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Mobility rises above

July 17, 2017
Spurred by the freedom granted by earlier mobility tools, many process users are further increasing their range with more diverse solutions—and even taking flight.

If you can't see the forest for all the trees, it's time get up above those trees.

Because the need to know what's going on in process applications always demands more data and finer resolution from more places, one useful indicator just sparks the desire for more. That's why, after process controls engineers and other plant-floor professionals gain mobile tools and software, they still want to accelerate and diversify their capabilities even further, and extend them to new locations and applications.

"We had one user with a telescope pointed at a level instrument on an elevated water tower across town, which he used regularly until we added a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system and radio," says Robert Touchton, chief design officer at MR Systems, a CSIA-certified system integrator in Norcross, Ga. "He even kept the telescope for awhile during the transition period."

Grant LeSueur, director of software management and products at Schneider Electric, adds that, "For reasons of safety and comfort, process control and DCS operators are traditionally reluctant to leave their control rooms, but they've been using remote and mobile device for 20 years to do operations rounds, gather data, conduct inspections, perform maintenance and control field devices. So, while mobility isn't new, the barrier to entry has been how to carry data in and out hazardous areas. However, in the past five years, there's been a huge increase in the choice of protected mobile devices they can use in these areas that also support Android OS, iOS or Windows operating systems, and link to Internet protocol (IP) communications and cloud-based computing services. Now, the plant-floor can take the lead from the consumer side, support how their workforce wants to use these pervasive mobile devices, but still create an infrastructure in which they can do it securely and safely."

Similarly, when human-machine interfaces (HMI) and SCADA systems gained Ethernet and Internet networking that let them move out of the traditional control room, and bring data in and send instructions out via handheld interfaces, tablet PCs and smart phones, it was logical and probably inevitable that they'd keep going. Recently, they've been going beyond fixed wireless devices to take to the skies with multi-rotor drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which are typically equipped with cameras, video recorders, laser or radar measuring instruments, and other support devices.

"We use drones because they can give us more information about sites," says MR's Touchton. "We'd already been doing 3D renderings of facilities, but drones can add a lot of data because many water/wastewater plants don't have any aerial pictures, which can help them orient and place equipment during design and installation, or show, for example, where special mounting brackets need to be installed."

Information on the move

In the past, if the proverbial mountain of data couldn't come to its users, then they'd have to go to the information. However, recent mobility solutions are loosening the constraints of that old reality, and just as often putting "wheels" on data and bringing data back to users.

"Mobility can be transformative because it gives more data to the right individuals, brings in transparency and visibility to show what's going on, lets managers see from a high level how efficiently their operations and facilities are running, and lets users interact with each other more effectively," says John Lee, manager of the Manufacturing Systems and Solutions division at Matrix Technologies, a CSIA-certified system integrator, this time in Maumee, Ohio. "Mobility can assist maintenance rounds, data collection and commissioning. Where users previously gathered information on Excel spreadsheets, and sampled, audited and validated it, mobile devices let them get collect and analyze data much closer to real-time for almost immediate feedback and distribution to other users. In one large refinery where we worked with thousands of instruments, mobility enabled better maintenance accuracy, less errors due to manual entry, and immediate and thorough data tracking."

To aid these efforts, Lee reports that Matrix produces software for tablet PCs and other mobile tools that queries operators for their one- or four-hour checks, data reads and log entries for their processes, and asks dynamic questions based on the different shifts peculiar to each application. "As production workflows get more digitized, mobility can help enforce them, and make sure that standardized, required steps and action sequences are performed, tracked and followed up," he adds. "This also gives users better analytics about operations per day, overall process performance, or how long future installations or other changes will take."

Eric Lauber, project engineer at Matrix, adds that mobile interfaces also make it easier for users to employ metadata—or information about other data collections—to improve their decisions. "Previously, we might know how many process inspections were made for scheduling and staffing," he says. "But now, we access central data repositories with mobile devices, put that data into historical and future contexts, compare the performance of different sequences and teams, gain insights and find bottlenecks we couldn't expect to know about before, and make adjustments for individual applications and clients."

