Mobile Visualization: Tablet Based SCADA a Growing Trend in Process Visualization of Automated Systems

By: Chad Tverberg

Imagine that you are in the control room of an industrial factory and it is your job to monitor that everything is functioning normally; when suddenly, an alarm starts blaring, indicating an overheating bearing. What do you do?

picture of industrial plant walkways Like most people, you would want to learn more about the problem so that you could solve it. In the factory automation industry, that means looking at any number of screens and doing some troubleshooting to find out what's going on (a.k.a. process visualization) – whether it be through SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) in control rooms, or fixed HMI’s on the plant floor. The problem is that many times after looking at the process diagrams or data programs, you still have to make a trip across the plant (which can be quite a hike in some cases), and identify the physical problem first-hand. After looking at the problem (the overheating bearing, in our example) you’re still left with the return hike back to the control room to cross-reference what you’ve physically observed with the data and visual diagrams! Because of the way our industry is shifting gears, troubleshooting challenges like these is getting easier and easier.

Instead of assessing the problem by making the journey back and forth  across the plant, getting on a walkie-talkie or making repeated calls to a co-worker back in the control room, you can carry a mobile control room(aka iPad) with you to the physical problem and troubleshoot right there on the spot; talk about a real time-saver!

mobile data pictureLooking back to where we have come since the beginnings of mobile technology, there is a stark contrast in capabilities and cost. In 2003, The Lakeland Companies engineered and deployed a tablet, wireless Ethernet based iFIX SCADA system for a customer using some of the most advanced WiFi and tablet technologies that existed at that time – including a Windows XP based tablet PC. Of course, compared to today’s widespread adoption of these innovations, it was much more expensive to put together at that time.

New product innovations like Apple's iPad , Google's Nexus and the Microsoft Surface have introduced faster, more pocketbook-friendly options for consumers -- It's no surprise that their commercial adoption has taken hold (if you don't believe me, try this experiment). Ownership levels have reached 34% among American adults, according to a Pew Research Center Study released in June 2013. Now and in the future, we will see this trend translated over from the consumer market to the industrial market.

So, what does the future hold in store for our industry? In the modern landscape of technology, we see computer prices falling as sales volume is being cannibalized by tablet sales. Factor in the adoption of industrial Ethernet protocols in plant-floor network designs and you are left with a recipe for evolution. But there's more -- SCADA systems can now utilize mobile apps that offer private as well as public-network solutions, further blurring the lines between traditional administrative office-tools and industrial network communications. Moving forward, process visualization will continue to adapt to these fresh methods of controlling and tracking plant processes. The Lakeland Companies will stay at the forefront, as new waves of innovations spawn dynamic alternatives to the way our industry operates. Stay connected to The Lakeland Labs blog for updates on all of the latest!