Maintenance issues and major weather events can happen anywhere and at any time, and time is critical to avoiding a costly breakdown. For Allen Rogers, principal at SKM Engineering in Utah, simply traveling to a site to diagnose a problem can take hours.
“Being in a rural area, the distance between sites and clients can be very large,” Rogers says. “If we can’t remotely access items, we may spend hours getting to an issue that was rather trivial.” With remote access capabilities, Rogers says his team can quickly diagnose issues from anywhere to determine if traveling to the site is required.
Remote access via modern SCADA systems has revolutionized the way utilities operate, allowing more efficiency and flexibility, and reducing maintenance time and operating costs. While early remote access technology only allowed operators to remotely view data, web-based SCADA allows users to view real-time data and to control their systems on any networked computer, tablet or smartphone through a secure VPN or external router. This means utilities can receive alarms, view real-time data and take data-informed action more quickly to address issues before they result in major breakdowns or failures.“By having secure VPN access and the security login features of Ignition, the benefits of remote access can be huge,” says Dee Brown, principal at Brown Engineers in Little Rock, Arkansas. Like Rogers, Brown has used Inductive Automation’s Ignition platform for about a decade. “[Staff have] the ability to make quick changes, add new reports for supervisors and managers, and help troubleshoot as needed.”
Real-Time Data in More Hands
For Brown, the ease of deployment of web-based SCADA systems means more staff can have remote access through a secure VPN connection. “Engineering, supervisors, administrators – lots more people can have access to data,” he says.
The accessibility of the data, along with the ability for anyone to receive alert notifications through phone call, text and email, fills an ongoing need, Brown says. “People are always going to want some kind of access to that system to get the right information to the right staff persons at the right time,” he says. “Ignition’s ability to handle all configurations at the same time is a big benefit.”
The mobile-friendly nature of Ignition has allowed Rogers to pair secure remote access capabilities with readily available technologies from the IT sector. Using Ignition’s data visualization system, the Ignition Perspective Module, Rogers and his team can create custom graphical executive dashboards and interact with real-time manufacturing production monitoring, efficiency and downtime data.
“Perspective allows us to create mobile-friendly screens that allow remote viewing from any device,” Rogers says.
Information Accessible Anywhere, At Any Time
The ability to view alarms and real-time data on a networked computer, smartphone or tablet means operators can detect and prevent major equipment breakdowns and failures as well as manage systems during major weather events without making the trip to the plant.
Accessibility of data helped the city of Lynchburg reduce the operator stress while responding to storm events, says Jason Hamlin, who served as the SCADA manager for the City of Lynchburg in Virginia. Without remote access to data, administration and supervisors would call the plant to get status updates. Operators needed to provide information while also reacting to quickly changing plant conditions.
“You can imagine this was stressful to an operator already under extra workload,” he says. By using Ignition, administrators can access real-time data from anywhere, eliminating the need for status phone calls and allowing administrators to speak with operators armed with information about any developing problems.
Remote access has also proved beneficial for the Mountain Regional Water District in Utah, where many operators work on call, says Doug Evans, water and energy manager for the water district.
“[Our operators] need to be able to access the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) anywhere or at any place. Ignition has proved to be very reliable in that regard,” says Doug Evans, water and energy manager for the water district. “If we ever have a problem or need something modified, they can do it remotely. They don’t need to come to our system.”