Top 10 Problems Addressed by SCADA

Top 10 Problems Addressed by SCADA

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

SCADA systems have been around for many years helping to provide supervisory control for the factory environment. Recently, I was talking with some of our system integrator partners to get their feedback regarding the top reasons people put SCADA systems in to help manage their operations. These are the top 10 we came up with:

1) Scale Operations - Providing coordination and visibility to all aspects of the plant. There is only so much you can do with clipboards and Excel-based systems. The scripting power and alarm and event detection provided by SCADA provide a better management environment.

2) Traceability - Linking raw materials to finished lots for recalls and quality problems. Regulations require this capability in industries such as food and beverage and pharmaceuticals.

3) Batch Reporting and Logging - To provide a record of all the things that went into your products. Batch analysis also provides the ability to record what a golden batch looks like to measure all of your operations against that perfect product run.

4) Regulatory Reports - Providing a record of carbon emissions or wastewater discharges for state and federal organizations. You can also use this visibility to reduce waste.

5) Utility Management - If you can visualize your energy usage within the four walls of the plant you can save 10% on your energy just by knowing what to turn off and when. Then you can save another 15% by automating the process.

6) Plant Tours - It’s always nice to show off how well you’re running your operation for tour groups and a SCADA system is a great way to give an overview to them of what’s going on in the plant. Many organizations create screens just for this purpose for the novice to understand what’s going on in the plant.

7) Quality Control - Most SCADA systems include historical archiving which allows you to compare quality parameters over time and once you feel good about how your process is working, providing supervisory control over the process ensures consistency for operators. KPIs are also provided through SCADA screens for plant personnel to be able to understand the health of the plant.

8) Continuous Operations - By putting in automatic controls and remote monitoring capabilities you don’t need to have operations staff at the plant 24 hours a day to run continuously. Operations personnel can be on standby at home or remotely to help remediate any issues.

9) Recipe Control - A library of recipes can be maintained in the SCADA system and download to programmable logic controllers for execution. This provides for consistency across operations. The SCADA system can also be the mechanism to receive product orders from ERP systems and convert them into the detail recipe to be produced across multiple process units.

10) Multiple Product Control - SCADA programming can coordinate operations that make more than a single product through a specific line, allowing faster changeovers and new product introduction. This gives the agility needed to remain competitive in the marketplace where customers demand new products and flavors every day.

These are some of the top reasons why people put in SCADA systems today to control their plant. This technology is very flexible and can solve many problems that standard off-the-shelf applications cannot. The next time you think about solving an operations problem, think of SCADA as part of the solution.

Open Source Automation Libraries Drive Innovation as well as Consistency in SCADA Projects

Open Source Automation Libraries Drive Innovation as well as Consistency in SCADA Projects

Matt Paulissen - Digital Architect
Matt Paulissen - Digital Architect

The size and scope of a digital industrial enterprises necessitates collaboration across company boundaries.  Industrial automation applications are becoming more complex, and so there is an increasing need for people to specialize in one particular industry or process.  The problem that most of these people are forced to not only be an expert in their industry, but also an expert in the software tools as well.  The additional time spent training on the tools is time that could be better spent utilizing their industry specific knowledge.

The Siemens Open Library enables them to focus on their specific industry solutions, because we’ve used our platform specific technical knowledge to design it.  We’re giving them back the time it would take someone to go from an application user to a solution creator.  The idea being that it takes mastery of the platform to create a well-structured and tested application, but a library user only really needs to know how to navigate the platform.

I’m sure you have all experienced this, as have I.  In order to get the job done, you first need to devote some time to learning the process, then you can apply what you know about programming to get the job done.  This library allows us each to focus on the skill that we have.  In this way the relationship between users and creators is not only symbiotic, but also synergistic; the sum of our output is greater because we’re working together.

To learn more about this open-source library and share in the collaboration, please visit the site at:

Is Augmented Reality a new plant HMI solution?

Is Augmented Reality a new plant HMI solution?

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

For many years, OEMs and industrial operations have employed touch panel computers with HMI software to provide a local user interface for machines. This provides immediate feedback to workers on the shop floor and also for anyone requiring information about the status of the machine while they are in the immediate area. These types of solutions are relatively inexpensive and do well today.

