5 things you can do long distance: Manage your control system remotely

Did you know that an off-site provider can perform many of the activities required to keep your control systems healthy?

04/29/2013


With the convergence of information technology and operational technology (IT and OT), off-site providers can execute more and more control system tasks remotely. Reduction of onsite costs and the ability to focus resources on production has led many manufacturers to take advantage of remote management. It also makes for smart strategic planning: over the next four years, up to 40% of the automation workforce will be retiring. What does this mean? Manufacturers must get creative about how they staff their plants from an automation standpoint.

Currently, off-site providers can perform five main control system management tasks:

1. Incident management is probably the most heavily used remote service. This is a lifesaver when a control system problem arises and plant personnel need immediate assistance to solve it. Using a remote connection, control system subject matter experts can access the system and fix it themselves, or provide information for plant personnel to fix the issue locally.

2. Backup and recovery is another area where manufacturers can leverage remote services. As more devices on the plant floor are becoming connected to the enterprise, this allows off-site providers to access those devices remotely and protect them against future failures.

3. Software updates and patch management are also well suited to remote services. Control system vendors constantly revise their systems to address known issues and improve security and performance. Ignoring these updates leaves your systems at risk to the increasing frequency of cyber-attacks.

4. Just like the warning light on your gas gage appears right before you run out of fuel, wouldn’t it be great if you could receive an alert before you have a control system issue? Real-time, remote monitoring of your system’s vital signs is possible. Remote monitoring and analysis of the various signs that can indicate underlying problems (including available hard-disk space, CPU usage, error logs, and others) helps prevent potential problems downstream.

5. Most plants have an ever-growing list of desired changes for their control systems. Unless the changes are especially complex or pertain to a high-risk area or equipment, these too can be done from off-site over a high-speed connection.

Does your facility perform any other activities remotely?

This post was written by Jason Montroy. Jason is the client relationship manager at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support, and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.



Mark , , 05/08/13 05:58 AM:

Interesting article. I'd be interested in peoples views as to the levels of security that would be required to make these remote functions a reality. Do each of these functions require the same security features/architecture or are there options to open the plant/process up 'just a little bit' to realise the benefits of some of these remote services?
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