Loose and Tight Systems

Loose and Tight Systems

This is an excerpt from the July/August 2012 InTech Web Exclusive feature by John Rinaldi. For the entire article, please see the link at the bottom of this post.

There is a lot of talk today about the integration of the “enterprise” and the “factory floor.” I have enjoyed a lot of this discussion. …

New approach required for factory floor to business enterprise integration.

There are also new terms being thrown around like digital factory and integrated intelligence. However you look at it, there is more and more talk (and action) toward linking the factory floor with systems not directly involved in factory floor control. The enterprise systems can be big and sophisticated like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES), or they could be as simple as a recipe manager on your server that downloads 20 tags once a day.

No matter what you are doing, there is a key distinction between the systems on the factory floor and in the enterprise that many people do not understand. This difference is what I term “loosely-coupled” and “tightly-coupled” systems. I do not believe these are new concepts, but I also do not think they have been examined in the light of the current trend toward the integration of factory floor and enterprise systems.

I would argue that factory floor systems should be labeled tightly-coupled. Systems that use Profibus, Profinet IO, DeviceNet, EtherNet/IP, or any Modbus version have a strict architecture. These are really I/O systems as much as the folks at the trade associations would have you believe otherwise.

… loosely-coupled systems provide exactly the right kind of interface for enterprise communications. Loosely-coupled systems decouple the platform from the data, the data from the data model, and provide a much more dynamic mechanism for moving data.

Loosely-coupled systems have these kinds of characteristics:

  • Widely-used, Standards-based Transport Layer – Messages are transported in loosely-coupled systems with open, widely implemented, highly flexible transport layers, including TCP and HTTP.
  • Open, Platform Independent Data Encoding – Data is encoded using an open standard data encoding like eXtensible Markup Language (XML) that can be processed by any computer platform.
  • Highly Extensible Operating Interface – The interface between loosely-coupled systems is flexible and extensible. Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP, is the main interface, and it provides a highly flexible mechanism for messaging between loosely-coupled systems.
To read John Rinaldi’s full article, click here.
How to Leverage Remote Video Monitoring for Industrial SCADA and HMI Systems

How to Leverage Remote Video Monitoring for Industrial SCADA and HMI Systems

This post was written by Greg Santos, an engineer with nearly 20 years experience in the process automation industry.


There has been much advancement in recent years in hardware and software technologies that are enabling more choices in instrumentation that can be put into the field and data that can be brought back to the control room. However, this equipment only provides you with data. This data must be interpreted into practical information in order to be an effective monitoring, control, and automation tool. There remains a gap between the data that is being delivered and deduction of what this data is actually telling you about your process. A comprehensive remote video monitoring system can bridge this gap.

Such a system could deliver critical data that has already been interpreted into meaningful information about your process. Although the video by itself is useful, video that is correlated and tied into your supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system would be even more meaningful. In the ideal remote video monitoring system, a camera is a sensor, delivering vital visual data about your process. The local DVR is the programmable logic controller (PLC) or remote terminal unit (RTU), continually processing and storing video data from the camera. With the proper video management software, this video data can be seamlessly integrated into your SCADA system to give you more information about your process and allow you to make efficient and cost-effective decisions more quickly.



A typical video and alarming solution would consist of:

  • Industrial and hazardous area cameras
  • Networking components, such as power over Ethernet and wireless devices
  • Video historians—video recording and processing appliances
  • SCADA integration software—OPC and Modbus TCP servers, as well as SCADA video windows
  • A web-based and mobile viewing application for viewing video and alarming

Bridging the gap

Video is becoming a standard type of data that SCADA systems are utilizing for more information and a clearer picture about what is happening in the field. Pushing the envelope even further, more advanced video management systems seamlessly integrate into your control system with the following capabilities:

