Why independent SCADA is essential for integration

‘Smart factories’ have become a buzzword of modern manufacturing but, according to the Annual Manufacturing Report, just 15 per cent of manufacturers are actually using widespread digitalisation. Here, I'd like to explain the role of SCADA software in smart factories and why hardware-independent software is essential for making the transition to Industry 4.0.

    

Smart factories are highly digitalised and interconnected environments, where machinery and equipment improve processes through automation and self-optimisation. The structure of a smart factory can include a combination of production, data and communication technologies, with the potential for integration across the entire manufacturing supply chain.

In fact, an integral part of the smart factory concept is the ability to collect data. For example, vibration sensors can provide warnings when equipment needs to be maintained, while integrated automation software allows plant managers to collect this data for it to be analysed and ensure the correct decisions are made. This prevents production problems, such as unplanned downtime and the manufacturing of inadequate products.

 

Data integrity

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software systems ensure that industrial organisations can better process this data, to make smarter decisions and communicate system issues more efficiently.

The SCADA architecture begins with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or remote terminal units (RTUs). PLCs and RTUs are microcomputers that communicate with a range of objects such as factory machines, human machine interfaces (HMIs), sensors and end devices. These communications and data are then routed from this equipment to the computers that have been equipped with SCADA software.

The pharmaceutical industry offers an excellent example of this process in action, with a real emphasis on data integrity to guarantee the safety of the product being manufactured. In much simpler terms, pharmaceutical manufacturers should follow instructions and document actions correctly so, if any deviation occurs in products, the company can investigate and put measures in place to prevent the same error happening again.

Actually, the pharmaceutical industry has been slow to transition to traditional industrial automation software. But, despite this, SCADA software is being implemented to ensure that production processes, documentation and sampling become more digitalised. This helps to reduce human error and tackles problems like data manipulation.

Digital records automatically track the actions at each stage of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process, which makes data manipulation impossible. This is because HMI/PLC SCADA software automatically logs any critical event and prevents any gaps in the records, which improves data accuracy. Through SCADA software, plant operators can also set alarms or notifications whenever pre-defined values exceed set parameters. This ensures that any deviation in the industrial automation process is identified in real-time.

 

Easy integration

The successful integration of SCADA software is actually simple. Contrary to what some believe, the process does not require a complete equipment overhaul. Instead, industrial companies should consider choosing software that is platform independent.

In an industrial environment, ‘hardware-independent software’ describes software that can be implemented into any industrial automation system, regardless of the hardware used in the facility. Independent software can be integrated seamlessly into any device within the factory, irrespective of the age or manufacturer of the equipment.

For instance, COPA-DATA’s zenon software provides over 300 native communication protocols. With this flexibility, manufacturers have the freedom to integrate new or existing machines and production areas into the data system, regardless of the communication standard used.

Although just 15 per cent of manufacturers are using widespread digitalisation in their processes, the transition is made simple with the integration of truly independent software, like SCADA. Not only does independent software ensure data integrity in critical industries, like pharmaceutical, but it makes factory digitalisation a reality without requiring an equipment overhaul.