Smart Mobile Devices and Human Machine Interface: How to turn visibility into action for SCADA and BMS

  • September 05, 2017
  • PCVUE Inc
  • Feature
Smart Mobile Devices and Human Machine Interface: How to turn visibility into action for SCADA and BMS
Smart Mobile Devices and Human Machine Interface: How to turn visibility into action for SCADA and BMS

By Lucie Vill├ęger, Marketing & Communications Manager, PcVue Inc.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Building Management Systems (BMS) provide a Human Machine Interface (HMI) with visibility for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) personnel to the state and health of industrial, electrical and building equipment assets.  These supervisory systems have, for some time, been moving out of centralized control rooms and onto remote platforms, such as laptops, allowing O&M workers to view the state of equipment from the field.

Mobile workers have long benefitted from the evolution of telecommunications, particularly with regard to improvement in end devices. Today, mobility is associated with smart devices, most notably phones and tablets.  They are increasingly preferred over laptops as the communications device for remote workers.  The way in which people interact with mobile devices differs from the way in which they interact with laptop computers. 

Historical approaches to monitor, diagnose, maintain and control industrial and building assets must be reconsidered.  A new architecture optimized for the mobile SCADA and BMS user is needed. 


Contextual Mobility Infrastructure

A contextual mobility infrastructure, is centered on the smart mobile device to increase the value and efficiency of the entire system. It takes advantage of indoor and outdoor geo-location technologies to provide Contextual HMI (C-HMI) based on the mobile workers proximity to equipment. O&M personnel are now able to access relevant controls and information, which are automatically downloaded on their device, based on their current location and user profile.  This eliminates resorting to navigation designed for a standard computer, when using the much smaller mobile device screen. This disruptive innovation provides improved performance and operational efficiency while also increasing safety.

The C-HMI infrastructure consists of geo-tags deployed in geographic zones of control (i.e. geo-zones) a proximity services application on the mobile devices and a contextual mobility server, responsible for evaluating and responding to the user’s information and control needs at their current location. The server is connected to a supervisory system (SCADA or BMS), which handles the communications to monitor and control equipment or other assets that it supervises. The mobile devices are connected to the contextual mobility server using standard wireless networks.


Contextual HMI Application

In practical terms, the C-HMI would typically involve a worker logging into an app on their mobile device.  As the device moves into a geo-zone the app detects Bluetooth LE Beacon tags, Wi-Fi Access Points, or the worker may scan a NFC tag, or a QR Code to define the local environmental context.

The contextual mobility server maintains a database that associates geo-zones and user profiles with information, equipment controls, actions and events. Using the environmental context and the user log-in credentials, which are transmitted by the mobile app, the server is able to access the information in the context of person and place.  It then automatically sends the relevant information and controls to the mobile device.

The SCADA or BMS system is enhanced with C-HMI including: (1) all of the real-time data and control elements needed for the supervisory control and (2) real-time location of mobile devices and geo-tagged assets and (3) C-HMI messaging providing an electronic log as required.            This system also has the information necessary to execute automatic sequences depending on events. For example, in the case of a security or safety related event, a notification may be automatically broadcast to workers who are in the affected zone. It also monitors the zones and sends actions to the supervisory system as appropriate. For example, when the last person leaves a zone, the lights may be automatically turned off.


The Impact of a Disruptive Technology

The contextual mobility infrastructure concept was developed based on global requests for improved mobility support for SCADA and BMS.  Over the past two years, market research has been conducted through private meetings, demonstrations at trade-shows, seminars and focus groups (Fraunhofer USA, 2015). The research was done to understand both the perceived value of C-HMI, and how roles of the worker might change with C-HMI technology availability.

We found that two things were consistently mentioned.  One was that the technology enabled more efficient utilization of human resources.  The time required to perform commissioning of a new system was identified as a major improvement in this area.  A common current practice is to have one worker in the field and the other at a central control room during commissioning.  One of our customers provides automatic blinds for energy management within Smart Buildings.  With C-HMI one worker can perform the commissioning, by remotely controlling the BMS.  This was identified as both a cost and time saving improvement.

The second common finding was the efficient dispatch of personnel in response to a field event.  Using the profile of the mobile worker, linked to their certifications and training, the closest qualified worker may be sent to respond to an issue.  In one case, the organization has over 500 maintenance personnel spread over multiple locations.  For this organization tracking the location of qualified resources provides a very significant efficiency gain.  While not all maintenance teams are this large, smaller teams benefit by receiving the right information for them to resolve the problem at hand.  In particular, it can be very useful in case of critical issues as actions are taken more quickly.

The issue of security was a common concern, which was identified to be critical to the acceptance of a C-HMI.  This includes security of the communications from the C-HMI to the supervisory system to avoid cybersecurity attacks using the mobility server as a gateway to the SCADA or BMS.  It also includes ensuring that the user who is logged into the mobile device are who they say they are and not someone using the authorized credentials to access control of equipment.

The accessibility to the comprehensive SCADA and BMS information is one of the most appreciated features identified in our research.  The ability to be able to access information from anywhere with a connection was often mentioned as a major advantage.  It is perceived to greatly reduce the time spent walking around.  When the process or facilities under supervision are geographically dispersed, the value of not wasting time in transit is even greater.

In conclusion, contextual mobility solutions have the potential to greatly improve the efficiency, convenience and usability of a supervisory system when augmented by contextual HMI.  Monitoring the location of mobile resources and automation of contextual information and controls leads to a more efficient and productive workforce.  The entire organization derives benefits through greater safety, security, comfort, and efficiency.  


About PcVue Solutions

PcVue Solutions are available in North America from PcVue Inc. and by its affiliates around the world.  In an increasingly communicating universe, PcVue Solutions innovates with software that optimize the interface between people, connected objects and supervisory systems by taking advantage of the latest mobile and geolocation technologies such as NFC, Bluetooth LE Beacons, QR Codes, GPS and other emerging technologies.  ARC Informatique, the affiliate of PcVue in Paris, has developed a patent pending implementation of a contextual mobility infrastructure. 

About the Author

Lucie Vill├ęgeris the Marketing and Communication manager for PcVue, Inc., and a member of the global marketing organization at ARC Informatique, its affiliate in France.  Located at PcVue offices in Woburn, Massachusetts, she is responsible for social media, events, newsletters, and public relations for North America. Lucie received her Master’s Degree in Strategic Marketing from INSEEC Group Business School in Paris, France. 

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