Mariana Dionisio, product manager for DeltaV Mobile at Emerson Automation Solutions, adds that, "From surveying our end users, about half use mobile devices to access process or asset data, and that’s why we’ve developed mobile solutions, including apps for viewing data for operations, reliability and lifecycle health. Just this past month, we introduced DeltaV Mobile that gives users read-only access to operations data. It leverages existing DeltaV configurations to securely provide the same data that's viewable on operator workstations, such as alarms, real-time data, historical trends and more, but displayed on mobile screens. Getting data securely 24/7 with DeltaV Mobile on any mobile device lets users anticipate changes, become aware of, and respond faster to abnormal situations. Users may also have expertise gaps onsite, and DeltaV Mobile via VPN or WiFi lets them connect engineers and operators from multiple sites with remote experts to close those gaps and improve decision making."

HMIs everywhere

Not surprisingly, mobility these days often means proliferating interfaces in new sizes and formats, putting more cameras, monitors and eyeballs in the field or close to it, and sometimes supplementing displays with virtual- and/or augmented-reality overlays containing useful support information.

To manage increasing demands on their water/wastewater, transportation, environmental and renewable power systems more efficiently, Carson City Public Works recently deployed several mobile and virtualization technologies. The utility purifies and delivers more than 22 million gallons per day, recycles 6.9 million gallons of wastewater per day, controls solar plants that generate 748,000 kwh per year, and manages the municipality's truck fleet and traffic signals.

New technologies adopted include iPads and smart phones that allow the utility's operators and managers to increase their remote monitoring capabilities across three Nevada counties. The devices were integrated with Wonderware SCADA software that Carson City has used since 1992, and with its Wonderware InTouch HMI software, both from Schneider Electric. Remote operations were brought to the mobile interfaces by implementing Wonderware Mobile Reporting application with SmartGlance software, which makes their information, key performance indicators (KPIs) and Wonderware Historian data easy to read and manipulate using smart phone screen navigation (Figure 1).

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“SmartGlance gives our senior staff instant access to KPIs and critical process information on their iPads and smart phones, which greatly increases situational awareness and allows us to be more efficient,” says Darren Schulz, deputy director at Carson City Public Works.

James Jacklett, electrical/signal supervisor at Carson City Public Works, adds that, "Integrating with Wonderware also gives us real-time status indications, alarm notifications and communications historization for effective monitoring of our transportation, power and water systems,  providing better operational readiness.”

So far, Schulz and Jacklett add their Wonderware-enabled iPads and smart phones have reduced operations staff hours by 15% due to drive-time savings, and allowed the department's more than 120 staffers to transition their workweek schedules from five eight-hour days to four ten-hour days.

Likewise, when Prima Frutta in Linden, Calif., sought to revamp its cherry production line in 2015 to make it the world's largest by increasing throughput 50% without increasing staff, it enlisted Industrial Automation Group (IAG), a CSIA-certified system integrator in Modesto, Calif., to help with the upgrade and expand its existing implementation of Ignition SCADA software from Inductive Automation to the new cherry line. Ignition lets Prima Frutta to share line data with 10 managers and 900 workers via more than 120 screens measuring 27, 32 or 60 inches, which are scattered strategically throughout the facility.

“Every second counts, so it's very important to provide data to our staff on the plant floor,” says Tom Augello, production manager at Prima Frutta. “If a change is coming, whether it’s in size, quality or variety, our people have a very short time to react, so we put that information up, flash alerts or use different colors to make sure everyone sees it. The large productivity increase we’ve seen with Ignition is from these added screens.”

Beyond its larger, fixed monitors, Prima Frutta uses 10 tablet PCs from Dell to directly control the cheery line. The tablets have stationary holders, but they can also be carried around the plant for full SCADA with Ignition and networking via four wireless access points from Moxa.

Jason Kieffer, project manager at IAG, reports that Prima Frutta could have used with industrially hardened tablet PCs, but chose less costly, consumer-grade tablets because they’re easy to replace if needed, and were easy to implement with Ignition. IAG also mimicked Prima Frutta's existing servers by building a digital twin of them at IAG's office, which let the integrator develop the new application in its native environment, and accelerated its installation and accuracy. “It was so quick. Within two hours of pulling a tablet out of the box, we were running the application on it," says Kieffer. "We were really surprised at how quickly it went.”

Greg Sinigaglia, production manager at Prima Frutta, confirmed that using Ignition on the tablets and larger monitors saves time and money. “Let’s take grading of the fruit as an example,” says Sinigaglia. “Before, we had to walk down and look at the quality and see what the sorters were doing. Now, with Ignition, we have all this information displayed on screens. There’s no more running around from spot to spot.”

