By John Fryer, senior director of industry solutions, Stratus Technologies
As the manufacturing climate races to explore the value of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), reliable data collection is increasingly important. Performance monitoring is essential to keeping industrial automation environments running efficiently and maintaining a business’s competitive edge. To address this need, manufacturing operations rely on modern Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Human Machine Interface (HMI) systems for a variety of functions that are critical to increasing efficiency. No longer are SCADA and HMI confined to control room applications, or specific machines on a plant floor, but they are increasingly deployed in edge applications in a whole variety of production environments. These new applications enable plant personnel to quickly and accurately make decisions regarding product quality, production rates, and even head off safety and regulatory and compliance issues before they become serious events. In other words, modern SCADA and HMI systems are essential tools that go way beyond traditional control loop applications. The data they collect, process and display is increasingly an important element for historians and emerging analytics and IIoT applications.
For this reason, when key SCADA and HMI systems fail, it can significantly impact a manufacturer’s bottom line. In fact, the failure of SCADA and HMI can functionally stop plant data collection, stranding teams without predictive maintenance data, knowledge of asset performance, and the ability to detect data abnormalities that signal alarming situations like equipment failure. Essentially, when SCADA and HMI servers fail, manufacturers fly blind. They also open themselves to additional risk of failing compliance audits through missing key data. And what’s more, for automation teams that operate in remote plant sites or without dedicated IT staff on site, the extra time needed to address SCADA and HMI downtime can be even more painful.
Fortunately, best practices are emerging to minimise downtime and complexity in SCADA and HMI environments.
Virtualisation, in which multiple applications are run on a single physical server, is perhaps the most valuable strategy for minimising SCADA and HMI failures. This practice essentially builds an abstraction layer that allows SCADA and HMI systems to run on parallel virtual machines (VMs) on the same hardware server. Automation teams running virtualised SCADA and HMI applications can greatly reduce costs by decreasing the amount of hardware devices required on the manufacturing floor. Additionally, virtualised servers benefit from downtime-free software patches, since they can create and test new VMs with updated patches, then use them to replace previous VMs.
Industrial automation teams running virtualised applications should be sure to select hardware that supports their needs and minimises risk of failure. By consolidating SCADA and HMI applications to a single hardware device, manufacturers make the availability and proper functioning of that device more important than ever. Fault-tolerant servers can help detect potential failures in real-time and ensure continuous availability of critical SCADA and HMI applications. These capabilities, once typically used for larger control room environments, are now making their way to the plant floor and other remote environments, with ruggedised, ease to deploy and maintain systems at the very edge of plant operations.
As the manufacturing industry embraces the tremendous potential of IIoT, the ability for SCADA and HMI systems to collect, monitor, and control industrial processes can unlock new automation possibilities. But like all technologies, SCADA and HMI must be reliable in order to prove useful for manufacturers. By virtualising SCADA and HMI on fault-tolerant systems, automation teams are unlocking new value by reducing hardware costs, preventing unplanned downtime and maximising data collection. This new level of efficiency will prove critical in realising the full potential of IIoT.