One of the biggest issues with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems is how they talk to each other. The industrial internet of things means that you can automate many of your processes and minimize the need for extensive human interaction with your production systems.
However, to work well together, all of these devices need to talk to and understand each other. The key to this is format compatibility. It is important that as producers design devices for the internet of things, they ensure that they are compatible with various SCADA systems. Here are 5 reasons format compatibility should be a priority for your business.
Even with the fastest computer systems, conversion takes time. What may seem insignificant can add up when looked at over an extended production network. This means that priority tasks and messages can be potentially delayed. Even seconds can add up.
One of the factors of an efficient SCADA system is rapid communication and the correction of errors. If two devices use different data formats, and each needs to be converted to yet a third that is used by the SCADA system, valuable time is lost along the way, time that is not easily recovered.
Adding conversion software adds another layer of security vulnerability. A single program format is much easier to encrypt than several formats and the subsequent conversion software.
As many devices depend on controllers for their security since they are not “smart” enough themselves to have their own protocols, the conversion software creates a loophole which might enable malicious interference with the industrial process.
Using multiple devices from multiple manufacturers already sparks concerns for many businesses, and adding another layer of conversion software multiplies those concerns.
It seems like it should be obvious, but format compatibility just makes things easier. Not needing to add conversion software, devices that already talk to each other and PLC’s well, that present data in an easily digestible manner, all make for a simpler overall system.
This also means that the system is more user friendly, a key component in any SCADA system. Automation and machine learning tend to minimize the need for human interaction, but format compatibility issues tend to increase that need instead especially in the area of troubleshooting, which takes more expertise. This increases the qualifications and education needed for personnel to operate the system.
It’s More Accurate
Anyone who has used Google translate or other systems knows that even the best translation software makes errors. The same is true when talking about format compatibility. Data converted between formats often loses some of the preciseness necessary for accurate data reporting, and therefore decision making.
Practically, this means that systems have to have higher tolerances built in, which opens the door for more errors and in many applications is simply unacceptable. Think of it this way: if format compatibility caused data transferred to another device to require a higher tolerance even of a few hundredths of an inch, production failure rates of the product you’re producing could increase. Even an increase of a tenth of a percent will additionally cause a spike in production costs.
This also affects the energy used, material consumption, and more. In the long run, a small variance caused by a lack of format compatibility can be the difference between profit and loss if margins are small.
It Just Makes Sense
The internet of things is the new industrial revolution. The number of smart devices in the industrial arena arises every single day, and there will be over 30 billion connected devices by 2021. Not all of these devices generate data in the same format, or even formats that are compatible.
Choosing devices that are already compatible seems like a logical step. However, often the best device to perform the needed function uses a data system that is not compatible out of the box or requires data conversion that makes it a costlier choice in the long run.
They key is not just for businesses, but for manufacturers as well. Here are some things you as a business can do:
- Choose SCADA systems carefully, choosing ones that are compatible with the devices in your industry.
- Talk to device manufacturers. Tell them that to earn your business, their devices must be compatible with multiple SCADA systems.
- Keep on top of new technology. This also seems simple, but with many industries still using non-smart systems from the early days of SCADA, it is clearly not always a priority. While updating systems may involve some expense, in the long run they reduce costs and streamline your process.
Many devices, many industries mean that format compatibility issues will continue to arise, at least until there is a common call for format compatibility across enterprises and industries throughout the world.
This will be no easy task. In the meantime, it is your responsibility to make sure that your business has a plan, and that you address format compatibility when selecting any SCADA system.