SCADA Software Keeps Eye on Big Picture

July 3, 2008
Truly Useful Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Software Never Dies

By Jim Montague

It just gets new life by updating into new versions. This is fortunate because now, perhaps more than ever, users need high-resolution views into their processes and performance. One of the most notable examples of this software retooling is GE Fanuc Automation’s ongoing stewardship, integration and renovation of the former Intellution’s venerable iFix software. Though it’s been through several generations, users keep finding new ways to apply iFix and gain its operating efficiencies and savings.

As a result, GE Fanuc recently launched its Proficy HMI/SCADA—iFix 4.5. It includes many user-defined features, such as Microsoft Windows Vista support for 24-bit graphics, Integrated Change Management, version control and disaster recovery, multi-screen/multi-instance displays, more power by doubling clients on one SCADA system, Enhanced Dynamo management to aid screen setup, customization tools and electronic signatures and audit trails.

Richard Dreher, assistant administrator for West Palm Beach County Water Utilities, has been using iFix and its predecessor software for 13 years to control, provide alarming and perform historical trending. The Florida-based water utility now uses iFix 4.0 to manage six water plants, including four membrane facilities and two lime softening facilities. These plants have a 90-million gpd capacity and serve 500,000 customers over 1,900 square miles.

“I prefer iFix because it’s worked so well for so long that we’re more used to it,” says Dreher. “In fact, we just set up our sixth plant, and iFix was still easier for the staff to learn.”

Dreher adds that iFix and GE Fanuc have kept pace with users’ evolving needs by soliciting feedback and implementing requested functions. “We’ve got different staffing needs and different plants monitoring different systems, and so we wanted alarm management that could send alarms without modifying our database twice daily. For example, iFix lets staff at one plant monitor another 10 miles away.”

Likewise, Terry Biederman, public works director for Waterford Township in Michigan, has used Intellution software since 1988, and now uses iFix 4.0 to run 11 water treatment plants, three storage tanks and 62 sewer pump stations. The utility pumps an average of 8 million gpd to more than 70,000 customers over 36 square miles. The pumps and plants’ RTUs feed data from 1,200 I/O points to iFix’s graphics, displays and historian for data collection and trending.

“In 1997, we used iFix to do SCADA programming for hydraulic, grade-line increases when our tanks are full to help avoid water main breaks,” says Biederman. “Once these programmable mains reach a certain psi, then a PID switches to a pressure loop and shuts off at the low end. This allowed us to go from 80 breaks in 1996 to just 15-20 per year now. iFix’s trend data even helps set optimum levels.”

In addition, Kanthal Globar recently chose iFix as the standard SCADA system for its ceramics production process, which produces electronic capacitors, resistors and heating elements. Kanthal deploys iFix as a unified operator interface to its MES, SCADA, historian, building maintenance and other applications. These processes are visualized with status monitoring and alarming, so operators can prep their processes with batch-related data. “During a process cycle, we log trend values and events to our historian database,” says Ola Bjork, of Kanthal, a division of Sanvik. “After finishing the cycle, batch data is stored in databases, and the batch is sent to the next process step.”

By using iFix, Kanthal’s operators can access business data, handle processes and check machine status without switching applications. “We can combine batch data with trend data, and analyze processes,” adds Bjork. “We spend much less time manually entering data, so it’s easy for supervisors to monitor the process and support the operators.”