  • Communicate directly to your PLC/RTU in the field. A video historian device is connected directly to the cameras in the field, continuously storing and processing video data. An integrated Modbus TCP Server on the video historian creates a bi-directional interface with remote PLC/RTU devices. The Modbus TCP Server can send camera-initiated alarms directly to the PLC/RTU, allowing for integration of video alarming directly into the control system. This truly allows the camera to act as a sensor. The important part is that the integration is done at the edge, where the sensors and control of your remote site should be done. Furthermore, the video historian’s Modbus TCP Server can accept incoming signals from the remote PLC/RTU and perform actions such as: 
    • Starting/stopping video recording
    • Arming/disarming of the system
    • Moving a camera to a specific location
    • Creating video clip recordings surrounding an event

    This allows for complete control of your remote video systems and cameras by the SCADA system.

  • Utilize your existing network to transmit video. Remote sites typically make use of dedicated radio networks to transmit process data back to the control room. Network bandwidth can vary from 9600 baud serial radios to higher bandwidth TCP/IP radios. An advanced video management system should be able to transmit video over any network, as well as encapsulate the video into the PLC protocol you are using. For example, this system should be able to transmit video over an existing serial Modbus network by encapsulating the video in the Modbus protocol. In this case, the video historian device looks just like another PLC or RTU on your network.
  • Integrate video directly into your SCADA/HMI screens. The video management system user interface should provide video viewing directly into your operator screens. This should be feasible even on systems that do not support ActiveX control technologies.
  • Integrate video alarms into your existing alarm summary. The video management system should contain an OPC Server that creates a bi-directional interface with the SCADA system and allow you to insert video system alarms into your SCADA system, as well as control the video system from the SCADA side. This interface should also let you move cameras, turn recording on and off, and create video snippets all through OPC commands from the SCADA side.
  • Overlay process data directly on the video image. An advanced remote video management system should allow you to “burn” data values directly on the video stream you are viewing. This will allow users to place the important, most used data directly on the video image to give operators more information in a single view.
  • Correlating SCADA system events with video. An advanced remote video management system should allow you to simply click on an alarm or event in your system and automatically bring up the video that occurred at that time, correlating the video with historical SCADA data.


Safeguarding against network or equipment outages

An advanced video monitoring system should continuously record video at the edge. At the edge means “where the cameras are.” All the real-time, high-resolution video storage and processing can be done in a distributed fashion, which mirrors a PLC or RTU type of network. This system architecture does not rely on a continuous network connection for the recording of video. The network is only used when an operator wants to see live video or the system detects an alarm condition and creates a video event clip.

Efficient use of your network

In the architecture we are describing, high-resolution video is stored at the edge. However, lower resolution, lower frame rate video should be able to be transported over your given network. This allows you to tailor the video to fit your scenario, all the while recording the highest resolution video and keeping it in a safe place locally. Along with bandwidth management, an advanced video management system should use your existing control network without interfering with important process data. Mechanisms in such a system should prevent video data from obstructing control system messages. This effectively would act as a type of control system quality of service (QoS), making sure the most important data transmissions are prioritized first.

Control room integration

In the central control room, the video control center component of the advance video management software is installed. The video control center would act as a portal for viewing and sharing video and alarming with other systems. It should utilize OPC and Modbus TCP technologies to share video alarms and insert alarms directly into the alarm system of the SCADA/HMI. Video windows should be able to be inserted along with alarms into the operator interface screens, allowing them to review video on the same system they are using for control and automation.

An advance video management system should also give you the ability to view your remote assets live or go back in time to any point to see what occurred. This allows you to troubleshoot issues efficiently and effectively and reduces frequent site visits and the manpower needed. By using the camera as a sensor, the video system delivers ready-to-use information, providing quick reaction to alarms and events.

