The Unsung Hero of Eliminating Unplanned Downtime: HMI/SCADA

This guest post was written by Matthew Wells, general manager of Automation Software Solutions at GE Digital.

We are in the midst of a massive paradigm shift in the manufacturing industry. The explosion of data and the expansion of connected systems are forcing organizations to take a proactive role in managing their operations. In turn, the HMI/SCADA landscape is changing as well. Organizations must 20151007-GEDigital-blogincrease their operator effectiveness by mobilizing to improve plant business performance, turning industrial data everywhere into actionable knowledge – and keeping these infrastructures up-to-date.

Some engineers have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude, without realizing that continuing to use obsolete systems to collect, connect, and act upon vast amounts of production data from anywhere will inevitably lead to higher, hidden costs associated with big repairs and unplanned downtime. Furthermore, aging applications and devices may not work in the future, so migrating applications will help prevent costly compatibility issues. Failure to embrace new tools and capabilities will make it impossible for many businesses to stay competitive, thus becoming obsolete in the process.

Remember Microsoft XP?

Take for example, the Microsoft® XP platform that was launched in 2001. Because of the stability it offered at the time, a large number of control systems were launched with it. But now Windows® XP’s OS is no longer supported by Microsoft, and 30 percent of the world’s PCs are still running XP. This makes Windows XP machines more vulnerable to malware than ever before, and users’ personal and financial information will be at greater risk of compromise by identity thieves.

With the number of attacks on industrial applications rising and the critical need for plant system availability, companies can take simple steps now to minimize risk. The key is for organizations to benefit from the current technology and new functionalities available to minimize risk before unplanned downtime and disaster occur. Enter HMI/SCADA.

HMI/SCADA Is the Gateway to Leverage the Industrial Internet

Many HMI/SCADA developers have embraced OPC Unified Architecture, giving their software the ability to communicate with hundreds of different devices. The enhanced security and multi-platform support of the latest OPC specification helps facilitate an integrated information management system—enabling you to leverage the benefits of the Industrial Internet.

For example, using data generated by your SCADA system will enable you to identify areas for efficiency improvement. This includes increased energy and chemical savings, lower operational costs, faster troubleshooting, and quicker responsiveness to issues leading to better decision making. In general, better facilities management through HMI/SCADA systems increases process visibility. It also involves plant staff in your efforts to reduce downtime—ultimately enabling them to better understand their role in boosting productivity and efficiency.

Testing Now Will Save You Later

Minimizing risk isn’t a one-time or once-a-year activity. With serious threats on the rise, you need to incorporate HMI/SCADA risk assessments and reviews into your schedule.

The frequency of your risk assessments depends on your particular business, industry and plant applications. Start with a conservative, achievable schedule – and you can always increase the time between assessments, as needed. Assign a champion to minimize risk in your plant operations to drive leadership and consistency to the program.

It is a fact that there are HMI/SCADA systems exposed through the Internet. If that basic fact is being ignored, there are other basics being ignored as well. Update your software with the latest patches. Make sure you employ secure-by-design technologies and methodologies. Follow the guidelines for maximizing security and minimizing risk available from your software partners. There are lots of ways to enhance your HMI/SCADA.

Reasons to Upgrade Your HMI/SCADA

One way to reduce the amount of unplanned downtime in your plant is to implement a modernization program for your control system. This can be addressed in a step-by-step approach that will not only increase uptime, but provide a range of benefits for your processing facility while preparing your plant for the future, a future where the Industrial Internet of Things is a reality.

If you do have outdated software in your plant operations, make a plan now to upgrade the right way. Rethink your HMI/SCADA strategy – securely. Some HMI/SCADA users haven’t updated their systems in 10 years or more. Don’t just upgrade. Review your system with experts and use an upgrade as an opportunity to assess and modernize.

Modernizing your system can lead to many organizational benefits, including:

  • Enhancing the security of your systems
  • Avoiding obsolescence
  • Leveraging the Industrial Internet and Real-time Operational Intelligence (RtOI)
  • Benefiting from new functionalities
  • Being able to mobilize your application – quickly and easily

The Result?

Let’s face it, today’s world is much more connected, and data is much more accessible regardless of your location. The Industrial Internet is here to stay, and minimizing risk should be a top priority for every HMI/SCADA user. Plan a risk assessment program for your organization – and stick with it. Start with simple steps, such as:

  • Take advantage of standards, best practices, and information sharing
  • Tap into software vendors who work with industry groups, government agencies, and the security research community, to continually improve industrial automation and control systems and global infrastructures
  • Upgrade unsupported software and limit user rights

There are many ways to reduce risk, but it is important to take the steps now – before unplanned downtime and disaster occur. The bottom line is using the right HMI/SCADA system can significantly reduce unplanned downtime or unexpected delays, while simultaneously improving efficiency and safety.

About the Author
Matt-WellsMatthew Wells has more than 15 years of experience in solution implementation, product development and marketing for industrial automation and manufacturing operations management software. As a general manager at GE Digital, he is responsible for leading the global Automation Software Solutions division business with a focus on industrial implementations/solutions for both manufacturing and infrastructure industries. Matthew earned a degree in biochemical engineering from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

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