Enhanced technology helps integrators, manufacturers find real-time issues

Leveraging technology helps system integrators and manufacturers address major challenges while improving productivity, safety.

By Keith Mandachit and Barbara Padgett December 9, 2023
Courtesy: SmartSights

SCADA terms and definitions

  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is a system of software and hardware elements that can control processes either locatly or remotely.
  • SCADA components include the supervisory computer, remote terminal units (RTUs) or programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and human machine interfaces (HMIs) that display a schematic representation of the system, amongst other information. Besides process control, at SCADA, production throughput can be matched to supply based on short-term factors.

System integration insights

  • The manufacturing industry faces a significant worker shortage, with up to 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, potentially costing the US economy up to $1 trillion.
  • Digital transformation is crucial for manufacturers to stay competitive. System integrators (SIs) play a vital role in helping businesses implement technology solutions and navigate challenges.

Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, in a recent report, said as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030, and warns that the worker shortage will hurt revenue and production and could ultimately cost the US economy up to $1 trillion by 2030.

Folks over 55 years of age make up increasingly larger portions of the technical workforce in the US. Meanwhile, technical demands for manufacturing have grown, making it more difficult to hire the right workers. Manufacturing is being squeezed by both labor and skills shortages.

Given these facts, manufacturers face enormous pressures to stay competitive. It’s not all doom-and-gloom though. To combat these labor challenges, manufacturers are looking to new technologies that expand productivity, decrease labor costs, increase uptime and slash error rates.

By leveraging technology, manufacturers lessen reliance on manual labor. Increased automation reduces errors and costs while increasing productivity, quality and safety. For example, adding sensors detects performance aberrations that simply wouldn’t be found through manual spot checks and personnel monitoring. By locating the underpinnings of potential issues in real-time, sensors alert maintenance teams to investigate to prevent a machine aberration before failure happens.

While manufacturing plants have long used supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) the technology has evolved with increasing digitalization (See sidebar, “Terms and definitions”).

Push notifications let workers quickly see what is wrong, send an acknowledgment, and monitor alarm condition changes in real-time, right from a smartphone. Image courtesy: SmartSights

Push notifications let workers quickly see what is wrong, send an acknowledgment, and monitor alarm condition changes in real-time, right from a smartphone. Image courtesy: SmartSights

Digital transformation and manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is going through some big changes. As analytics, sensors, robotics, cloud computing and IIoT technology become less expensive and easier to implement, more manufacturers go digital with their business and production process to stay competitive in the market.

The ability to monitor critical process variables and be notified when something is not right is vitally important in every stage of industrial manufacturing and utility processes. Seamlessly transferring these notifications to operations and automation teams, and even beyond to business offices or whoever needs to know, is something system integrators (SI) have been talking about for a long time.

Digital transformation is not so much a technology initiative as it is a business initiative. Business owners and C-level executives typically don’t fully understand engineering concepts and practices that bring digital transformation, IIoT, and Industry 4.0 to life. Their focus usually is on the big picture. It’s important for SIs to help them understand how and why this technology affects day-to-day business operations. By thoroughly explaining this technology and bringing data to life for end-users, management will see the return on investment of digital transformation.

Chat helps the entire team converse, brainstorm, and share solutions on-the-fly, from any location — whether in the plant, at home, or on the road. Image courtesy: SmartSights

Chat helps the entire team converse, brainstorm, and share solutions on-the-fly, from any location — whether in the plant, at home, or on the road. Image courtesy: SmartSights

Smart manufacturing software provider L2L recently surveyed 125 manufacturing leaders. The findings were enlightening. For example, only 24% have a digital transformation strategy. According to survey results, this is because a clear path to implemention is the most common challenge, followed by a lack of funds and problems with moving away from legacy systems. The survey illustrates that manufacturers need guidance and counsel on implementing digital transformation from subject matter experts. SIs who typically work across industries with exposure to multiple control systems daily can provide that expertise.

In addition to providing counsel to clients about embracing digital transformation, SIs can partner with technology companies to further offer solutions for manufacturers to increase productivity and efficiency. Seamlessly integrating software that notifies manufacturers in every way possible about equipment problems – via mobile app, text, voice, email, or in-plant announcements – helps fix problems faster, reduce waste, and lessen maintenance and staff costs.

Monitoring addresses challenges

The importance of reducing unplanned downtime by seamlessly integrating remote alarm notification software into the existing SCADA system should not go unnoticed. This allows fewer people to monitor many more assets using devices they already have, such as smartphones and tablets, addressing the worker shortage through increased automation. Uninterrupted remote availability is essential to ensuring systems can be continuously monitored, even without staff onsite or with fewer people working at the facility.

Remote monitoring of critical plant systems has been extended beyond email, texts and phone calls to include apps that feature time-saving tools like real-time alarm acknowledgements, team chats to troubleshoot and resolve plant problems, and detailed reporting for preventing future incidents. Not only does this mean fewer emergency shutdowns, but also less resources spent on overtime and maintenance.

Remote alarm monitoring software utilizes a variety of communication platforms to send the right notification to the right person at the right time. Image courtesy: SmartSights

Remote alarm monitoring software utilizes a variety of communication platforms to send the right notification to the right person at the right time. Image courtesy: SmartSights

A unique role

Rapid globalization, technological advancements, changing consumer preferences and evolving government policies are reshaping the manufacturing industry. To meet these challenges with manually intensive processes and outdated technology is difficult. However, by incorporating advanced technology, manufacturers can increase productivity and efficiency, and reduce maintenance costs.

SIs play an important role as honest brokers in this process by listening to clients’ challenges and recommending solutions. The unique skillset brought by a skilled controls system integrator provides an invaluable link between IT vendors who offer solutions – like remote alarm notification software – and clients with complex projects.

Life science manufacturer wants to be in the know

A prominent Midwest-based animal health life science manufacturer knows the value of integrating remote alarm notification software with their robust SCADA system. Because of their seamless relationship with its SI, this manufacturer has continuously added alarms over the years to monitor four bioreactors, six fermenters, and two specialized systems that include a water building system and bio kill system. There are 250 alarm tags within these 12 systems and the SI and remote alarm notification team have standardized each tag to have three escalation levels on each alarm tag: five minutes; two hours; and four hours.

Additionally, this company is expanding production into a new facility on another project and integrating alarm systems with the entire building management system. Once this expansion is complete, it will rise to human health life sciences compliance standards.


Author Bio: Keith Mandachit, PE, is the engineering manager at Huffman Engineering, Inc., and may be reached at kmandachit@huffmaneng.com Barbara Padgett is the marketing manager atSmartSights, and may be reached at Barbara.padgett@smartsights.com