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Leveraging the SCADA Runtime Environment

SCADA or IT managers that effectively leverage the SCADA runtime environment can create tremendous value for pipeline operators.

The challenge is getting to the point where the key elements that go into the SCADA system are optimized for performance, optimized to reduce costs, and optimized to collect the right data that is necessary for pipeliner controllers and useful for decision-makers.

SCADA as a Stack of Technology

The first step in leveraging the SCADA runtime environment is evaluating the set-up, performance, and effectiveness of each piece of technology used in SCADA systems.

When you think about, SCADA is really a stack of technology, and there’s a lot of details that go into creating the optimal stack.

  • Bottom level: instrumentation such as pressure gauges, temperature gauges, and flow instruments on the head of meters.
  • Next level: field devices such as PLCs (programmable logic controllers), RTUs (remote terminal units), and flow computers that take signals from the field, perform math and logic calculations to determine flow and control points, and communicate the data in the SCADA system.
  • Next level: communications hardware that moves the data such as field radios, cellular systems, satellite, telephone lines, and other modes of communications.
  • Next level: SCADA host is the centralized location where data is polled via communication protocol such as Poll Response, report by Exception, or MQTT.
  • Top level: applications that support leak detection, analytics, engineering, and other functions.

The cost of building out this technology stack starts in the field. Operators need to strategically place PLCs, instrumentation and power in the field, which is a significant investment. Another big investment is building the communications network.

How to Optimize the Spend on the SCADA Technology Stack

Fortunately, as operators climb the stack of components, the incremental costs are less and the value is greater. How so? Once operators get past the SCADA host and look at the applications, they can analyze the data and use it to support decision-making. Now, the data is incredibly valuable.

However, operators cannot reach the pinnacle of leveraging the SCADA runtime environment unless they take a smart approach to their investment in the full stack. What are the most important elements that go into building the right stack?

  • Communication Server to gather and distribute the data
  • SCADA real-time engine for reliability and performance
  • User Interface for viewing the data

The issues for each of these three elements is different and needs to be carefully considered to optimize the spend.

1. Comm Server Issues

Ideally, a single communications server is the focal point of gathering the instrument data and distributing that data to multiple points in the enterprise. Focusing the data communications “under” the SCADA runtime moves the data distribution burden from the mission-critical SCADA environment.

When a SCADA system becomes overburdened, there is a risk of both slow performance and shutdown, either of which could create safety issues until the system is operating at full performance.

SCADA and IT managers need to be cognizant of how to properly set up the communications server to handle the collection and distribution of data throughout the system.

Analyzing the needs of the operation and the available capabilities for data polling helps enable operating decisions of whether to utilize Poll Response, Report by Exception, MQTT, or another communications approach to reduce costs while also providing the most value to the operation.

2. SCADA Real-Time Issues

The SCADA real-time engine has the capability to deliver rich, valuable information to users and decision-makers throughout pipeline operations. Because so many different levels of the operation depend on the data, critical decisions need to be made about how to achieve reliability, redundancy, and performance.

  • Reliability: can each level of the organization rely on the data being presented to them?
  • Redundancy: is the system set up correctly to continue delivering the data accurately and reliably even when a primary system fails?
  • Performance: does the data get delivered in a timely manner when it’s needed to the right people every time?

Hitting the sweet spot of reliable, redundant, and high-performing data delivery requires critical decisions when sizing and selecting resources for the operation. Otherwise, costs can quickly escalate when trying to manage the needs of all the various levels of the organization.

3. User Interface Issues

Ultimately, the end result of building an effective SCADA real-time environment is to translate data into useful information.

Many SCADA or IT managers focus only on creating an “working” User Interface (UI) for controllers. That is, the screens used to perform analysis and make changes.

While it is critical that controllers have the right UI to perform these critical tasks, the most value from a real-time environment is when controllers, users, field personnel, stakeholders, and decision-makers all have custom views of the data that streamline decision-making. This is when data becomes useful information and supports an operator’s ability to drive value in decision-making.

Controllers, field technicians, supervisors, operators, and regulatory compliance all need to be able to view the data. This is important for both operations improvement and regulatory compliance purposes. Particularly, when ensuring alignment with the High-Performance HMI and recommended guidelines contained in API 1165 — both the current version and the forthcoming updated version — for the display screens used in the control room.

Optimizing Elements for the SCADA Runtime Environment

SCADA or IT managers need to consider many different factors to manage a reliable, effective, and valuable SCADA system for pipeline operations.

Each part of the technology stack is critical to ultimately drive toward effective use of the communications server, optimizing the SCADA real-time engine, and creating the best user interface for each level of the operation.

EnerSys works with SCADA and IT professionals to extend the basic SCADA functionality to pipeline-specific functionality through our POEMS IOC software module.

As part of our partnership with Kepware, we help users connect, manage, monitor, and control diverse automation devices and software applications through one intuitive user interface.

The KepServerEX leverages OPC and IT-centric communication protocols to provide users with a single source for industrial data. The platform is developed and tested to meet customers’ performance, reliability, and ease-of-use requirements.

We are fortunate to partner with Kepware because of their commitment to offering flexible, scalable, and reliable connectivity solutions to help small to medium-sized pipeline operators achieve greater efficiencies and profitability.

To find out more about how we can help you leverage the SCADA runtime environment in your operation, contact us today. Complete our website form, email, or call us directly at 281-598-7100.