In the last few years, augmented and assisted reality solutions have started to take hold in manufacturing and industrial organizations. They can be used by technicians to provide immediate feedback on the status of the machine and also remove the need to travel back to the workshop to get information such as manuals, maintenance records and other documentation. By placing a QR code on a piece of equipment, a technician can walk up to the device, scan it with their smart phone or tablet computer, and see everything associated with that piece of equipment. One such example of a practical solution like this is iQagent ( ).

With the ability to display real-time values hanging in space, associated with a piece of equipment, these AR applications can take on the role of viewing information you would see on a touch panel HMI computer. Furthermore, this lessens the need for putting a touch panel on every single machine out in the process, where instead the operator or technician can carry a single device with them and visualize information anywhere in the plant. It's not currently recommended that you actually do command and control through the AR interface.

This may not be a solution for every single application where you would use an HMI touch panel, and maybe AR is in addition to touch panels, but certainly there are some uses for it that should be considered. One example may be where an OEM wants to provide a maintenance solution to their end-user as well as ability to view real-time status from the machine that they produce. They could employ an AR solution that encapsulates all of the troubleshooting instructions, manuals and user interface feedback to the machine in a simple software application that they can use with their existing mobile hardware. Each machine would go out with a QR code attached and be enabled for the software solution. There are many such plant visualization applications that augmented reality may be a good fit for.

How many edge devices does your Industrial Cloud Analytics Solution require?

How many edge devices does your Industrial Cloud Analytics Solution Require?

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

I have worked with a few cloud analytics solutions over the last few years and they all seem to have one thing in common. If approached in isolation, the cloud architecture may specify several IOT edge devices; as many as one for each machine in your plant. Furthermore, you may utilize multiple cloud vendors, where each may require a different IOT edge device to connect. An example may be one vendor for asset performance management and another for manufacturing operations management analytics. This may be reduced if you go with a single vendor but this is not always possible as it limits choice. These devices are typically inexpensive, anywhere from $100 to $1,000, but do you really need that many connection points to accomplish the job?

For each cloud edge device that you have, there’s a technical debt that is incurred in the form of a new connection point to be secured and also the ongoing need to send updates to the device periodically as cloud software revisions are released. This is called Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment or CICD and is something that DevOps-based systems have been taking advantage of for many years, behind the scenes for ERP systems for example. This works well in the business world, but there are special considerations for real-time operations management and manufacturing environments in the area of availability, network performance, security and systems management where an architecture that requires a myriad of connections can be problematic.

There may be an even more fundamental problem in that many cloud software vendors have a great deal of expertise in IT-based solutions, but when it comes to organizing information at the shop floor level, with a myriad of PLCs, control systems, historians, databases and sensors, they lack the specific knowledge on how to approach things in a more holistic fashion. Fortunately, there are solutions today that scale very well and take into account security, communication performance, common namespace as well as development productivity. By using a Data Bridge configuration, the need for multiple IOT gateways to enable a cloud solution is dramatically reduced. One such product that can enable a Data Bridge solution is Siemens WinCC Open Architecture (OA) software which is a SCADA platform and a whole lot more. In many cases, a single gateway can be employed to accomplish the transfer of real-time and historical information to the cloud. Furthermore, the results of analytics and number crunching that occurs at the cloud level can be sent back down to the shop floor via the Data Bridge to adjust setpoints automatically based on analytical results. This provides a secure, bidirectional interface with enterprise applications and can close the loop on supply chain optimization.

Going Local in Manufacturing Digitalization Projects

Going Local in Manufacturing Digitalization Projects

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

There is a lot of goodness in undertaking Manufacturing Operations Management projects at the corporate level, and for companies who have exceptional culture and a unified strategy it works well. There is nothing like taking your best operating plant, understanding the way they operate and using that as a template for the rest of your plants. But are there advantages of doing things at the individual plant level without an enterprise in mind? Here are some considerations that show preference to taking this approach.

Small Teams Make Fast Decisions

There is a lot to be said in minimizing the dependencies on other teams to execute an automation or information management project. First of all, there is no need for a committee to spend an inordinate amount of time gaining buy-in across an organization and setting up governance processes. Budget approval can happen within a department. A design can be developed with a small set of people being involved. This allow the team to move quickly to implement, showing faster time to value for a project. This “fast work” approach can catch on quickly in an organization because it requires less organizational muscle.

Start Where the Losses are and Work Incrementally to Solve.