What follows are examples of how such an advanced video management system was implemented to solve specific remote monitoring problems

Case Study 1: Securing and monitoring a crude oil pipeline

In January of 2011, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) invoked a requirement for Chevron to secure and monitor their remote block valve sites for pipeline leaks. PHMSA is a U.S. Department of Transportation agency that develops and enforces regulations for the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of the nation’s 2.6-million mile pipeline transportation system and the nearly one million daily shipments of hazardous materials by land, sea, and air. Pipeline leaks can have a devastating cost in terms of lost production and cleanup effort, not to mention the environmental impact.

Chevron began investigating the options for security, monitoring, and leak detection. Their initial investigation included technologies ranging from 24-hour manned surveillance to radioactive isotope tracers for leak detection. After the evaluation, they decided on a remote video monitoring solution that included advanced video management software and a new hazardous area thermal sensor.

Chevron utilized an advanced video management solution that included the following system components:

  • Control Room: Video control center software for integration of video into operator SCADA/HMI screens.
  • Remote Site:  Remote DVR appliance for on-site recording, alarming, and direct communication to the PLC.
  • Cameras:
    • Thermal imaging camera for pipeline leak detection
    • Pan-tilt-zoom camera for overall site surveillance


A new type of sensor

The solution provided integrates a thermal imaging used to detect hydrocarbon leaks and spills. The camera is optimized for persistent, 24-hour leak detection in locations where pipes rise above ground. The camera is used to detect thermal anomalies present when fluid or high-pressure gaseous leaks occur. The system provides spill detection over the full range of temperature conditions.

Smarter and faster alarm verification

When the thermal camera senses a leak detection event, it immediately alerts the PLC at the remote site via Modbus TCP. The PLC will then send a prioritized alarm message back to the control center. The Longwatch video engine simultaneously records a ten-second video clip surrounding the leak event. This snippet of video is sent over the control network back to the operator’s console. The operator now has the ability to have more information about the event in the form of video. This allows smarter and faster decision-making and gives the operator the information needed to respond to the event appropriately.

Case Study 2: More process control system information at your fingertips

Consol Energy, a publicly owned Pittsburgh-based producer of coal and natural gas, is one of the leading diversified energy companies in the U.S. Due to their various operations, they have a vastly distributed control system network. Multiple remote SCADA/HMI branches all connect back to a main control center in Claypool Hills, Virginia. They were experiencing a problem with blind spots (i.e., areas of their process they did not have vision into). This included the operator’s HMI screens at any number of their remote stations. Frequent SCADA/HMI-related problems caused a great deal of time to be put into supporting these remote operations over the phone or making frequent site visits to these extremely remote locations. The time and manpower required to support this kind of remote application was significant.

One such site was a gas processing facility in West Virginia, the next state over. The entire remote processing system was operated by a skeleton crew. The data from the remote location was sent back to the main control center in Virginia, but it did not provide enough information to properly troubleshoot and find the root cause of issues.

Visual confirmation of operator activity

Consol Energy decided to implement a video management system that included the capability to record operator consoles. The console recorder is a software module that enables automatic recording of the HMI or SCADA operator’s console display. With this tool, Longwatch archives exactly what the operator was seeing, because it records the video that is being sent to the display itself. Playing back what the operator was seeing proved to be a very valuable method for troubleshooting, training, and process improvement.

The recorder software provides access to live and recorded video of the operator’s screens. In this way, the control room in Virginia can have access to exactly what the remote operator’s screens look like at any given point in time. Managers can view their operator’s screens live or go back in time to any point to see what the screen looked like in the past.

The operator’s console should be looked upon as an asset, just like an important piece of equipment or part of your process. Consol Energy is now able to troubleshoot issues in real time or find out why an operator did not acknowledge an alarm. Was it due to operator error or did the HMI screen malfunction?

Remote emergency management

After the success of the console recording approach, Consol Energy wanted to add visual monitoring of their remote assets. At the same plant where the operator’s consoles were being recorded, Class I Division 2 cameras were put in place to monitor critical, potentially hazardous areas of their manufacturing process. When emergency situations arise, there is a need to determine the whereabouts of site personnel and also establish which part of the plant is affected.  The Class I Division 2 pan-tilt-zoom cameras provide remote “eyes” necessary to accurately assess the situation.