Michael Kanellos, technical analyst at OSIsoft, adds, "Let’s face it, everyone is a mobile employee these days, and managers want to check on the status of operations remotely. With mobility, technicians can update information and add pictures with their smart phones and upload them, so everyone can see them. In addition, augmented reality and multimedia will accelerate the market even more. For example, we created a demo with National Instruments, PTC and Flowserve that allows users to pull up CAD drawings of components and virtual gauges of parameters, such as temperature and speed. It’s a new way of looking at data that wasn’t possible before. When you can give your field technicians a better way to understand and use their critical data, companies are going to adopt it."

Simplicity = usability

Just like a hiker with a lighter backpack, mobility in process facilities is greatly aided by newer tools that are simpler and lighter, which allows them to be used more frequently. For instance, Kice Industries in Wichita, Kan., designs and builds industrial air systems for the flour milling, biofuels, food and energy industries, and staff in its system integration division always welcome better ways to migrate large distributed control systems (DCS), building panels, and implementing numerous valves, instruments and other components.  

"We just installed a good-sized biofuel project with 600-700 instruments and valves and expanded another biofuel plant with 1,200-1,400 instruments and valves, and we thought there had to be a better way than the outdated, 15-pound, $6,000-$7,000 handheld we'd been using to program, test and commission HART valves, check instruments and do loop checks," says Peter Love, senior systems engineer for automation at Kice. "Eventually, we came across DevComDroid smart device communicator from ProComSol, which costs $1,000-$2,000, and includes a Bluetooth HART modem and software for doing complete HART device configurations with an Android smart phone."

DevComDroid uses registered device description (DD) files from the FieldComm Group for complete access to all features of a HART device. All members of Kice's onsite teams can use it, including electricians, field commissioning staff and plant DCS operators.

"The main advantage for everyone is that DevComDroid is a lot less weight because all we're carrying is an Android smart phone and the 2 x 3 x 3 in. modem in our pockets. This portability means we can have it with us all the time, and use it more often," explains Love. "Also, the battery on the old communicator only lasted two or three hours, so we usually had to haul a spare around. DevComDroid lasts as long as our smart phone battery, which is usually all day. The modem also has wire leads that allow it to be clipped to a scissor lift, or otherwise brought close to an instrument, while we make changes from a safe distance. With the old communicator, we'd have to be right at the device."

Beyond the benefit that HART data appears the same on a smart phone as it does on the older communicator, Love adds it's easier to apply software updates to DevComDroid and store information by just plugging in the smart phone. "A multivariable flow transmitter has a commissioning process, so you have to backup data from the communicator to a PC. However, most communicators have been limited in how much configuration data they could store—maybe 100 procedures—so active-stop and storage operations were needed to free space," says Love. "With smart phones and tablet PCs, we have far more data storage available, and transfers are easier to file to servers, other PCs and the cloud. Plus, we can backup configurations, store them as PDF documents, and email them. With the old communicator, we also had to deal with complex file formats and proprietary software to handle configurations.

"In all, I think we've saved 25-30% on our commissioning time based on what we do all day, added portability and battery life, and the fact that we can do more by having our smart phones with us all the time. Plus, an old communicator can't email you at 1 a.m., but a smart phone can do it. Also, a lot of system integration work is done remotely these days, so we're also saving on travel and achieving a better quality of life."

To help plant floor teams collaborate and get value faster from apps, Rockwell Automation recently launched its FactoryTalk TeamONE app for iOS and Android, which mixes human data with automation data. It's designed for plant-floor environments, and acts as a smart node that synchs and keeps communications local, improves reaction time for maintenance teams, and assists decision makers with health and diagnostics. Much like a social media app, TeamONE members can post images, text, receive alerts, and view live trends and other content, which other members can quickly absorb, help with immediate insight, and reuse as needed.

"We're trying to disrupt how apps are employed, so the TeamONE mobile users can create teams that drive new productivity every hour and remove friction as we can to that value," says Kyle Reissner, Integrated Architecture mobility platform leader at Rockwell Automation. "To bring the true benefits of mobility to industry, we had to think differently about providing productivity through apps, and develop a process for rapid software iterations. We’ve had eight releases of TeamONE in the last year."   

