The entire Supervisory Control and Data Acquisitions Industry was first developed out of the need for a user-friendly interface to remotely control devices in an industrial environment. This sounds like a mouthful, and it is. However, one of the original keys to SCADA is the words user-friendly.
As interfaces became more advanced, at times the emphasis in systems control was placed on the sensors and the devices being controlled, but not on the user and the ease with which they could interact with the data being collected.
The initial reasons for developing user-friendly SCADA still apply.
Everyone Can Play
A user-friendly system means that anyone on your management team can control systems. A specialized system means that only those who have received very specific training can be trusted.
This creates some obvious issues. Cross-training becomes more challenging, and remote monitoring turns into a primary skill rather than a secondary one the nearly anyone can learn. There is no reason, with the automation of many systems, that nearly anyone on your team should be familiar enough to utilize your SCADA systems.
Decisions Can Be Made Quickly
Modern SCADA involves a great deal of automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. This means a couple of things: one, the Human Machine Interface (HMI) can be much simpler: most decisions can be made by the SCADA system itself with little to no need for human interaction. The system is more about notification than anything else.
This means if the system slows the production line due to a machine issue or failure, the simple result is that the person monitoring the system orders a repair. Except under extreme circumstances, there is no need for a person to make any critical decisions.
Since there are fewer human decisions that need to be made, they can me made much more quickly.
Fewer Errors are Made
Fewer decisions and simpler ones means that fewer errors are made. Since the human factor is largely removed, and many of them are simple if/then solutions that simply require approval, the risk of the wrong decision being made is much smaller.
SCADA systems where the notifications are not properly worded or the data delivered remotely is not easily understood increase the likelihood that an end user will make the wrong choice in any given situation.
One of the reasons for automation and machine learning is to eliminate as many of these human decisions as the system itself better learns how to make decisions on its own. This makes the decisions where humans need to interact with the system that much more critical, and errors, although fewer, can be more consequential.
Understanding is Increased
One of the most critical parts of the SCADA system is the end user’s understanding of the usefulness of the data they are provided. A complex system that is not as user friendly may present data that is important but that the user overlooks due to its complexity.
The thing about modern user-friendly SCADA systems is that data can be filtered easily, categorized, and put into understandable charts and forms. Information that is critical to operations can be flagged, notifications provided, and previous decisions or actions in the same category provided to the end user.
Information and understanding make for better decisions in the long run. The user-friendliness of a SCADA system means better, faster and error free decisions can be made by almost anyone on your management team.
There is another reason for user-friendly SCADA systems. The data that is created within them can be more easily presented to potential customers or clients.
For instance, let’s say you have a factory that produces Widget A. The production line is a fairly complex, but the automation through your SCADA system means you have a fabulous record for on time delivery with quite rare device failures. This automation means your production is cost-effective as well.
If a company approaches you that now wants you to produce Widget B, you can show them the data from your SCADA systems, and it will be something they both understand and can relate to. They will be able to simply see from the data you present that the process you have developed for Widget A will easily translate to Widget B.
Sharing with Customers
User-friendly SCADA systems also mean you can offer them a client interface that allows them to monitor production remotely. Although you won’t transfer any control to them, the customer will be able to access data that tells them how many units of Widget B are being produced and at what rate.
This can serve as both a current customer service tool and an instrument to attract new customers. Transparency in your system, one that is user friendly, can influence them to choose you over other potential production companies.
Having a user friendly SCADA system is critical to the success of your industry and production. Simpler systems mean less room for error and more room for production and increased profits. Developing a user friendly SCADA system is no longer optional: it is simply something you need to do sooner rather than later if you are going to be competitive.