Rugged, real time and remote

Streaming content on phones and other devices also has changed our expectations and the technology must be able to withstand tough conditions.

By Kevin Parker August 15, 2020

The smartphone is the best thing that ever happened to encourage computing mobility in industrial plants and field services. This is true even though the idea of personnel using their personal devices for work is increasingly suspect and the tablet is a better form factor for power users. But the smartphone schooled us as to what the possibilities were.

Panasonic recently released its well-known TOUGHBOOK as an Android operating device, the A3. This is indicative of how telecommunications and other consumer technologies are changing plant floors, where Microsoft operating systems were once dominant. At this point, Microsoft has announced its end of life for the Windows CE operating system.

In addition, TOUGHBOOK, equipped with a SIM card, is a telephone.

Streaming content on phones and other devices also has changed our expectations. Always-on connectivity is more and more considered a must. Keeping in touch with the 24-hour news cycle is one thing. In the industrial world, what tangibly improves productivity is real-time connectivity to the scores of functional devices and systems found in plants and facilities, often using standard industrial APIs, and the increasing availability of real-time data.

For the wealth of features and functions available, TOUGHBOOK users benefit from the product investment made possible by the device’s mass deployment in health care, defense and other industries.

Post-normal world

In the wake of continuing efforts to reopen the economy, remote operations management is a big story line for the production industries. For the first time millions of people worked from home that hadn’t done so before. It went pretty well.

Again, industrial automation environments is a different matter, and changing data to information and knowledge is still complex. A recent blog from Craig Harclerode, an industry principal with OSIsoft, details some of the challenges. A lightly edited excerpt from the blog follows.

“Many industrial operators continue to face a disparate, tag-based ecosystem of operational data, which is limiting their ability to effectively pivot to remote operational support. Such companies often rely on spreadsheets and tag-based, custom applications and solutions supported by a plethora of IT developers or system integrators.

“To quickly pivot to effective remote workforce support, operators must move beyond disparate tags and adopt a standardized data model approach for managing their OT data. To empower your SMEs [subject matter experts] with insight-rich information that they can access remotely, you need data that is normalized and contextualized.

“The key to success is unifying disparate sources of real-time data and enriching that data with multilayered context from inside and outside of the control system.  Without a data directory based on an enterprise asset hierarchy, the further away your SMEs are from their equipment, the less meaningful the data, which often follows local, plant-specific tag naming conventions. In short, there is a lack of context with tags.”

Models and twins

Harclerode’s piece goes on to say digital transformation requires combining asset data into a digital replica of physical assets, to act as an operational “chart of accounts” for sensor-based data.

If digital twins are defined as photo-realistic models of facilities and equipment, then this is yet another industrial application that benefits from the big bucks invested in 3D by the computer games and film industry. Can industrial industry virtual realities be far behind?

Author Bio: Senior contributing editor, CFE Media