Don’t try to take on digitization as an all-encompassing infrastructure. This is like trying to boil the ocean from a data management point of view. Instead, look at where your problem areas are in a plant and apply a technology solution to an area that you feel, if fixed, will make a significant difference to your business. It could be in quality management, waste reduction, energy use or workforce management. When you fix it, use a software technology that can scale beyond the current problem. That way you are using the capital investment from this project to fund additional projects. The investment in software is reused and only incremental services may need to be applied in the future. Buy the capacity you need tomorrow, today, while you have the budget.

Make the Duration Short to Show Returns

Take on projects that can be executed in a quarter to a half-year to show measurable results. Operational goals are short sighted and most managers are given objectives that require short term results. Also, organizations are constantly evolving and changing. If we set our sights on smaller solutions that have a measurable return at the local plant level, this can make an immediate improvement in costs, throughput or reliability of the plant. Not only are these types of projects easier to fund, it can also be a real morale booster. Examples of these types of projects are SCADA visualization, Historian, Data Reporting, Condition Monitoring or Alerting solutions. It could also include a combination of PLC hardware and sensors to capture data that can expose a part of the plant that was hidden from view. Answering the questions like “why are we having loss, quality or performance issues?”

In summary, consider how a small and local approach to digitization can fill gaps in your ability to execute manufacturing operations projects with speed, results and time to value before the next competitive threat or market shift negates some of the work you are doing with projects that have a longer cycle time.


Patti Engineering

Be an Army of One when it comes to Digital Transformation

Be an Army of One when it comes to Digital Transformation

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

It’s often said that if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself first. For the last few years, I’ve been working with customers on large digital transformation projects. Becoming a digital enterprise is a goal for many large industrial organizations. At the same time, Analysts Firms like LNS Research identified back in 2016 that “around 80% of manufacturers have no data historians or manufacturing execution systems (MES) and many with little automation at all, especially in discrete manufacturing industries”. Furthermore, Gartner research mentions that “70% of captured manufacturing data goes unused”. We need to start at the plant level to make improvements that will benefit the entire Manufacturing Corporation.

So where do you start to make improvements? Let’s say that today you have a few Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) controlling the more repetitive parts of your operation and the rest is being done with clipboards, Excel and poster boards where the paper-based daily reports are displayed.

Start with an assessment of the outcomes you would like to have:

- Ability to generate the daily and weekly reports automatically
- Ability to automatically monitor OEE by manufacturing line or cell and identify bottlenecks
- Ability to automatically count inventory at each process step to understand material in process
- Ability to feed work instructions through a central repository to operators and machines

Next move from the data that you have to the data that you need

- Assess the PLC information you have already been logging
- What additional sensors and data loggers will be needed to capture the difference?
- Don’t forget the smartest sensor you have in the plant, which is your operator. How best to capture their manual information in the system?

Look at the capabilities that you need:

- Visualization of process parameters
- Ability to enter reason codes for downtime
- Collection of time series data and events in a high-speed database
- Ability to generate reports on demand and at a scheduled basis
- Provisions for mobile access to information and operator rounds data
- Ability to send setpoint changes to controllers based on operator actions
- Notifications to the right people when help is needed
- Ability for remote specialists to look at the operation and help to troubleshoot problems

Finally consider the technology that’s available today to do this:

- A flexible SCADA System that provides visibility, control and monitoring for both operators and supervisors
- A high-speed data historian with reporting, trending and data analysis capabilities
- Workflow software that can be employed to consistently execute procedures
- An alarm and event subsystem that can notify people when things go out of bounds or problems arise
- Mobile applications that can be used on iPads, cell phones and other mobile devices
- KPI dashboard software that can be displayed on monitors strategically positioned in the plant to give feedback on production progress and whether people are ahead or behind goals
- Batching recipe management software that can automatically download operating parameters without inducing human error as part of the transfer
- Temperature, current, pressure, inductive and proximity sensors to convert the physical world into meaningful digital information

These are things that can be done well ahead of any large digital transformation initiative and will help to generate and organize your data and information at the plant level to be leveraged in future cloud-based big data and analytics projects. At the same time, providing immediate value to the local operation in worker productivity, quality, throughput, inventory reduction, asset management, machine availability, energy reduction and operations agility.

So, think globally and act locally in your digital transformation journey. 