Stay safe out there

Beyond keeping networks and communications secure, many users and suppliers stress that effective mobility tools must also be employed to keep users and applications safe, often by continuously monitoring their locations.     

To keep better track of its remote workers, for example, pump and valve supplier KSB Industrial Services Inc. recently adopted Spot LLC's Tracker device with satellite-based global positioning system (GPS) chip to keep track of staffers servicing equipment in remote areas where they are often no cellular signals. Usually employed by backpackers, Tracker was configured by KSB to transmit GPS data in XML format. Next, Inductive's FactorySQL software collects the XML data into an SQL database, and prepares it for use by Inductive's FactoryPMI software, which can create dynamic applications for analyzing lone worker whereabouts. KSB calls this solution its Personnel On Site Tracking System (POSTs), and it's now set up on KSB’s servers, and users only have to pay $100 per GPS unit and $80 per month for unlimited monitoring, alerts and reports. 

Likewise, Honeywell Process Solutions just released its Sotera connected worker software, which includes two-way communications, geo-locating and automatic safety alerts to give managers real-time awareness of safety incidents and the ability to respond quickly. The first rollout of the software, Honeywell Sotera-Express, will replace legacy software applications for its wearable, gas-detector portfolio with a new, user-friendly software interface. The software will also make it easier for customers using different Honeywell devices to test, maintain and generate reports.

"By leveraging the Honeywell Sotera platform, our connected solutions can help customers monitor the safety of their workers no matter where they are, and help optimize their plant and field operations," says Ken Schmidt, general manager of portable gas detection products for Honeywell Industrial Safety.

Similarly, Ed Nugent, COO at PCVue Inc., adds that location-support technologies are multiplying quickly with different methods for assisting users. These include passive WiFi access triangulation to identify stronger signals, Bluetooth low-energy beacon that responds to devices using the protocol, and Android near-field communications, which lets users set up "geo-fenced" zones on their sites, so they can keep track of who has entered or left a given area.

"Our PCVue app can also go on any smart phone or tablet PC, where it can authenticate and validate who's on a SCADA server, and detect and acquire micro-locations for devices," says Nugent. "However, its heart is a mobility server that integrates user location data, predefined personal profiles and geo-zones, and delivers applicable data based on a user's location. In essence, it says, 'If this person is here, then here's the information they'll likely need.' "

To protect mobile users wherever they're located, Jason Schexnayder, sales director for the ecom division of Pepperl+Fuchs, reports it recently launched the world's first explosion-proof tablet PC approved for use in Zone 1/Div. 1 and Zone 2/Div. 2 settings. Developed in cooperation with Samsung, Tab-Ex 01 l with 8-in screen enables mobile users to quickly and efficiently complete tasks at any time and in any location. They can retrieve data in real-time, interact with remote experts and backend systems, and use optional, integrated cameras to capture and respond to maintenance errors and other issues.

"All kinds of technologies related to mobility, such as Bluetooth, RFID, tablet PCs, smart phones, cameras, WiFi and cellular, are combining to provide more data and enable better decisions," says Schexnayder. "However, if you need redundancy, then you're going to need at least a couple of them. For instance, we now have push-to-talk applications on our smart phones, but because local WiFi may not be enough, we should also continue to make sure the cellular network stays available, too."

Driven to drones

Though using remote-controlled, multi-prop, miniature helicopters or drones to explore and monitor process applications may seem exotic, some users report they've been used for years to examine equipment in especially inaccessible locations, such as towers and remote pipelines and cables. Instead of using cranes or building scaffolding to reach the top of a flare stack with no ladder, for example, they simply fly a drone to the top, and use its high-resolution video camera to gather detailed equipment health data and wear-and-tear status. Similarly, power companies have long used full-size helicopters to let technicians check power lines, and many of them now use drones, too.

Touchton reports that MR has employed drones for about a year in more than 10 projects. It usually helps conduct surveys for wireless/radio installations, which means it's no longer necessary for MR to bring in and raise a tower. The system integrator typically uses a Phantom 3 quad-copter from DJI with 4K (four times high-definition) camera with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, which costs about $1,500, though overall UAV prices have been dropping recently (Figure 2).

