Closing the Gap: 10 Tips for Using HMI/SCADA and MES as Your “On Ramp” to the Digital Thread

  • September 06, 2017
  • GE Digital
  • Feature
Closing the Gap: 10 Tips for Using HMI/SCADA and MES as Your “On Ramp” to the Digital Thread
Closing the Gap: 10 Tips for Using HMI/SCADA and MES as Your “On Ramp” to the Digital Thread

By Matthew Wells, Vice President, Digital Product Management, GE Digital

In today’s economy, data is a valuable commodity; companies rely on it to run their businesses, be more competitive in the market, and enable increases in productivity. In order to take advantage of data, however, a business needs to connect and automate its back-end systems and processes in order to make sense of the data, identify patterns and formulate solutions.

This, combined with the technologies that exist in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), will enable the journey to becoming a fully digitized business.

Many companies have automation systems already in place. HMI/SCADA and MES software provides a sturdy foundation for the data-reliant applications that support IIoT. However, most organizations need to close gaps in data often found in traditional implementations.

By creating a digital thread – a connected framework that communicates across once siloed manufacturing processes – companies can see an integrated view of an asset throughout its lifecycle. With plant-wide software such as HMI/SCADA from GE Digital, you can capture that data then run predictive analytics applications using platforms such as GE Predix. It’s a seamless digital connection that provides immense benefits for a business.

ARC Advisory Group’s Craig Resnick defines the Industrial Internet of Things as “The Ultimate Digital Thread” and “the transformation of industrial products, operations, value chains, and aftermarket services that is enabled through the expanded use of sensors, digitization, networking, and information systems.”

When beginning to implement IIoT in your business, there are a couple of questions to ask to gauge preparedness, like:

  • Do you have the necessary technologies in place that are imperative to leveraging IIoT?
  • Has your business closed gaps and is now gathering necessary data across its current HMI/SCADA and MES systems?


If the answer to these initial questions is no, then I’ve got some quick tips to get you started:


Tip 1: Look for solutions that can be deployed seamlessly on top of your existing installations.

Unstructured data can become unmanageable very quickly if you don’t map it into a model. From proactive analysis to guiding operator responses, modern alarming technologies use IIoT’s connected systems, layered with new apps, to help eliminate alarm noise and confusion while driving the right corrective actions.


Tip 2: Use a data model.

Data models define connection points, storage and processing of data inside systems. These models will normally consist of entity types, attributes, relationships, integrity rules, and the definitions of those objects, which is then used as the starting point for interface or database design.


Tip 3: Favor communication standards that enable interoperability.

Industry Standard protocols, like OPC UA, focus on communicating with industrial equipment and systems for data collection and control. They offer security through trusted communications and are not tied to any one operating system or programming language, providing flexibility when making decisions for your business, and easy transitions between systems if needed.


Tip 4: Replace old sensors with smart sensors, including virtual ones.

Physical sensors can be costly but help monitor performance and prevent machine problems. A newer option, virtual sensors drive analytics or physical modeling of the process, especially for difficult-to-measure quantities, such as forces or torques, and when a physical sensor would be too expensive. The software identifies correlations between parameters that are not easy to identify and creates a model that can be used as a reference during production so that deviations from the model will result in early warnings.


Tip 5: Be sure to collect all important data related to manual activities.

By digitizing work processes, you can drive the right actions at any time using Electronic Work Instructions and eSOPs. You can prevent mistakes, reduce response times, and optimize processes for greater productivity, less risk, and higher quality.


Tip 6: Take a close look at old pieces of equipment that cannot be equipped with sensors, and consider capturing information through your operators.

There are always those “machine whisperers” in every plant that have a unique understanding of a piece of equipment. Capture their knowledge. Operator observations are an important complement. You can leverage people to substitute for sensors – and capture the information through your smartest devices on the plant floor, your people.


Tip 7: Look for hidden data.

Sometimes, data is collected but being used in an isolated way that is not beneficial to a business’ overall analytics processes. Sometimes, we aren’t looking in the right places for useful data. If you work backward from the outcome you are looking to achieve and figure out exactly what information you need, you might find that you have had the data you need all along.


Tip 8: Drive collaboration across teams.

Today’s workforce is digital, so by using devices that teams are already familiar with, you might be able to capture more data and drive corrective action without introducing new systems. Your team might already know how to collaborate; they are familiar with all of the platforms that support working together and “crowd-sourcing” information. You just have to enable them to do so.


Tip 9: Close the loop.

In an IIoT world, you must send collected data and insights back to the operators. If you are precisely monitoring, controlling and visualizing every aspect of your operations for intelligent control using high-performance technology, it makes sense to take that information back to the people running the equipment. With a quick glance, operators know what data is important and what actions are needed to increase efficiency and reduce costs.


Tip 10: Pay attention to security.

When you move from standalone to fully connected systems, security is a priority. However, OT security is drastically different from IT security. The good news is that you can minimize vulnerability with secure-by-design technologies, keeping all of your software up to date, and implementing the latest security methodologies. Maintain regular security reviews, identifying and implementing additional practices that are right for your business.

So, now are you ready to leverage the “ultimate digital thread”, the Industrial Internet of Things? The best course of action is to evaluate the needs of your business and map out a plan. Get started. Get connected.

Implementing the digital thread in your manufacturing processes will yield undeniable benefits and get you on the road to becoming a digital business.


About the Author


Matthew Wells has 15-plus years of experience in Solution Implementation, Product Development and Marketing for Manufacturing and Industrial Automation Software. He leads GE’s efforts in Brilliant Execution, helping customers with on-premises manufacturing solutions to increase productivity, production and efficiency in their business. 

Learn More

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..