New Software Aims to Help Operators Increase Productivity

New HMI/SCADA software is designed to help plant operators access critical information faster and take the most appropriate actions.
New Software Aims to Help Operators Increase Productivity
Displays are designed to help operators understand the status of operations at a glance.

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SCADA systems and human-machine interfaces help water and wastewater operators keep track of trends around complex facilities and get quick access to data that helps them make sound decisions.

But can these monitoring and visualization systems themselves become so complicated that operators can’t follow trends or notice anomalies as quickly and easily as they would like?

GE Digital addresses that concern with a new-generation automation software that goes beyond traditional approaches to offer decision support capability.

New GE HMI/SCADA software aims to provide comprehensive monitoring and visualization capability, along with work process management, analytics and mobility features. The solution is based on International Society of Automation high-performance design principles to help operators troubleshoot faster, reduce waste and increase productivity.

The technology is designed to help operators spend less time navigating, find critical data faster and resolve alarms more successfully. It also aims to enable HMI/SCADA systems to be built out more easily and in less time. Matt Wells, general manager of automation software with GE Digital, talked with Treatment Plant Operator about the technology.

TPO: What market observation led to the development of this technology?

Wells: What we look at is the performance of the people using our software, in particular facility operators. Most of the time when people construct HMIs, it’s just a plant engineer or a system integrator defining the user experience for the operators. We took a step back and looked at how this affects operators, and we saw a lot of opportunity to improve operators’ ability to make decisions. Our new HMI is geared around simplifying how to construct an efficient HMI and facilitating how operators use that efficient HMI.

TPO: How does this system provide information that helps operators make sound decisions?

Wells: First, we incorporate standard operating procedures. Every plant has its control room, but when it’s time to act it’s still a mental process for operators to look at a laminated card to follow a procedure, or remember it from a training meeting. So we embed workflows into the HMI to facilitate execution of SOPs. That increases the quality of performance.

TPO: What other characteristics support better decision-making?

Wells: We use intelligent alarms that leverage analytics running in real time to provide complex indications. For example, we can have analytics looking at a pump’s efficiency. If it is falling off the efficiency curve, the system can send an intelligent alarm calling on the operator to make a control change and get the pump back on point.

TPO: What is the difference between an intelligent alarm and an ordinary alarm?

Wells: Most alarms are simple limit-based alarms, such as for pressure or temperature, but an operator may be looking at several points in order to determine the state of that asset. What we do is apply complex algorithms to create a single unified alarm that helps the operator understand that something needs to be done.

TPO: What is the key benefit of the mobility features in this solution?

Wells: We first launched our mobility product with the intent to mobilize operators — to enable them to pick up a tablet, move around the plant and still be able to observe and even control the plant’s performance remotely. In reality, we found the greatest value is for the people who support the operators. In any plant there are one or two go-to people whom operators call when they can’t figure something out. Now, when those folks go home and they get a call from an operator, they can pull out their iPad, look at the data, diagnose the problem, and give the operator guidance over the phone, instead of driving to the plant. That saves on downtime.

TPO: What is being done to simplify the creation of the HMI itself and to help operators more easily monitor the plant and access data?

Wells: We are creating a web-based HMI that works in the context of a model. The idea is to use simpler graphics and different levels of graphics. The top-level overview screens should be straightforward views of key performance indicators (KPIs) presented in context. That reduces the effort required to see what’s going on in the plant and react to it in real time.

TPO: Can you sketch a scenario of how this might help an operator in a facility?

Wells: Consider a large water distribution network. Typically, operators in a control room see a large screen with a topographical view of the network — lines going everywhere, multiple pressure readings. And they need to look at multiple data points to evaluate the network’s health. Instead, we facilitate creation of a graphic that shows only the KPIs and shows them in consolidated objects. Now operators can see at a glance whether the network is healthy. And if something looks out of spec, they can click on it and instantly see whether there are any alarms, and quickly view any trends.

TPO: What happens if there is an alarm?

Wells: An alarm can trigger a workflow that helps correct the problem. That workflow could contain embedded knowledge from veteran process experts who have moved on or retired — a way of capturing that institutional memory. So the alarm is triggered and the workflow provides decision trees that can help operators in step-wise fashion figure out how to resolve it.

TPO: How does this technology affect the cost of creating and deploying an HMI?

Wells: Our system simplifies the creation of an efficient HMI. To help engineers create the right user experience, we provide predefined smart objects and templates designed using efficient HMI concepts. Standard layouts and cards, such as trends, alarms, alarm summaries and KPIs, are available out of the box. That speeds up configuration and improves users’ situational awareness. The more we talk with customers, the more they gravitate toward this approach. They recognize that the cost to maintain highly customized systems is becoming more and more burdensome, and they want to reduce that.

TPO: Are there any other significant benefits you would like to mention?

Wells: We’ve employed native HTML5 web technology in the construction of our HMI, and that greatly simplifies deployment, especially within water treatment plants. Access to data is becoming more and more critical, and many customers want the engineers, the plant manager, and people off site to see the exact same screens the operators see. By leveraging HTML5 technology, we can facilitate that. We can run on almost any kind of device.


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