Can HMI/SCADA Software Be the “On Ramp” to the IIoT Digital Thread

HMI/SCADA software solutions continue to evolve to meet the needs of end users and OEMs as they continue their journey towards the IIoT. Rather than being just a standalone component, the HMI/SCADA platforms are evolving into integrated solutions that help solve end user and OEM problems to improve business performance. Although technological advancement will continue to be an important factor, the focus of end users and OEMs has moved toward seeking solutions that can help them better manage their manufacturing operations while dealing with the reality of having to pare back their in-house capabilities to engineer and support automation systems. In addition, global competitive pressures require users and OEMs to increase the integration of automation and HMI/SCADA software with other enterprise applications. This is often where gaps are found, and where the Digital Thread can close the gap. The question is can HMI/SCADA software be the “on ramp” that helps to leverage IIoT and the Digital Thread.

Edge-to-cloud continuum by GE

The Digital Thread involves capturing data across systems, through lifecycles, and then leveraging the data with analytics tools to provide end users and OEMs with the business intelligence needed to optimize their businesses. It is a seamless digital connection that will capture machine data on the plant floor. The Digital Thread often combines manufacturing software that provides real-time, role-based HMI dashboards with Ethernet networking technology, using Big Data, HMI/SCADA and analytics software, sensors, controllers, and robotics to help optimize industrial asset performance and availability in an edge to cloud world. This enables end users and OEMs to collect and analyze asset performance and operational data in the network, often from connecting disparate systems, from the factory floor to ERP, providing an “industrial-strength” data analytics solution that combines role-based manufacturing HMI dashboards with real-time manufacturing KPIs for decision support.

The Digital Thread has, for example, driven the convergence of HMI/SCADA and MES platforms. Increasingly, these converged HMI/SCADA and MES platforms help users visualize both key automation and business metrics and KPIs, such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and energy savings, to help maximize the productivity and profitability of their businesses. End users and OEMs alike are all too aware of global competition and escalating energy costs, as well as the need for automation solutions that can help companies achieve more flexible production while reducing environmental impacts. These platforms are becoming the primary building blocks for industrial automation systems in many manufacturing plants. Increasingly, however, end users and OEMs want the converged platform to serve not only as an HMI operator interface window into the application, but as an enterprise integration tool. As the trend toward open systems in the automation and enterprise markets continues to unfold, the converged platform needs to emerge as a single device to support a wide range of applications.

Most end users and OEMs are certainly aware of IIoT technology and realize that they could use IIoT-enabled asset information to, for example, help eliminate unscheduled downtime. However, many end users and OEMs must greatly accelerate their IIoT deployment if they want to leverage this technology, along with accompanying HMI/SCADA software, in the near term. This means establishing a Digital Thread is crucial to leverage the potential benefits and ROI of IIoT and the accompanying HMI/SCADA software technology for addressing issues, such as unscheduled downtime, so these companies can plan and justify the purchase of these solutions. Unscheduled downtime has many potential consequences, including reduced productivity and profitability that could negatively impact equipment, the environment, and safety. Unscheduled downtime also leads to lower ROA, OEE, and other KPIs.

Real-world experience indicates that end users and OEMs that establish a Digital Thread can minimize or even eliminate unscheduled downtime by applying IIoT and HMI/SCADA software technologies that provide flexibility and enable the use of off-the-shelf hardware, software, and network infrastructure. Appropriate use of the Digital Thread for connecting, for example, fault-tolerant systems and virtualization, along with IIoT and accompanying HMI/SCADA software technology, can also help minimize unscheduled downtime while maximizing flexibility and simplifying system management. Finally, as the previously separate OT and IT worlds are converging, establishing a Digital Thread along with IIoT technology and accompanying HMI/SCADA software helps to provide a common ground around unscheduled downtime, security, and platform efficiency.

In summary, the Digital Thread is critical for end users and OEMs to overcome common obstacles in connectivity and interoperability. It helps to bridge functional siloes, starting from the machine and operator through the supply chain. It helps to pinpoint data already collected but being used in isolated ways. It enables end users and OEMs to identify the weakest links in the Digital Thread, achieve a seamless digital connection and leverage solutions, such as HMI/SCADA software, to be the “on ramp” to enable IIoT business outcomes, such as reducing or eliminating downtime, improving productivity, and increasing quality.

To learn more about HMI/SCADA software and its role in IIoT and the Digital Thread, please register for a free Webinar entitled “Close the Gap – Tips for Using HMI/SCADA as Your On Ramp to the Digital Thread” where I will be joined by GE Digital to discuss enabling the foundation for the Industrial Internet of Things using HMI/SCADA.