Champion Technology

The Three Rules of Industrial Operations Management and Industrial IoT Applications

The Three Rules of Industrial Operations Management and Industrial IoT Applications

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

I've been thinking about the work I've been doing over the last couple of decades and what the basic requirements are for any new product coming into the industrial operations management space. This is based upon my experience working in DCS, SCADA, Historians, MES, ERP, APM, Optimization, Simulation and other operations management application areas. The formula is simple and any startup company should consider these three aspects when developing a new software product for the industrial market. As with anything, these statements are directional rather than absolutes.

Rule 1 - It should add to what you have rather than replacing

In the world of industrial plants and manufacturing there are very few new or greenfield opportunities. Many of these plants have been around for decades and have seen several generations of computer and automation technology applied to their sites. There are literally thousands of hours of engineering work that's gone into the configuration of these control systems, databases and applications. The key is not to replace what is working. This is the rallying cry of all engineers. If it isn’t broken, don't try to fix it. Therefore, the real value comes in adding something to what they already have that gives new insights and provides operations optimization what tells them how to make improvements using the data that they already have. A great example of this was the historian technologies that came out in the late 1980s. They were placed on top of distributed control systems and provided information management for people outside of the plant floor environment. A whole series of applications spawned from the use of this historical information. It was truly revolutionary. Another great example is SCADA systems that were developed in parallel with the acceptance of Microsoft-based minicomputers and added value to existing PLCs. The next big series of applications will come via cloud and edge-based systems that leverage data from existing automation and other databases but do not attempt to replicate functionality that works today on premises. Tying in the supply chain with these type of applications will provide a revolutionary way to approach solving problems that have been plaguing industrial operators for years.

Rule 2 - It integrates with everything you have today

Ever since I started to work in this industry in 1991, every position I've come to has identified the problem of silos of information as plaguing industrial operations. Whether it was multiple control systems, or multiple plants that needed to be visible across the enterprise, or looking across disparate applications such as HR, Quality, ERP and MES, the story has remained the same. Integrate together what I have and hold back no capabilities in integrating to everything I have. One of the keys is to make sure that you have connectors for all the different data sources inside of the plant or industrial operations environment. This includes real-time information sources like control systems and PLCs, and also transaction-based systems. If you don't have the interfaces to the systems then partner with vendors that provide interfaces that can convert the information into a form that can be leveraged in your application. This can't be stressed enough as the very first project you will encounter will require that data source that you don't have an interface for today. It's also important that you provide easy mechanisms for making this connection that doesn't require hours of services work to pull off. The more automatic the connection, the better. Consider API toolkits to allow partners to create new interfaces and make it open source so the project community can help build your interfaces.

A great example of this are device integration servers that are used to connect to different types of PLCs and expose the data in a common structure that can be used by a supervisor control program or by an Historian to log the information in a format that can be used by many different programs. Another are data interfaces from ERP, LIMS, EAM or MES systems. It's surprising how many new applications coming into the market do not make it easy to interface the core application to other data sources without a lot of engineering effort.

Rule 3 - It can be customized to meet your specific business needs

Every manufacturing plant or industrial site is in fact a snowflake. It has specific configurations and ways of doing things that need to be accounted for. This isn't to say that an organization should not try to standardize their operational templates across multiple sites to drive standardization or common ways of doing things. This is needed to provide comparable measurements across facilities for things such as downtime, quality and production throughput KPIs. If you think of a new application project as a continuous improvement project, there are certain aspects that need to be configured to exactly match what the operation needs to do at that particular site. We talk about “leading with lean improvement techniques" and then adding digital capabilities to capture the data and provide insight that allows your organization to further lean out. The more configurable you can make your industrial solution, the more easily it will be accepted by the masses across many types of industries and organizations. The key is making this customization up-gradable and maintainable through a standard set of tools and processes. That way as the technology improves, the customized configuration can improve with it.

One good example of this is a SCADA system that can be easily customized to meet specific visualization requirements and operations procedures for a manufacturing plant. Also, an MES system that can be configured specifically for how the operations work within a plant. Or an EAM system that can be customized to monitor for certain events and failure mechanisms for asset performance management.

As a packaged application provider or SaaS solution developer, if you follow these three rules in developing new industrial operations management or IoT applications, the adoption of your products will be much faster and you won't have to make radical architectural changes to meet new customer requirements as the fundamentals will be built-in. Take this for what it's worth as one person's opinions having worked in the marketplace for a while.