As the ‘Rise Of The Machines’ – that too Intelligent, Decision Making, Remote Controlling Machines, advances by leaps and bounds through the Internet Of Things, it is important for us modern day technology architects and programmers to remember and revere the greats of the last century who started it all – the visionaries who introduced the concept and technology of SCADA.
The SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) concept stems from the industrial need and objective to acquire operational data electronically from remotely located possible points of system failure, transmit that data securely to a supervisory computer system in nearest-real time, which would process the data, compare it with stated tolerance limits and make a pre-programmed decision to take corrective action or not.
|At Level 0, the SCADA system relies on the control factor (temperature, pressure, flow, current, voltage, load, proximity – you name it) sensors to continuously monitor variations and report measurements to the Local Control.
Level 1, representing the Local control consists of RTU (remote telemetry unit) and/or PLC (programmable logic controller) units, which at the most basic operational level is responsible to accept the inputs from Level 0compare with tolerance limits of the control factor in local embedded firmware and make an “pre-programmed decision” to trigger appropriate control relays to implement a change on the necessary components (valves, voltage regulators, thermostats etc) at Level 0 that would bring the control factor back within tolerance. In some extreme cases, Level 1 can also implement a shutdown of Level 0 components under its control. In addition, Level 1 components also communicate measurements, automated actions taken, up to Supervisory Control over a secure network for additional control room / command center activities in the SCADA application.
Level 2 of the SCADA system offers the HMI (human machine interface) where digital signals coming from the hundreds or thousands of Level 1 components in near-real-time are collated and presented in a form that can be interpreted by human operators in the control room or command center. The information is displayed in a multitude of large monitors or wall panels in summarized and detailed format. In addition to monitoring the incoming data from Level 1 the SCADA application typically would include an Alarm Management or Incident Response system.
Level 2 operations of the SCADA system is also a prime spot for applying technology related to Remote Assisted Reality (RAR). In situations such as false alarms being triggered at Level 0 or relayed from Level 1, or even in case of abnormal measurements being transmitted to Level 2 from the lower levels, Remote Assisted Reality can play a major role to derive real time situational intelligence from remote locations. A Level 2 operator observing the anomaly in the control panels could instruct a local technician to activate their RAR smartglasses initiate a live stream in high definition and invite the Level 2 operator to watch the presenting problem.
In addition to recording the entire trouble shooting operation, which may be used later for training, repair, replacement or even regulatory audits, the Level 2 operator could provide real time assistance to the technician on-location to conduct repairs or corrections. If repairs cannot be done right away, the Level 2 operator could create a service ticket for a higher qualified technician to be dispatched through the CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) with precise detail about the presenting problem. Through RAR technology, any relevant parties such as supervisors, inspectors, procurement advisors, parts and service personnel and even external parties could be invited to watch the situation live and in real time to collaborate and arrive at the most appropriate route to resolution. Every action, every conversation, suggestion is recorded by RAR software and connected to the incident log for future reference. As you can understand being able to resolve situations in the field through such remote live assistance by watching live audio video streams in high definition can significantly reduce service costs, reduce risk, increase equipment availability and protect service levels – all contributing to higher gross margins in operation.
Level 3 of the SCADA system is all about analytics, decision making and providing reports for both internal and external audits and creating supporting collateral for preventive maintenance and regulatory compliance. The multimedia logs collected through the RAR technology from Level 2 can add an entirely new dimension of data to those analytics, extending the static alphanumeric data of the traditional SCADA system into a set of recorded live streams, photos and annotated images contributed by the real-time integration to a RAR application.
Modern day SCADA systems at Level 4 are almost always integrated (or at least they should be) to a backend CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) or MRO application at a minimum, in addition to other systems such as GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and FIS (Financial Information System). When integrated with a Remote Assisted Reality application, both CMMS or MRO applications can also derive significant benefits from the extension of their alphanumeric datasets into the multi-media data set in the RAR application for holistic analytics and intelligent business decision making.
Service orders created in the CMMS or MRO application show up in the field technician tasklist on their mobile device. If the technician needs real time assistance or consultation with a remote expert who is not physically present, the technician would activate their RAR smartglasses and invite the expert through the RAR application to watch the live stream in high definition. The expert could invite other multi-disciplinary experts in the same live session, all watching the same live stream from anywhere in the world to consult and arrive at the most appropriate resolution, while the RAR application records every interaction.
In another scenario for the Level 4+ operations the remote expert could voluntarily guide a junior technician through the steps necessary to resolve the presenting problem at Level 0 or Level 1 simply by watching the live stream originating from the on-site technician’s RAR smartglasses. The recording of such interaction can ensure strict adherence to the applicable SOP or regulatory compliance guidelines – data that may be used in the future for a variety of purposes.
So as you can understand as the SCADA systems from Levels 0 through 2 become more and more sophisticated to do better and better at what they already do best, Remote Assisted Reality based technology can offer significant economies to scale in the entire operational management portfolio.
As the Machines Rise higher and higher with greater levels of artificial intelligence programmed in them, Remote Assisted Reality offers the much needed bridge to leverage real, live human expertise to resolve real world operational challenges that do not follow preset or pre-programmed patterns, occurring in real time. Regardless of how intelligent machines become they will always remain a subordinate to the human intelligence and expertise and that is where Remote Assisted Reality will continue to thrive, evolve and grow to capture and deliver real time situational intelligence for low cost service, issue resolution, security and compliance.