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MR's drone usually flies at less than 300-400 feet, and can stay up for about 30 minutes on one battery charge. Though the system integtator doesn't race its drones like many recreational users, Touchton adds that DJI's drones can travel at up to 50 mph. These drones usually operate at a maximum distance of three miles, but Touchton reports that adding an amplifier to MR's has given it a range of up to 20 miles. [A video of how MR uses drones to develop SCADA graphics is at www.mrsystems.com/videos/.]

"At height, the 4K camera's real-time feed shows the operator where the drone is, and lets us zoom in but still maintain resolution, so we can see what's happening," he explains. "The drone is controlled by an app on an iPad, and it can be guided manually, or it can execute a predefined flight. We're using it mostly for video surveys of projects, so we're not using it to help assist any operations yet, though it could be used for that purpose."

However, as MR's operators gain experience with their Phantom 3 drone and its controls, the applications where it can be applied will almost certainly multiply. For example, a drone with a tether and power cable could remain aloft 24/7, and serve in place of a tower. "For now, we just want to rent a laser or radar unit for the drone, put it in the middle of a room or facility, let it scan, and automatically pull readings into 3D Max software to generate renderings. This would let us scan and measure buildings that we usually have to measure and model manually."

Touchton's advice to other potential drone users is to buy or rent an affordable model, practice with it, and learn where it might be most useful in their own projects and applications. "My eight- and 11-year-old kids have flown ours, and even I haven't crashed yet," he adds. "One of our other operators did crash recently, but all we had to do was replace a rotor."

Likewise, IATEC Plant Solutions, an engineering and construction firm in Sao Paulo, Brazil, recently used a DJI Inspire 1 UAV with 12-megapixel Zenmuse X3 camera controlled by Pix4Dcapture flight-planning software and compatible DJI SDK software to conduct an aerial, photogrammetric survey of a large Petrobras-UTGCA gas-treatment plant in Brazil. The survey was needed to update 3D models, drawings and databases of the plant, but the job needed to be done without costly laser scanning or a risky, time-consuming visual inspection (Figure 3). [sidebar id =5]

"Using telemetry data from GPS and GloNaSS satellite systems, Pix4Dcapture's app allowed Inspire to automatically fly routes optimized for mapping," stated IATEC's Luciano Araujo and Henrique Marques. "In just three days, Inspire 1 captured 2,588 grid-based nadir and free-flight oblique images in 10 sub-sections of the 750,000-square-meter plant, and stitched them together with Pix4Dmapper software, which is compatible with IATEC's CAD/CAE software and configuration settings."

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In addition, BP reports it's been testing UAVs for more than 10 years, and adds that drone projects got a boost in 2014 when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed it and AeroVironment Inc. to fly their Puma AE UAV at BP's Prudhoe Bay oilfield on Alaska's North Slope. Puma is a radio-controlled, fixed-wing aircraft that's about six feet long with a seven-foot wingspan. It's made of ultra-light Kevlar, weighs about 15 pounds, can stay airborne for about three and a half hours, and stay steady in winds up to 30-mph, which makes them ideal for checking pipelines and mapping tasks.

Besides photo and video cameras, Puma also light detection and ranging (LiDAR), which uses remote sensors, 400,000 laser pulses per second and GPS data to create point-cloud data sets and high-resolution topographical mapping and 3D surface modeling. For BP's Pruhoe Bay facility, this means better, faster pipeline scanning for needed repairs, as well as accurate, real-time models of the site's freezing, thawing, flooding and shifting terrain, which helps keep BP's drivers on course, even in low-visibility conditions.

“We really need to think of drones as another mobile device in the whole Internet of Things (IoT) world,” says Nazlin Kanji, product director at AeroVironment. “They provide another source of data, and we can use that data to develop analytics.”

To produce actionable intelligence from drone data, AeroVironment has developed its Decision Support System (AV DSS), which delivers insights that work in conjunction with user needs. It was built on an open architecture, so data can be shared with partner solutions, such OSIsoft's PI System. Using the AV DSS and PI, photographic, thermograph, and video survey data from drones is combined with sensor data from PI to further increase operational visibility.

Figure 1: Always-on awareness
Operators and managers at Carson City Public Works use iPads and smart phones with Wonderware by Schneider Electric's SCADA, HMI and SmartGlace software to improve operational awareness and efficiency of their water/wastewater, solar power and transportation applications, and save 15% on drive-time hours.
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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