Consol Energy now has complete vision into their remote applications. The advanced video management system deployed provides video from operator screens along with video from hazardous area cameras that can be viewed anywhere on their network.

In summary

Software and hardware technologies are now available to create a comprehensive remote video monitoring solution. Advanced video management software technologies now provide:

  • Integration of live video into operator SCADA and HMI screens
  • Correlation of saved video clips of process operation with historical and event-based SCADA data
  • High-resolution/high-frame rate recording at the site, even when the remote communication is lost
  • Recording of operator consoles for correlation with other saved process video for incident investigation or operator training
  • Transmission of live video streams back to central control room over low-bandwidth or bandwidth-constrained connections, including over field protocols, such as Modbus

The software described above allows you to view a camera as just another sensor, delivering far more information than a few points of data. The facility, combined with the advanced industrial camera technologies now available, provides for powerful remote monitoring solutions that enhance personnel safety, site security, and process productivity.

About the Author
Greg Santos is an engineer with nearly 20 years experience in the process automation industry. He has worked for Industrial Video and Control, where his responsibilities included project management and technical training of integrators and end users. He has held technical support and field applications roles for SCADA and HMI systems, application engineering for SCADA and HMI solutions in multiple industries.

Connect with Greg:


A version of this article originally was published at InTech magazine.


Advantages of Pairing Experienced and Novice Automation Professionals

This is an excerpt from the InTech magazine “Talk to Me” by Chief Editor Bill Lydon. For the entire article, please click the link at the bottom of this post.

The addition of new people to the automation profession provides a great opportunity to avoid “reinventing the wheel,” and with the synergy between the new dogs and old dogs-the experienced automation professionals-new ideas are created that fuel innovation. The new dogs can teach the old dogs new tricks, and the old dogs can teach the new dogs old tricks! There are great advantages to pairing experienced and novice together.

It can be counterproductive to immediately put new automation people on projects by themselves. I recently heard an experienced automation engineer describing the dark side of this situation: “Management does not give us enough time to work with the new young engineers, and they are making mistakes that we learned to avoid 15 years ago.” Young automation people just out of college or technical schools have learned the “latest and greatest,” but they lack the know-how and activity knowledge gained with years of experience. Know-how and activity knowledge are the practical understanding of how to get something done, as opposed to “know-what” (facts) or “know-why” (science). Know-how is not obvious, explicit knowledge, and it is often difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalization. It is best experienced in the field with an accomplished mentor as a guide.

Beyond avoiding old mistakes, there is the potential for tremendous synergy resulting from this combination if the automation people involved have time to work together as a team. Synergy is defined as two or more things functioning together to produce a superior result not independently obtainable. Consider the potential, where knowledge of new methods and technology are combined with a deep and intimate understanding of the plant’s automation and physical processes.

To read Bill Lydon’s entire “Talk to Me” column, click here.

The Reliability of Wireless Mesh Networks in Industrial Environments

This is an abstract that will be presented at ISA Automation Week 2012 in Orlando, Florida. Click HERE for information on ISA Automation Week 2012.

Wireless Track:  Using Wireless e-Tablet/iPod/iPhone Technology

Presenter/Author: Mr. Brian Cunningham, Cooper Bussmann Wireless Business Unit

With increasing requirements on plant managers to reduce operating costs and increase safety, wireless connectivity is an attractive alternative to buried cable and conduit.  However questions remain as to its performance in industrial settings and more so, what will happen during an emergency when multiple alarms and signals all need to get to the control room at once?

