Industrial Computers, Part 2. Data Processing Escapes the Enclosure

Whether It Happens on a Cloud-Based Service, Virtualized Server or Plain Old Wireless, Internet or Ethernet, It's Clear That Industrial Computing for Process Control Has Moved Beyond Its Old Laptops and Desktops. So How Can You Protect Such Far-Flung Data Processing?

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However, Kambach adds that "Virtualization 2.0" enables more than consolidation. It also permits simpler installation and movement of software apps, lockdown of corporate PC images, better software distribution, backup images of virtual machines for quicker recovery, restacking workloads for much easier, on-the-fly work movement, isolation of hardware differences, and division of functions into smaller virtual servers. In addition, Kambach says that some market predictions for virtualization include the likelihood that the software "hypervisors" that enable them are going to become commodity items; management solutions will be available for sale from vendors; users will be able to set up either private or public cloud servers that include virtual machines; and their resources will be organized and managed as a "fabric" that includes optimization and lifecycle control.

Friendly Faces on New PCs

One of the perks of high-capacity data processing is that users can make initially alien-looking computing tools look just like familiar instruments and displays. For instance, National Fuel Gas in Williamsville, N.Y. (, recently partnered with engineering integrator EN Engineering in Woodridge, Ill. (, to upgrade a few of the 40 compressor stations that move natural gas over its 2877 miles of pipeline that bring gas to its 728,000 customers in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. The upgrade was also needed to help National take advantage of increased development and gas recovery in the local Marcellus Shale region.  

The initial project upgraded 12 compressor units at two compressor stations, one in Roystone, Pa., and the other in Independence, N.Y. The Roystone station has eight Ajax compressor units, five headers, six operating configurations, and a storage field of 2.5 billion cubic feet (BCF). The Independence station has four Ingersoll-Rand compressor units, four headers, 10 operating configurations, a gas dehydration unit and 4.0 BCF storage field. The upgrade's main challenges were to understand and replicate functionality of the existing controls; integrate new control systems with existing systems; interface new control panels to existing equipment and instrumentation; and prevent disruption of operations during installation. (Figure 2)

"We used a unitized design concept, and then employed Rockwell Automation's ControlLogix PLCs with Flex I/O, as well as redundant PC-based HMIs with Factory Talk View SE at the station level, and PanelView operator interfaces with Factory Talk View ME at the unit level," reported Jennifer Shaller, National's lead electrical engineer. "We also used a plant-wide, fiber-optic control network with Stratix managed Ethernet switches, put all control functionality in a PLC, hardwired our shutdown circuits, and made sure we followed a Class 1, Division 2 design."

Shaller added that the upgrade has given National's two stations more consistent and reliable control, fully automated compressor operation, more efficient station operations, enhanced data collection, improved diagnostic and troubleshooting capabilities, improved reliability of the control systems, improved mechanical protection of integral compressor units, and opportunities for additional control functions.

"The new compressor controls have all the legacy look and feel that our operators needed, but they no longer have to deal with the stress of continually babysitting them," explained Shaller. 

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