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SCADA Getting Smarter

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Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) technical advances have changed the role that automation and remote monitoring play in midstream operations. Those advances have enabled the control room operator’s duties to evolve from reactive monitoring to proactively identifying developing situations and solving problems before they inhibit operations or safety.

SCADA-accessed devices are now smaller, faster, more powerful, smarter, cheaper, wireless and web-accessed. Web access, combined with more powerful and userfriendly business intelligence tools and large capacity data storage and processing tools, have enabled real-time operational data to be available throughout an organization to provide better corporate decision-support capabilities without compromising the security of the control room.

“The control room operator has evolved from being an observer, responsible for simple alarm response, data trending and report generation, to actively controlling the field or a site through a dispatch mode of operation,” Jim Fererro, senior vice president and founder of Houston- based Globalogix Inc., tells Midstream Business. Globalogix is a control and automation engineering firm focused on SCADA projects. Dispatching based on need, rather than an arbitrary schedule, allows issues to be addressed more efficiently. Fewer staff can cover more assets and operate in a safer, more efficient mode—helping achieve the long-promised goal of automation: to allow people to work more efficiently.

“Another trend that is rapidly changing SCADA implementations includes smart phones and tablets as access devices for SCADA. We are developing HMI (human machine interface—computer lingo for any apparatus which conveys data to a human operator) screens today for display on operator smart phones and tablets providing an extension of the control room out into the field. Tablet applications (apps) for manual data capture by field operators are available today to feed operating data from non-automated assets into existing SCADA systems,” Fererro says.

Smarter, more accurate

Standardized screen designs across multiple locations help reduce the training required for employees in various regions. Data tagging improves accuracy and allows better data-path continuity as information travels from site to executive offices. Ethernet and transmission control protocol/internet protocol-based (TCP/IP) protocols are replacing the older proprietary standards. Integration of geographic information systems (GIS) applications to provide map views of fields is common. Integration of third-party vehicle and man tracking applications can be accommodated by some SCADA software. This allows for the control room operator to not only monitor the equipment, but also the personnel, Fererro adds.

Video systems are becoming smarter with motion sensors, web servers and even “self-learning behavior”- based video analytic capabilities being incorporated into the cameras in the field. Video analytics are software applications that determine “out of norm” situations from the images recorded, Fererro explains.

For example, depending on the day of the week and the time of day, a man walking across the field of view may trigger an alarm because that is not a normal occurrence at that particular time; or a pool forms under a tank and that triggers an alarm because that is an out-of-norm event. “This is a huge leap from simple motion detection,” he says.

A primary improvement in pipeline operations is increased reliability, says Darin Quest, director of product management, oil and gas, Schneider Electric SA, a global energy management company. “More sophisticated distributed control strategies are now possible by leveraging high, reliable network throughput to keep all remote systems fully synchronized and secure. In the past it was common to have a primary control center with a backup center that was often a ‘degraded’ backup center as it was a subset of the primary. Now the trend is to have the backup center be an exact copy of the primary in terms of computer equipment and redundancy,” Quest tells Midstream Business.

Because more SCADA points are capable of being scanned at high rates and continually, the historical record of what occurred on the pipeline is more accurate. This is allowing better engineering and maintenance analysis, to prevent problems, and better forensic analysis after an abnormal situation, Quest adds.

“Though advances in computing power and network capabilities are enabling much more comprehensive and proactive pipeline management, we are still in the early stages of fully exploiting the advantages of these capabilities. There is the cost and time it takes to replace legacy field equipment, but most importantly a lot of work is required to adapt operational processes, integrate the enterprise, control room and field-level systems and turn the large amount of data that is now collected into timely, actionable information for operators and business users without overwhelming them with too much data or data not relevant to their decisions at hand,” Quest says.

Information management

In December, Schneider Electric completed the acquisition of Telvent, a leading real-time information management provider. The synergies between the organizations are clear: Schneider Electric’s traditional focus has been on equipment, including controllers, systems and software,operating at the station level to control and monitor. Telvent, a software firm based in Madrid, Spain, provides solutions to support realtime oil and gas management at the control and management levels, as well as the intelligence necessary to connect all of the information.

The new integration offers a station to enterprise level suite of applications for pipeline management, including: leak-detection systems, cathodic protection monitoring, measurement integration, and decision support, Quest says. Schneider Electric’s corporate headquarters is in Paris, and its oil and gas team is based in Calgary. Quest is located in Minneapolis.

“The midstream oil and gas sector requires widely distributed networks as distances can range from many acres for an intermediate or end terminal tank farm, to entire continents for a pipeline system. In many cases, installing and maintaining private or proprietary networks over these distances doesn’t make economic sense, particularly for pipelines,” says Mike Miclot, vice president of marketing, industrial solutions division, at Belden Inc. St. Louis based Belden designs, manufactures, and markets cable, connectivity, and networking products in markets including industrial automation, enterprise, transportation, infrastructure and consumer electronics.

