Process monitoring: How network video can improve production continuity

  • September 02, 2014
  • Feature

By Andrea Sorri,  Axis Communications

Safe, secure, and uninterrupted: National critical infrastructures rely on processes and services running safely and reliably. Process monitoring and ensuring that safety rules are being adhered to, are all equally important in making the right decision quickly. From power generation to water treatment, plant operators need to know at all times what is going on in all sensitive areas, and at the same time keep efficiency of their large-scale processes at a high level. They also need to ensure they meet health, safety and environmental regulations. In many cases they have to do this for multiple locations simultaneously, often over large distances. Analog CCTV cameras have played a role in supporting operators with the task of monitoring the site, but have their limits with regards to image quality and detail, as well as remote controlling and remote managing the camera system. With the arrival of network video, there are now excellent possibilities for plant operators to integrate security, safety and production control in one single system. The big difference is that analog CCTV cameras sit in a closed system, whereas network cameras are connected to an open network system and deliver the video images digitally over standard IP connections. This makes the video images much more accessible, and also allows close integration with other IP-based systems, including SCADA (Supervisory Control And Dada Acquisition) systems and access control. In addition, developments in image processing chips - used at the core of the network camera - and sophisticated algorithms tailored for network camera applications have improved image quality far beyond what we are used to from analog cameras; to a degree never before seen at lower cost levels. With HDTV image quality, network cameras can provide detailed and clear images - allowing remote operators to virtually place themselves at any location of the plant or process and see what is happening at any given time. Live video from relevant and critical areas gives the operator crucial real-time information, even from remote locations and areas that are difficult or dangerous to access. In case of incidents, timing is everything, so being able to view the affected area at the touch of a button, and respond quickly without having to travel on-site to assess the situation first, can prove a life-saving advantage. While being able to deal with incidents fast is an important requirement, network video also has an important role to play in the smooth day-to-day running of a plant. Integrating the camera system into the production system helps with monitoring production efficiency, visually inspecting and verifying functions and processes are running correctly, even providing remote assistance with planned maintenance. It also helps ensure safety rules and processes are being followed, and tools and equipment are being managed properly. Where traditional industrial control systems provide data, network video can add another level of transparency. Using cameras in critical process areas to complement process data delivered by sensors - such as temperature or pressure - helps with understanding exactly what is happening in the process at any given time: The video system gives 'eyes' to the sensors, all delivered on the same display in the control room. In order to facilitate this integration of video and SCADA systems, it is important to work with an open protocol, which enables manufacturers of different devices and software to integrate the various production components in one management system. This is an exciting growth area where manufacturers and system integrators are expected to develop new, integrated solutions over the next few years. Already, there are numerous suitable network cameras available on the market today for use in process monitoring, including cameras with pan/tilt/zoom functionality and cameras that are able to provide clear pictures in difficult light conditions. One AXIS camera has even been successfully tested in a simulation of accelerated aging for ten years of operating inside a nuclear power reactor. While the cameras may need special protective housings in environments where they are exposed to high temperatures, electromagnetic fields, or chemicals, in theory there is no limit to how they can be used. In fact, while the application of network video in process monitoring is still in its relative infancy, there is no doubt we will continue to see more applications and more installations. Experts predict a 50% increase in electricity demand by 2035, and a 20% increase in water demand by 2030. Plant operators need to be prepared to meet this demand - and they need to prepare now. Network video can play in important role in getting ready for the future.

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