Podcast | November 18, 2013

SCADA Systems Provide Insight To Increase Efficiency

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Glenn Wadden, President of Trihedral, explains how today’s SCADA systems are intuitive to learn for remote plant operators and capable of providing feedback that can reduce cost and increase efficiency.

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The following is an excerpt from a Q&A with Water Online Radio. Click on the Radio Player above to hear the full interview.

Water Online Radio: Talk to us about what is new in the world of SCADA. What are some of the trends with the systems?

Glenn: There have been a lot of improvements over the years. Importantly, software has been seeing bigger systems over time. We started out with really small systems, but because of the changes in technology around instrumentation and communications, the software has grown.

There are now thousands of I/O systems. The biggest systems have over a million total tags (or points) in the system. We have the digital television broadcast system in the U.K. which is over 1.25 million tags. This is only feasible because the communication links are there to make that possible.

You can deliver data at a high speed, and because of the demands on the system, the software has to adapt. You can’t just put in a system that will work well on DOS and expect it to expand to that sort of scale. You have to have the technology built in at the ground level to be able to scale up to those sorts of demands. We see larger and larger systems coming along because of that size. The affordability of both the I/O and the communication technology used put the demand are on the systems to manage that many tags while running at an efficient speed.

One of the other things that we see is an evolution of the traditional system operator role; this job is evolving into more of a mobile job where the operator/controller is either working from home or out at a plant doing work. The SCADA system has to be more than just the eyes of the operator. It has to run the plant more often than not. He has to be notified when he is not at the operation station. He will check in with things occasionally and when he’s alerted that something has gone wrong.

Water Online Radio: What happens post-installation? What kind of technical competence do you need to operate this thing?

Glenn: We want to make sure that the software can handle a large system, but it also has to be very simple to use. People don’t want to spend too many hours on training. You do not need an engineering degree to run these systems, nor should you. In the early days, you really had to have engineering knowledge. Now, the guy who manages the lift station can put in new lift stations without having to hire an outside consultant. We want to get to that stage where anybody can use it, both for operations and incremental maintenance on the system.

Water Online Radio: How intuitive are these systems?

Glenn: We have a plan that we call the “first hour” experience. We are looking to get it to where someone can pick up the software and use it without reading any manuals. Within the first hour, they should have very good competence with building the system or maintaining it.

Water Online Radio: Speaking of intuitive, how are you making the VT SCADA intuitive?

Glenn: We are really trying to get it to the point where everything is discoverable. Discoverable means that anyone can learn the system without going back to a manual. You open up the system, and it’s all right there on the window display in front of you. You can always hit the F1 key or the help icon to get more details because these systems have thousands of features.

Water Online Radio: What is the impact economically for the end-user of one of these systems? Once they have all of that data, how can they use it to save money?

Glenn: We record data for years so end-users can get a better understanding of what insight they can get out of it. For instance, if you wanted to find out how rainfall affected pumping over the course of the last year (if you had rainfall gauges), you could pull out information to show how much the pumps ran during a rainfall event. Or you could find out how the pumps ran with no rainfall. You can learn whether it’s worth fixing leaks in the system or if it’s worth doing a stormwater sanitary split. You can answer those questions because you have all of that data now.

Water Online Radio: Where is SCADA headed in the next three to five years?

Glenn: We are starting to look at what you can you do when you are not in the operator room. I think the operator room is eventually going to become more of a configuration and analysis place rather than a place to carry out operations. It is going to be what is in the operator’s pocket or hand that is going to be doing the actual day to day operation of the plant...

Click on the Radio Player above to hear the full interview.

Trihedral Engineering Limited