1 December 2005
Integrator's Corner: Automating with .NET and SCADA
By Kevin W. Lestage
SCADA has long been used in the industrial market to automate and optimize processes. Over the years, data collected from these industrial processes has become ever more important in business operations.
When you integrate this data into back office systems, it helps managers and workers make more informed decisions. In the industrial automation world, users must find new ways to integrate real-time data provided by SCADA systems without having an impact on the operations and primary functions of SCADA. Microsoft .NET has provided capabilities to quickly, easily, and economically move data from traditional SCADA systems into backend corporate databases and create highly dynamic and flexible application solutions to automate business processes.
When reliable information is not readily available, it can lead to duplicated efforts between multiple business units, loss of sales or productivity, and poor decision making based on faulty information. All of these effects from a lack of information cost money. In a study, IDC estimated the typical enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $2.5 million per year searching for information inefficiently. They lose approximately $15 million per year due to lack of information. This is a staggering statistic.
In many situations, workers are unable to find the information they need because of inadequate, inaccurate, or delayed information. In today's information age, data needed to make decisions should be made available to all workers in an effortless fashion. Often workers waste time trying to find data by waiting on faxes or printed reports, searching through paper filing systems, or re-entering data from existing sources to create customized reports in a spreadsheet application. Data important to decision making should be easily accessible to workers through database driven, dynamic web portals or other centralized corporate applications.
Process automation vs. office automation
Methodologies used in the process control world are directly applicable to designing an office automation system.
Users can develop powerful automation systems by utilizing a combination of SCADA and .NET. They can use SCADA in the traditional industrial automation environment to efficiently poll end devices for data and then log it to a central data storage location. .NET can then integrate this data into other backend office systems, process the data for reporting purposes, and display the data to users in meaningful formats via web portals or distributed desktop applications.
System integrators are in business to create automation systems for their clients. By supplementing their business service offerings to in-clude business automation, it can benefit not only the end customer, but the system integrator as well.
The biggest advantage of business automation to system integrators is it can expand the services that they can offer to their clients. It can allow system integrators to function as total solution providers. Additionally, as total solution providers, new opportunities in non-traditional markets become a reality. These opportunities can range from e-commerce to inventory management application development.
Behind the byline
Kevin W. Lestage is manager, software engineering of PlantData Technologies, Inc., a Houston-based systems integrator, and a member of Control System Integrators Association (CSIA).
Designing a process control system
Designing an office automation system