This month's cover story talks about how the cloud is being used by process industry firms, and this column continues that theme. While the cover story discusses various cloud permutations, this column will focus on software as a service (SaaS). SaaS is provided by a supplier to an end user as a cloud-based service, typically for a monthly fee. The SaaS company is responsible for maintaining all software applications and related hardware in the cloud. The end user typically provides data to the cloud-based application through an Internet or other connection, such as cellular. The SaaS company then stores, analyzes and/or distributes that data back to the end user.
An example is Live Data Cloud, a SaaS provided by Open Automation Software."Live Data Cloud allows our customers to bounce data off of a central, hosted, cloud-based server from unlimited data source servers," says Ken Eldridge, president of Open Automation Software."Instead of pushing data up to the central server, data is hosted directly at the source. This feature makes it possible to turn any PC with a standard Internet connection into a data server," adds Eldridge.
Using standard OPC terminology, sources of data are called servers, and consumers of data are called clients. Customers must install the company's OPC Systems.net software at each of their data-source PC servers, and each server requires a license. Despite the name, the data doesn't have to be transferred among OPC servers and clients, nor in an OPC format, but can instead be communicated from virtually any software program at each server to a variety of clients. At the client side, software may or may not need to be purchased and installed for each client, depending on the level of access desired.
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Another SaaS service isn't up and running yet, but shows great promise for the future. Many process industry firms would like to use advanced process control (APC) to improve their operations, but don't want to purchase, install and maintain the required APC hardware and software.
The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) was created to address this and other related issues. According to Dean Bartles, SMLC chairman and a senior vice president at General Dynamics,"Smart Manufacturing infrastructures and approaches will let operators make real-time use of big data flows from fully instrumented plants to improve safety, environmental impact and energy, water and materials use."
The SMLC's platform development approach uses industrial test beds with actual manufacturing data and applications to ensure it's driven by industry needs. The principal investigator is Dr. Thomas Edgar, director of the University of Texas at Austin's Energy Institute and professor of chemical engineering. According to Edgar,"By combining high-fidelity modeling and novel sensors, we can perform real-time control and optimization of process equipment to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption."
With direction from the full membership of the SMLC, this project is a significant collaborative effort among Emerson Process Management, Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions, Invensys and Rockwell Automation to ensure the Smart Manufacturing Platform is compatible with multiple process control software systems and energy applications.
When this SaaS is up and running, users will send process data to the SMLC's cloud-based application, and receive recommended controller settings and other data that will allow them to improve operations. Users will initially review these recommendations and implement as desired, observing the effects on their processes. Once confidence is gained, end users may implement these recommended changes to their real-time control systems automatically.