The Modernization of SCADA and HMI

July 22, 2020

How remote monitoring & mobile devices are changing the landscape of SCADA

About the author:

Alicia Millinger is senior manager of automation & manufacturing software for GE Digital. Millinger can be reached at [email protected].

It is estimated that the U.S. alone loses about 7 billion gallons of treated water per year due to aging infrastructure.

Enter the world of water utilities: Aging infrastructure, declining revenues, retiring experienced workers, increasing service level expectations and stricter regulations. Additionally, resources for water and wastewater capital programs are limited, making it difficult to modernize infrastructure, expand capacity and upgrade technology. 

How can water authorities address these critical challenges while delivering the best return on investment to rate payers or private sector investors? Raising water and sewer rates or purchasing new equipment are probably not in the plan. So, plant managers are left to become as efficient as possible with the assets they have. They have to look at operations holistically to understand and predict what is happening to make the best decisions for modernizing and optimizing equipment and operations.

There are automation technologies and software solutions that can revolutionize what is possible for water and wastewater utilities. By modernizing existing human machine interfacing (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, plant managers can have high performance visualization and real-time information when and where it is needed, and the ability to connect the dots between data by leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT). 

Modern HMI and SCADA guides newer operators through the right steps to effectively run the plant. As managers enable mobility and remote monitoring within the plant, they will experience greater efficiency because modern HMI and SCADA systems connect machines, data, insights and people.

Today’s SCADA Challenges

In general, water and wastewater professionals are constantly facing the challenge of finding the right balance between three main areas: 

  • Availability and reliability: Including aging infrastructure, stability of the system and reliability of the data coming in from the field;
  • Risk: Including compliance concerns, cybersecurity and physical security, reporting and errors due to high workforce turnover and experienced operators retiring; and
  • Cost: Chemicals, training new operators, energy costs and maintenance. 

Modernizing HMI and SCADA reduces operating costs, helps maintain a high level of service, eases compliance with evolving regulatory standards, and increases the efficiency of the field operators. Additionally, utilities can use this control layer as a foundation for digital transformation to be better prepared for the future.

By modernizing HMI and SCADA, utilities can directly address challenges in these three key areas in several ways. For high availability and reliability, managers need to implement a secure-by-design SCADA that supplies information anytime, anywhere over a disaster recovery architecture. For risk management,  key considerations are reliable data management, effective alarm management and consistent operating processes, as well as improved communication and collaboration across teams. For cost management, utilities can enable more efficient operators with enhanced operations visibility through effective data analysis. 

9 Tips for SCADA Modernization

  1. Get up-to-date with SCADA and OS versions and patches. This is a foundational step. Many utilities are still on old—sometimes very old—versions of their SCADA software. Regular updates and alignment to the latest features improve system availability, whereas a lapse in updates can increase security concerns. Additionally, there may be higher, hidden costs by continuing to use an obsolete system. Before taking any other steps to modernize solutions including analytics or web-based interfaces, make sure the SCADA and operating system are up-to-date. This will enable a utility to start with the right platform to enhance its capabilities.

  2. Standardize SCADA implementation. Improve efficiency by defining standards for the overall SCADA systems, including application, configuration, security, architecture, and remote access—even the devices that people use. Standardization will help reduce errors, lower costs and boost operations efficiency. For example, consistent representation and procedures reduce errors across multiple stakeholders. Teams benefit from a shorter learning curve, faster roll-out and easier maintenance. Standardization also helps ensure compliance. Lastly, with tag name conventions, operators can leverage OPC-UA sources and automatically create a SCADA process database. 

  3. Develop a disaster recovery plan. A disaster recovery plan is more than peace of mind; it is an essential part of improving availability and reliability. It can start simple, such as a version plan related to backup and restoration. Next, lay out a long-term roadmap and think about moving to a redundant and fail-over system with configurations for minimal disruption. Build redundancy at all levels: SCADA server fail over, LAN and client redundancy. Target having no data lost, looking at databases, real-time data and alarm synchronization. Make the system seamless for remote users. 

  4. Implement data management. Put together a plan to collect, store and distribute data securely. A plant cannot operate effectively unless all the correct data is available in a timely fashion. Consider a plant-wide historian for more reliable and consistent information that collects from different data sources, provides the ability to extend and scale as systems grow, and integrates the data management layer with a CMMS or GIS systems. Modern technologies make information available to stakeholders who are not directly connected with the SCADA, but need data to make decisions, such as demand and planning. 

  5. Build effective alarm procedures. Many resources to guide effective alarm management are available, such as through ISA. A good alarm strategy means less noise, faster reactions, increased productivity and efficiency and safer operations to quickly move from an alarm to a notification and guide the right action.  

  6. Digitize work processes. Every water facility has standard operating procedures in some form, mostly printed manuals. Now, a utility can move from manuals to integrating work processes into its SCADA system. Using SCADA data, management can trigger a work process, guide operators through steps and increase operational consistency. Electronic Standard Operating Procedures also capture best practices and accelerate new operator training. 

  7. Drive organization connectivity. SCADA connectivity across the entire water system provides a holistic view of performance, fills data gaps and increases collaboration. Centralized information management drives consistency across plants and sites. Leverage highly secure-by-design thin clients on inexpensive hardware to make information readily available to all levels of the organization. Also, leverage persona-based visualization. Give each person the information and capabilities they need, rather than the same SCADA screen for every person. Modern HMI and SCADA software can equip the workforce with tailored information, remote monitoring and control capabilities, and devices, whether a smartphone, iPad, or legacy device that supports HTML5 is used. This will get the right operational information to the people who need it, saving staff time while speeding up the response and compliance.

  8. Enable model-based HMI navigation. With modern HMI/SCADA, you can leverage industry standards to map a data model to an equipment model by structuring data and providing standard context across locations and data sources. Users can quickly navigate in context with information derived from the model. Model-based HMI navigation enables a common user experience regardless of the screen, device, equipment, role or process.

  9. Implement high-performance HMI. High-performance HMI, based on the ISA 101 standards, increases operator efficiency through screens with a simple and consistent design. This boosts situational awareness, alarm detection and productivity, while decreasing the risk of errors. Today’s SCADA is not just monitoring and visualization with alarms rolling in. It is about optimizing operations for active decision support. With the latest innovations in designs for efficiency, operators can quickly identify problems and causes for a fast resolution. 
About the Author

Alicia Millinger

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