consistently in all situations. If something is not working as it should, that fact should be immediately obvious and undeniable. In a well-designed system, design principles are employed to reduce user fatigue.

There are obviously many other important factors to consider when real developing a real-time visualization system. Anyone who wants to dig deeper is encouraged to read this free whitepaper on the subject:

Click here to read it

3 Reasons You Should Consider Giving Your Process Operators Mobile Devices

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That’s right. It’s time to own up to the fact that the majority of us are using phones and tablets to do business everyday. We buy, sell, trade, learn, teach, and all manner of horrible and wonderful things that we have always done (no, not everyone does horrible things, but don’t act like the things you do are always so wonderful either) all with the aid of portable devices that allow us to move freely about our lives without being tethered to a desk chair.

Why, then, is it so difficult for some people to recognize that our industrial process operators and technicians – who are so often stuck behind a stationary HMI or calling from the field to speak with someone who is – would be far better equipped to do their jobs if only they were afforded the same conveniences they afford themselves in their lives outside of work.

I know there are concerns about security – about opening some digital wormhole through which all sorts of nefarious activity could be invited. There are concerns about ill-intentioned deviants having potential access to sensitive process data – which is not only proprietary, but often essential to our infrastrucure – as well there should be. But it’s not like these potential problems didn’t exist before mobile devices, and while some concerns are certainly valid, mobile devices provide a number of key benefits and opportunities that cannot be ignored:

 

  • For Remote Management of Disparate Assets
    This one seems pretty obvious, but imagine the amount of time that could be saved by not having to manually inspect field equipment or call back to the control station every time there is a simple question.
  • For Constant Access to a Portable Media Viewer
    How can you ensure that operators and techs always have access to the latest work masters, training videos, etc.? Upload or edit a document and make your changes instantly available to all relevant perties – regradless of where they are or what they’re doing.
  • For Instant access to Forms and Form Data
    Create Purchase Orders or close Work Requests from anywhere. Assign new owners or upload a picture you just snapped and attach it to a Job. The possibilities are nearly unlimited.

 

Sure, there are only three benfits listed here, but without much thought I’m sure you could think of a few more. Let me know in the comments below.

And for some additional food for for thought, check out this white paper on “The Benefits of Mobile HMIs” and tell me I’m not absolutely right about this:

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What Should We Expect From the ‘Smart Cities’ of Tomorrow?

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There are an awful lot of ‘smart’ things these days. Even many things that were previously ‘dumb’ are becoming ‘smart’ through the addition of sensors and decision logic. From street lamps to subways and everything in between, the very towns and cities we inhabit are joining the trend.

As cities like Seoul and Vienna (among many) are using technology to revamp their communication infrastructure and resource distribution, we all have an opportunity to learn some things about what we can expect when the ‘smart’ label gets slapped onto the towns and cities we call home.

So, what makes a city smart?

Unfortunately, the term ‘smart’ applies only to the city itself and not its citizens. A global tour of the world’s smartest cities is not likely to be any more personally enlightening than a stroll through any of our regular old ‘dumb’ cities. However, this global tour would likely reveal some of the common traits that these smart cities share, and shed some light on how and where resources are being applied to make these cities smarter.

A city is generally considered smart when it distinguishes itself from other cities in terms of its technology, urban planning, environment, and/or overall management.

Smart cities are expected to be cleaner, safer, and more efficient than their dumb brethren. This is accomplished primarily through the application of new technologies, but also frequently requires entirely new models for organization and management.

Some of the more prominent features of today’s smart cities include:

  • Green Buildings: Smart cities tend to erect new buildings (or enforce laws requiring others to erect buildings) that have the least possible environmental impact – both during construction and operation. Older buildings can be retrofit with more efficient appliances and sensors to help control lighting and temperature.
  • Smart Mobility and Transport: Bike-sharing programs, smart traffic lights, sensor-based parking availability detection, and real-time communication about public transportation are some of the hallmarks of a smart city.
  • More Efficient Utilities: In addition to employing alternative energy sources like solar and wind, smart cities are frequently more inclined to employ smart grid technology and use sensors to manage the distribution of water and reduce waste.
  • More Engaged Citizens: Another common trait of smart cities is a pronounced effort to be more responsive to the needs of their human resources. Whether through smart street lights, cleaner streets, social media involvement, digital signage, and many other initiatives, smart cities are putting more effort into involving citizens in the city’s governance.

Of course, these are just a few of the many ways that cities are remaking themselves as smart cities. In some cases – in cities like Santiago and Tokyo – entire smart communities are being developed according to all of these principles and more.

Since a real economic incentive can be attached to the idea of reduced waste and greater energy efficiency, it is very likely that this trend will continue well into the 21st century, until when eventually the smart cities of today will be referred to as simply “cities”.
Virtualville, USA

Tomorrow’s smart cities are going to require new tools to consolidate, organize, and analyze the voluminous data coming in from the city’s systems. New organizational models must be established and new technology must be deployed.

Remote monitoring and management systems like the one modeled in B-Scada’s Virtualville will become indispensable tools to city administrators, allowing management personnel a real-time view into any of the city’s systems from anywhere at any time. It also provides a means of automating certain processes according to particular rules.

