Paul Hurst, MD independent UK SCADA and HMI vendor Products4Automation (P4A).
Industrial SCADA is undergoing a step change right now, with the move from proprietary code to next generation technologies such as compatibility with SQL Databases and Cloud Computing .NET, OPC UA and HTML5. This is part of moving towards a more connected world and a natural progression oriented towards technologies of the immediate future.
Features considered ‘next generation’ just a couple of years ago are now available; such as high-end graphics, based on WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language). WPF uses a vector graphics-rendering engine for example that is independent from the resolution and so takes full advantage of the modern graphics and Direct X hardware components.
These developments, combined with increases in pixel definition on the latest HMIs allow SCADA systems to provide touch controls and combine traditional data acquisition functions with improved layout diagrams, 2D and 3D graphics and other multimedia elements such as video and animated text and typography.
These innovative technologies enable automation software developers to embrace the radical changes in device interaction that are evident in the industrial world, meeting current and emerging user expectations for more interface functionality.
The vast amount of data generated by a typical production process is of little use if not properly analysed, and this is being addressed by the latest SCADA packages offering plant intelligence for analysing, measuring, comparing and predicting productive performance. All of the tools need to perform these tasks in a simple and efficient way, either locally, over the web, via mobile connections or at enterprise level.
Looking forwards, there is no doubt that having already made all this functionality mobile, that mobile devices will have more processing power, higher bandwidth capability and more storage. So the SCADA functionality you now have on the move will become faster, more visual and offer extended control to drill down through data layers and make decisions that directly affect plant control.
The next major step is likely to take into account how we actually interact with SCADA platforms using different devices, this is happening already with the use of virtual reality environments and VR projections on headsets and glasses.
It is easy to see a production manager in a few years’ time walking around a facility with a pair of safety glasses on that he can touch the arm or use eye scanning software to select the SCADA package running in the background and see visualisations of plant productivity, trending analysis and efficiency live.
Once you are using the device in this way then alarms can pop into view and maintenance records of machines can be accessed as well as manuals and other useful resources. I am fairly confident this will happen sooner than we think!