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Nov 27

Where’s my jetpack? Mobile HMI & SCADA

If a jet pack was a safe, reliable and cheap way to travel we would all be using them. It seems that cars are the definitely winning in the transport arena though. Just take a look at how far Google have come with their self-driving race-cars – yes race-cars; they’re developing them with NASCAR. Sure its a racing environment and not a “real” environment – but at least someone out there is doing the hard yards to get this technology working. Another technology that seems like it would be a great idea, but just isn’t really there yet is mobile SCADA and HMI.

ProficySCADA

ProficySCADA

It’s fair to say that there are already quite a number of mobile SCADA packages available; GE has ProficySCADA and if you have a quick browse through the android play-store or iOS app-store you’ll see a number of others in the mix (mySCADA, SCADAMobile, Autobase). There is also more robust hardware out there that will allow users to run a full copy of windows, and thus almost any SCADA package you like, just as though it’s on a desktop/laptop. There is also the option of running a thin-client on any kind of tablet and leave the real number crunching to a HMI server.

Despite there being plenty of software options – there are still other hardware issues. The two biggest being battery life, and communications. There will always be a need for the hard wired options because there are some environments where wireless just isn’t reliable enough (think mega-magnets and underground mines). However in those situations where mobile automation would be well suited, those issues still remain. How many tablets would you actually need in order to have enough mobile stations even after breakages, 24 hours shifts and low batteries?

There are a lot of engineering solutions out there that are supposed to make life easier – but just don’t live up to the expectation in the long run. This PLC 5 to ControlLogix conversion module offered by Rockwell Automation as a staged upgrade path seems great, but tell me how in 6 months time an electrician will be able to get in there and trouble-shoot that beast? I think mobile platforms for factory automation will face the same challenges, they need to be sensible, intuitive and usable for ALL the people that will use them (developers through to end users). oh yeah… and they have to work. It never ceases to amaze me what a poor user interface many of the desktop SCADA development studios have given that the design space is for developing a user interface. They are almost always usable, but almost never nice to use! Since real game-changing technology usually offers so much more than their predecessors ever did, mobile SCADA will need to offer a better development experience as well as a better end user experience to get it’s foot in the door.

There are a number of questions bought up by having a plant operator able to walk around their factory and be using a mobile device for control. Beyond the technical issues there’s also security and safety (both machine and operator). So what are the driving factors behind you considering mobile SCADA in your factory? We’d love to hear your opinions on mobile SCADA (and why we don’t have our jet-packs yet).