To learn more about B-Scada’s Smart City platform, visit: http://votplatform.com.

How To Improve Any Business Process

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If you are responsible for managing a business or organization of any type, you have undoubtedly sought out opportunities to make things run more smoothly and efficiently. It’s only natural. This means that responsible owners and managers are continually looking for opportunites to optimize their business processes.

How about some free advice?

First of all, let’s be clear about what it is we’re referring to when we use the term ‘business process’. In short, a business process is defined as a collection of linked tasks which can find their end in the delivery of a service or product to a client. It has also been defined as a set of activities and tasks that – once completed – will accomplish an organizational goal.

Any business (regardless of how poorly it may be run) employs some type of business process. Some are clearly better than others.

What we refer to as Business Process Management (BPM) can be defined as the set of techniques employed to map the flow of information and communication between various business assets and departments, identify opportunities for improvement, and establish and enforce rules to optimize the process moving forward. These techniques can (and should) be employed continually.

A BPM system can provide any company with several measurable benefits:

  • The ability to identify otherwise unknown inefficiencies
  • Reduced downtime and cost associated with wasted time and material
  • The ability to connect processes over multiple facilities and or operations
  • Automation of repeated and/or predictable tasks
  • Establishment of a program for continual improvement

These benefits are very attainable. Provided you use the right tools and follow a simple procedure, anyone can realize the improved efficiency and reduced waste that BPM systems provide. And what is the correct procedure? In very simple terms:

  1. Analyze Current Processes
    Create a business process map to paint a clear picture of the current flow of information between different business assets. Use this map to uncover inefficiencies and establish a preferred methodology.
  2. Establish and Enforce New Rules
    Define rules for how you would like information to flow, and create workflow tasks to automate tasks or send automatic notifications to people that need to be involved in enforcing the new rules.
  3. Implement, Train, Rinse and Repeat
    Once the new process is clearly defined and automated, ensure that all parties are fully trained and equipped to adhere to these new rules moving forward. You can create custom dashboards to track real-time data, create a centralized knowledge base that is shared and continually updated, and use automated real-time notifications to be sure that everyone is always aware of the current state of the process. Finally, ensure that your new process is fully repeatable and scalable to allow for continual evaluation and improvement.

Seems pretty simple, right? It can be when you combine your innate understanding of your business process with the right tools.

 

**Learn more about some of the data acquisition and visualization technology the empowers Business Process Management at http://scada.com

Is That SCADA or IoT?

Clearly, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and IoT (Internet of Things) are very different things, right? We typically don’t create new terms to describe things for which we already have terms, so yes. They are different, but maybe not as far removed from one another as we may think. As revolutionary as the end results may be, the truth is that the IoT is just a new name for a bunch of old ideas. In fact, in some ways the IoT is really just a natural extension and evolution of SCADA. It is SCADA that has burst free from its industrial trappings to embrace entire cities, reaching out over our existing internet infrastructure to spread like a skin over the surface of our planet, bringing people, objects, and systems into an intelligent network of real-time communication and control.

Not entirely unlike a SCADA system – which can include PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers), HMI (Human Machine Interface) screens, database servers, large amounts of cables and wires, and some sort of software to bring all of these things together, an IoT system is also composed of several different technologies working together. That is to say you can’t just walk in to the electronics section of your local department store, locate the box labelled “IoT” and carry it up to the counter to check out.

It also means that your IoT solution may not resemble your neighbor’s IoT solution. It may be composed of different parts performing different tasks. There is no such a thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ IoT solution. There are, however, some common characteristics that IoT solutions will share:

  • Data Access
    It’s obvious, but there has to be a way to get to the data we want to work with (i.e. sensors).
  • Communication
    We have to get the data from where it is to where we are using it – preferably along with the data from our other ‘things’.
  • Data Manipulation
    We have to turn that raw data into useful information. Typically, this means it will have to be manipulated in some way. This can be as simple as placing it in the right context or as complex as running it through a sophisticated algorithm.
  • Visualization
    Once we have accessed, shared, and manipulated our data, we have to make it available to the people who will use it. Even if it’s just going from one machine to another (M2M) to update a status or trigger some activity, we still need some kind of window into the process in order to make corrections or to ensure proper operation.

There could be any number of other elements to your IoT system – alarm notifications, workflow, etc. – but these four components are essential and will be recognized from one IoT system to the next. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), these are technologies that all cut their teeth in the world of SCADA.

The IoT is the Next Generation of SCADA

Again, In many ways the IoT is a natural extension and evolution of SCADA. It is SCADA that has grown beyond industry and seeped into our daily lives. The IoT is essentially SCADA plus the new technology that has evolved since SCADA was first devised. Just like how in the late 18th Century, steam power put a hook in all other industrial technology and pulled it forward into a new era, electric power did the same thing a century later. Several decades later, with the advent of microchips and computer technology, once again industry was swept forward into a new era by the gravity of a single revolutionary technology. As we sit here today, well aware of the revolutionary power of what we call the ‘internet’, we are now feeling that gravity once again pulling us toward a new era.