This paper will discuss the different types of radios that are currently in use with a focus on mesh networks and their application to process control.  Spread spectrum modulation techniques of frequency hopping, direct sequence and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing will be compared and analyzed, and their applicability to common industrial applications reviewed.  Mesh networks will be delved into in detail covering important aspects such as network congestion, points of failure.  Radio standards and specifications will be reviewed, and the audience educated on how to differentiate one radio’s performance from another.  Range assessments, interference mitigation and multi-path will be addressed, along with issues surrounding the multitude of frequencies in use and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Rounding out the discussion will be a case study of where a mesh network was successfully applied, along with the lessons learned.  The audience will leave with a solid foundation to implement their next wireless project armed with the latest information and developments in the industry.

About Brian Cunningham

Brian Cunningham has worked in the industrial automation field for the past 20 years in capacities ranging from Product Manager to Applications Specialist. For the last 11 years he has been with Cooper Bussmann, Wireless Business Unit, helping customers around the world specify, install and troubleshoot their wireless systems. Brian is a graduate of the Electrical Engineering Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, with a specialty in Process Automation and Instrumentation. Brian has been an ISA member since 1991.

ISA Communications Division to host Wireless Factory Automation Workshop

This is an excerpt from the March 2012 ISA Insights member newsletter. For the entire article, please see the link at the bottom of this post.

Market developments form the foundation of the premier ISA Wireless Factory Automation Workshop, with a focus of “The Last Meter – Leveraging economies of scale of mass market technologies to meet factory automation wireless communication needs at the edge of the architecture.”

The ISA Communications Division will host this workshop on 16-17 April at the Rockwell Automation Training Center in Troy, Mich. The workshop is an excellent opportunity for experts in the field of wireless automation to exchange ideas with experts in the field of discrete and hybrid manufacturing. Technical topics will include:

  •     Trends in wireless technology in the market
  •     Current and future look at wireless use cases for factory automation
  •     Challenges and opportunities of specific wireless applications

“I’m looking forward to validating the work performed by the ISA100 Factory Automation Working Group (WG16) through listening to and learning from attendees and my fellow presenters,” said ISA100 Factory Automation Working Group Chairman Cliff Whitehead.

For more information on ISA’s new awards program and to see the full list, click here.

ISA’s new awards program

This is an excerpt from the March 2012 ISA Insights member newsletter. For the entire article, please see the link at the bottom of this post.

In case you haven’t heard, the Society has a new honors and awards program—“Celebrating Excellence.” Thanks to a special task force formed by the ISA Honors and Awards Committee and headed by Dr. Peggie Koon, this new program will re-invigorate ISA’s long standing practice of recognizing individuals and companies that have made significant technical contributions to the automation profession, as well as honor ISA members for their service to the Society.

As a technical organization, acknowledgement of technical contributions is a key element of the Society’s awards program. Celebrating Excellence honors companies and individuals, members and non-members, for significant contributions in leadership, technical innovation, and contributions to education that have advanced the profession.

As a volunteer-driven organization, ISA depends on its members and leaders to advance the mission of the Society around the world. The new awards program honors technical accomplishment and service to the Society. A variety of awards among categories, including Education, Leadership, Member’s Choice, Society Service, and Technical Innovation, are offered this year.

Here are a few of the new awards:

  • Excellence in Leadership Recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the industry or profession to advance automation.
  • Excellence in [Corporate] Technical Innovation Recognizes the company whose contributions and innovations have enhanced social value. The contribution or innovation provides a solution to a significant current social, economic, technical, and/or environmental challenge.
  • Excellence in [Individual] Technical InnovationRecognizes an individual who has played a critical role in the conception, design, and/or implementation of an innovative product, process, or service.
  • Excellence in Society Service Recognizes an ISA member for distinguished and dedicated volunteer service to the Society.
  • Section Excellence Recognizes an ISA Section for development or execution of programs or services to advance the mission of the Society.
  • Division Excellence Recognizes an ISA Division for development or execution of programs or services to advance the mission of the Society.
For more information on ISA’s new awards program and to see the full list, click here.

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