Miclot tells Midstream Business that storage and transport facilities often look to piggyback onto existing infrastructure such as cellular and “cloud computing” and the ethernet protocols on which these communications systems are largely based. “The Internet and its associated cloud are almost exclusively based on ethernet, causing tremendous growth and driving standardization,” Miclot says.

Ethernet infrastructure is developing rapidly in the process-control industry, thanks to advancements in the technology, most recently in the wireless arena. Ethernet is becoming all-pervasive in not only SCADA systems, but also in the intranets that connect these SCADA systems.

“Ethernet has become the de facto protocol for connecting not only business enterprises, but also for control and safety shutdown. Almost all of the instruments, sensors, valves and motor drives typically used in tank farms and pipelines are available with ethernet connectivity. The diagnostic, calibration and other functions enabled by ethernet connectivity between the components and the controllers enable remote control and monitoring,” Miclot says.

Operators are training with ever more sophisticated SCADA simulators, John Stoody, director of government and public relations for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, tells Midstream Business. The newest SCADA simulation software allows operators to practice operating concurrently on as many as 50 different workstations controlling as many as 400,000 objects. New SCADA regulations from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration emphasize training SCADA operators as a team to make decisions together, sharing information from teams and up the management chain.

SCADA upgrades

“SCADA technology itself is also improving with faster and more reliable field routing and switching communications equipment that better withstands time and the elements to reduce false positive signals or outages. Operators are also applying cellular technology to anti-corrosion equipment that can now monitor the pipeline remotely and transmit alerts on the need for repair or adjustment,” Stoody says.

“Operators are also applying GIS Mapping technology to their pipeline networks to map the precise coordinates of their pipelines, reducing the chances of third-party damage to pipelines and improving response times to incidents in remote locations,” Stoody says.

An operator of a major energy company with large midstream operations tells Midstream Business that in the past you had to balance the amount of data coming from a field location against how often you could update the data. “Today we are adding additional instruments and updating the data more often. This increased data density supports closer monitoring of hydraulic transits and better overall product measurement. We can see what is going on better,” the operator says.

“New small diagonal devices and remote communication is allowing instruments to be installed at locations without extensive infrastructure support. Complete instrument and communication packages about the size of a small lunch box, using solar cells installed at remote valve sites, are adding to the data used to monitor pipelines. This adds more points along the pipeline to monitor hydraulic operations at a small incremental cost. New diagonal devices come with shelf diagnostic routines that can be remotely accessed by technicians to trouble shoot instrument systems. Faster SCADA computers can process the data from more instruments without a penalty in control performance,” the operator says.

“The ability to build better systems is improving but completing all of the administrative and regulatory steps is getting harder,” says the operator. “Going forward, the administrative costs will soon swap the technology costs for any given system.”

Moore’s law

A key item is that Moore’s law has been providing better equipment faster than we can design and commission new SCADA systems, the operator says. Moore’s law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, cofounder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months, and this is the current definition of Moore’s law.

Fererro says that SCADA evolution is in its third generation, which he calls “networked.” This generation uses open system architecture, rather than a vendor controlled propriety environment.

“The SCADA system utilizes open standards and protocols, thus distributing functionality across a WAN (wide area network) rather than a LAN (local area network). It is easier to connect third-party peripheral devices like printers, disk drives and tape drivers due to the use of open architecture.”

The previous, or second generation, is referred to by Fererro as “distributed” as processing was distributed across multiple stations that were connected through a LAN. Each station was responsible for a particular task. The network protocols were mostly proprietary. The first generation of SCADA was called “monolithic.” Computing was done by mainstream computers as networks did not exist at that time. SCADA system had no connectivity with other systems.

“The single greatest advance in SCADA is probably digital communications,” Gerry Browne, engineering manager at Honeywell Process Solutions, tells Midstream Business. “It’s never been as inexpensive or easy to get a network connection to a device anywhere in the world. A few years ago, field equipment would have only a serial port (running a single protocol.)

“Today, the same equipment might have its own web server and methods that expose all of its operating parameters. Remote data is now available immediately, allowing users to make better decisions.” A significant advantage of digital is that it typically uses standard network protocols. The main benefits of this are the ability to run multiple applications over a single link, Browne explains. Honeywell Process Solution, based in Houston, provides technology and services in automation control, serving industrial process manufacturers worldwide.

“The increased convenience of end users viewing their processes remotely, however, introduces security considerations. “The move from proprietary technologies to more standardized and open solutions together with the increased number of connections between SCADA systems and office networks and the internet has made them more vulnerable to attacks,” Fererro says. Cyber security must become the highest priority for all concerned, and keeping ahead of attackers will remain a huge challenge. All users must be trained and alert as they will be the first line of defense. Unfortunately, many companies are trying to address the problem as an afterthought, or with unsophisticated proprietary software, which in many instances is “like trying to fight a 21st century battle with muskets,” he says.

Source Credit: Midstream Business

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