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  Manufacturing Insights   |   December, 2010
Engineering Automation Teams Look at Cloud Computing
by Thomas R. Cutler

The largest steel producer in South America needed to upgrade its automated systems; the challenge was to coordinate people, resources and technology responsible for producing nearly ten million metric tons of steel every year, at a value of over $1 billion dollars.

To accomplish this task required:
  • 50 automation applications
  • >100,000 data tags
  • 5+ networks of PLCs and production machinery
  • integration with existing hardware and software developed over an extended period of time
  • a completely robust operation
The legacy applications were no longer performing satisfactorily; this was due to changes in the underlying infrastructure and the age of the programs themselves. Tatsoft CEO, Marcos Taccolini said, "We worked with the customer to perform rapid migration of all fifty applications using FactoryStudio as both a development platform and runtime environment. Results included increased stability and reliability of the application suite, faster time-to-development and time-to revision of new applications and better user experience. All of this provided the customer with a cost effective way to improve operating efficiency and visibility over its manufacturing assets."

The steel manufacturer now has technology that provides engineering teams with reliable, scalable, secure and efficient capabilities to design, test, build, reconfigure and monitor physical systems. The technology utilizes years of experience running HMI, SCADA and other factory automation projects.

Engineering Automation Teams Look to SaaS - Cloud Computing

Software as a Service (SaaS) has rapidly become a popular and effective way to access important applications. "Cloud computing" is being seen in more automation production environments than ever before for several important reasons. The SaaS model of application access and data storage is cost effective and convenient, and can reduce expenses for companies accessing data and information in this manner. Tacciolini noted, "When FactoryStudio is accessed over the internet the user experience is the same as if the Factory environment was hosted on local (in-house) servers. As an alternative to hosting your own often extensive data sets, upgrading servers and other equipment and software, and purchasing licenses, "on the cloud" provides access to this powerful application suite." Ultimately this delivery model is reducing the total cost of ownership, TCO, to automation engineering teams. In order to run completely offline applications - applications on the factory floor that require full availability regardless of any internet connection - solutions providers must support local on-premises licenses, allowing the published applications to run independently from any remote server.

These solutions must have a light footprint; so light that customers can run remote implementations of the software on almost any Window-s based system with a web browser and 2Gb memory. Tacciolini proudly included, "We've even run implementations from a key drive."

By using 100% managed code, companies avoid use of global .dll and .com objects, C++ pointers and legacy structures that could compromise product foundation. All scripts, tags, and expressions must be verified during the engineering process; the result is improving runtime reliability and performance. Communication drivers, database queries, reports and scripts should run on their own isolated processes, enhancing the robustness of the system.

Communication drivers and scripts must also allow multi-threading on the same process, using the .NET infrastructure; for exception identification, the working classes must be isolated. Reference tags, properties configuration, and scripts will verify the variable types during the configuration, avoiding unexpected behaviors during runtime.

SCADA stands for supervisory control and data acquisition. It generally refers to industrial control systems: computer systems that monitor and control industrial, infrastructure, or facility-based processes. HMI stands for human-machine interface. HMI/SCADA software uses a 100% managed code system, designed from first principles. It is based on a .NET Framework, and runs on top of an integrated SQL database; Tacciolini comment that, "It is optimized to run rapidly and securely, and uses an advanced graphics platform for sophisticated interface design and implementation."

Many failures in the evolution of long-term software are caused by the loss of the original software architects…the product is incrementally extended by the followers but not redesigned

Power Plant Management Presents Special Challenges

Power plant management represents one of the most demanding applications for engineering automation software. Equipment from different manufacturers must be coordinated, simultaneously using several protocols. Many facilities require the use of up to a million tags, refreshed at sub-second intervals.

Elaborate processes must run without downtime. Maintenance, emergency shutdown and restart, and load balancing accomplished without interruption. Tacciolini noted that, "Tatsoft built automation and dashboard software that can scale to meet the needs of the largest facilities. We've included a high-speed database that's able to condense vast amounts of information into usable form, and allowed the user to link to external databases for extra data storage and retrieval. The entire system was developed in managed code for operational stability and security no runaway processes, no uncontrolled access." This becomes critical in the power plant management because applications can be hot-swapped in runtime, and can be fully tested and validated in the engineering environment before live implementation. These technology solutions must be platform agnostic, run from the cloud, private server, workstation PC or datakey. All of these technologies add up to a robust, effective system for power generation management, as well as steel producers and other manufacturing processes with complex engineering teams.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc, ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of three thousand five hundred journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 400 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the co-founder and contributor to a new business industrial library series found at Cutler can be contacted directly at See More Details.

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