In recent years, dramatic changes in the global manufacturing plant landscape have compelled organisations to respond to a new set of challenges, including an increasing number of casual users requiring secure, on-demand access to plant data; more flexible and alternative working modalities; changes due to organisational restructuring (mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing); and the need to conduct business operations across time zones and continents.
Why mobility for industrial automation?
Mobility has changed, and continues to change, the way that organisations operate, and as a consequence, how their employees work. New work styles, driven largely by advancing technologies and the employees who embrace them, have arisen; organisations must adopt policies and innovative technologies to support that evolution, especially regarding mobility. This progression applies not only to changing work environments but also to business relationships beyond the workforce, such as consultants and partners. Additionally, there are certain vertical markets that require, or benefit from, more mobility than others.
As stated in a recent Automation World article, Mobile in Automation, “Mobile equivalents – tablets, smartphones and other portable devices, deliver vastly-improved productivity and yield drastically-reduced total cost of ownership.”
Top four reasons to consider mobility in an industrial setting:
1. Ability to utilise resources securely from any location
“Over 67 percent of the manufacturing companies reported a shortage of available qualified workers.”
Employees in manufacturing work with complex, expensive equipment. They handle multiple responsibilities, deal with more regulations today than ever before, and need the ability to troubleshoot plant equipment or production status, from the office, home or on the road.
One of the greatest benefits of remote access: opening a wide portal to the organisation’s plant data, is also a significant potential weakness. Providing adequate security of that data, when employees access it from outside the confines of the “normal plant”, is probably the highest concern faced by IT. Some key regulations mandate stricter policies for IT security. An effective mobility solution must adequately protect corporate data.
2. Effective management: Improve decision-making and manager effectiveness
“70 percent of manufacturing decision-makers are looking to leverage mobile.” Using existing smartphones and tablets, manufacturing workers can accelerate decisions by delivering up-to-date plant data and key performance indicators (KPI) to knowledge workers or plant managers.
3. Quality: Validate process accuracy
“When plant managers carry a mobile device, the real-time information improves productivity by five to 10 percent – and with access to real time sales information, the improved forecast accuracy reduces overproduction waste by an average of five percent.”
Products must be manufactured at record speed, yet the struggle for competitive pricing has resulted in outsourcing to vendors that may be located across town or around the world – adding a new level of complexity to the quality assurance function. When access to plant applications is available on mobile devices, the speed and accuracy of quality checks can be significantly improved, and quality assurance processes can be standardised. The automated capture of quality data enables manufacturers to achieve “Six Sigma” quality, virtually ensuring that customers receive the right product, manufactured in the right way and facilitating a robust access environment to meet strict regulatory guidelines.
4. Production: Increase line uptime
“When mobility is utilised in the asset maintenance function, plant availability increases an average of five percent.”
The ability to view real-time Human Machine Interface (HMI) and Visual Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) information on mobile devices provides operators and engineers with better control over the health of critical equipment such as the production line machinery. Operators no longer need to leave the machinery to travel to a “wired workstation” to input critical machine status information. Engineers are no longer tied to the control room to monitor machine status, they are now able to receive, acknowledge and act upon, alarms wherever they happen to be.
Mobility: A solution that stretches beyond the ordinary HMI
A market study company, ARC Advisory Group, reports that “HMI software must be in a position to offer solutions, such as HTML5, for mobile devices as well as the growing acceptance of personal devices being used in business, ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD), which is accelerating the adoption of wireless tools. The adoption rate of these devices is increasing and by the end of the study’s 2017 forecast period may become a default part of an HMI software offering norm”….“Delivering real-time information to the smartphone provides value ranging from plant executives to maintenance technicians. Tablets are replacing some HMI panels in some manufacturing installations, and they will become a common method of operating equipment remotely located. It will be much simpler and less expensive to build, for example, a pump control panel for a remote pump station with a Bluetooth connection, and have an operator walk up and operate it from the tablet versus building a conventional control panel. Some HMI software and services suppliers support devices, such as iPads, through a remote desktop.”
The industrial automation market has progressed to the point that there are multiple vendors now that provide mobile access to their applications. Invensys, for example, has seven different applications that use some factor of mobility. Its newest capability, the InTouch Access Anywhere solution enables users to access plant-floor data via the company’s InTouch human machine interface (HMI). Using any browser from anywhere and at anytime, the InTouch Access Anywhere solution runs entirely and securely inside a web browser, so users can connect to other InTouch Applications from Microsoft Surface, iPads, iPhones and Android devices, Macs and Linux as well as from traditional Windows PCs and laptops. In addition, there is no software to install on the end-user device, so the offering is easy to deploy, manage and maintain.
As manufacturing facilities continue to fight for survival and dominance within their respective markets, they must take steps that will maximise their resources. Providing casual users with reliable and secure remote access to plant data is rapidly becoming a vital element in an organisation’s success.
Mobile technologies for manufacturers come in a variety of formats and functionalities, to match not only your data access needs, but also the types of information you need displayed and monitored.
HMI in a mobile browser is the ideal solution for controlling the HMI access via the Wi-Fi or Internet, easily and affordably. Users, both local and remote, are given seamless and transparent access to their HMI and SCADA data, anytime and anywhere, greatly enhancing productivity.
With any mobile solution, an organisation benefits from an optimised IT infrastructure, enhanced security, reduced costs of travel and managing desktops, and inherent business continuity capabilities.
By Lucian Fogoros, Global Solutions – product marketing manager for HMI/SCADA at Schneider Electric