It seems like every few months, there is new gadget, smartphone or some other consumer good that is released to the public, but industrial technology in use today for the most part has remained fairly consistent. This is mostly due to a large install base of equipment that must be maintained on a regular basis with no downtime available to perform regular upgrades. Therefore, control systems that were installed, say 10-15 years ago, are still in production with no real need for change, and spare parts are still being offered by manufacturers for those aging systems.
However, when a system has reached its lifespan and no longer can function without a major overhaul, or a new installation is on the horizon, one must really perform the proper research before committing to a controls platform as there have been quite a few changes over recent years. Control processors (mostly PLC’s) have remained mostly the same with regards to coding, instruction set, I/O, etc., but these platforms have evolved by offering much more than just simple control.
Take IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) for example. Being able to grab your smartphone and see a real-time snapshot of tank levels, process conditions, etc., is commonplace nowadays via the use of IIoT. Not only monitoring but control is possible via the Internet, and today is much more safe and secure than the old days of “PCAnywhere” loaded onto a PC as a “remote” interface (how many of you remember this?). Here at PCA, we employ and embrace IIoT for a variety of projects big and small. and there is really no end in sight for what that technology can bring.
Although SCADA/HMI systems still offer much of the same visualization and control, there are many more offerings out there that give the end user many more options than previously available. Although control is still predominately contained at the PLC, integration with ERP systems, websites, and other 3rd party products has become more open and easier to implement and maintain via these SCADA/HMI systems. This give engineers and programmers many tools to choose from while developing systems that do much more than just turn on pumps and tune PID loops. The ease of work order integration, recipe management, OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), and many other features really dwarf what was being offered just a decade or so ago.
For the most part, the current industrial controls technology still keeps our equipment functioning, much like it has for many years, but there now exists a bigger “toolkit” that can make life much easier for operations, maintenance, and management personnel. Our job here at PCA is to stay on top of all this technology and to make heads or tails of it. Sometimes it’s just best to leave well enough alone, but when a change is imminent, we’re here to help you sort through the mess so you don’t have to go it alone! Contact us and let’s discuss your particular situation further.