By Darryl Vipond, Vipond Controls
In the oil and gas industry, it's especially important to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology. The market is particularly sensitive to cost efficiency in production, so it's critical to produce energy with a minimum investment and a maximum return.
In addition to cost-effective solutions, the oil and gas industry requires real-time information in order to maintain constant control over production facilities (Figure 1). It’s critical that companies are able to monitor conditions in real time in order to protect their workers and make the necessary adjustments to maintain the maximum safe output. This has led to a demand for real-time, web-based Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) solutions that take advantage of the latest technologies.
Figure 1: Remote production facilities like this oil well must be monitored and controlled remotely to achieve most efficient operation.
As a company based in Alberta, Canada and focused on the oil and gas industries, we understand the need for real-time data to manage oil and gas operations effectively in terms of both cost and time. Oil and gas operators must have access to a highly portable and economical SCADA system.
To address this need, we’ve developed a cloud-based SCADA solution that relies on InduSoft’s Web Studio software. Critically for our customers—our solution eliminates the expense, time and manpower required to purchase, install and maintain local SCADA hardware and software at each site.
Previous Internet-based SCADA Solutions Lacking
Like any new technology implementation, developing a cloud-based SCADA application presented some obstacles that we needed to overcome. We needed to create a solution that enabled users to access real-time data over the Internet, and to offer this solution at a competitive price.
One of the greatest challenges in developing a cloud-based SCADA application is the state of the Internet itself. Internet protocol and web browsers aren’t designed for real-time data and control. Customers using older Internet-based SCADA systems often have to hit the submit button then wait an inordinate amount of time for an update, or press refresh buttons multiple times to show new data. These slow response times can be very frustrating for remote operators, and can also cause mistakes in data entry and even in control of the remote site.
We were confident, however, that our twenty years’ experience working with customers in the industry and with Internet technologies would enable us to develop a cloud-based SCADA application that would address these issues.
After years of research and development, we’re now offering our iSCADA cloud-based solution that offers remote HMI functionality with fast response times and high availability, all at a very attractive price. The market has responded favorably to ISCADA, and we’ve deployed multiple applications.
Creating a Cloud-based SCADA application
We started by looking for a web-based SCADA package that could deliver full HMI functionality for remote users. Flexibility and scalability were major concerns, as many of our customers start off with small projects that grow along with their operations. We also needed very quick remote response, such that the remote HMI experience closely approximated local operator interface.
Another important factor in selecting a SCADA package was the ease with which it could be programmed. It had to support easy template design and object-oriented programming techniques. We needed SCADA software that contained a library of simple objects and templates specifically for the oil and gas industry, along with the capability to generate more complex objects.
While looking at available SCADA development software, we understood that remote viewer functionality would be critical to the success of iSCADA, so we needed a user-friendly remote viewer that customers could use to access data via the Internet.
Other challenges included finding software with good data trending, alarms and events. Moreover, we had to have the ability to customize everything easily. We found that many web-based SCADA development software packages made customization tedious, but in order to deliver a different user experience for each customer, we needed software that provided effortless customization.
Perhaps the key factor for our new product was the elimination of SCADA hardware and software at the customer site. Traditional solutions require installation and maintenance of a PC and SCADA software at the site. We needed to instead provide a solution that eliminated this requirement by hosting the SCADA software in the cloud.
SCADA as a Service
After researching the market for some time, we found that InduSoft Web Studio met the challenging criteria for our iSCADA product. InduSoft’s Web Studio was specifically designed to deliver Internet-based SCADA with full functionality, making it a good fit for our needs.
The price, flexibility and programming power of the package made it extremely attractive as a tool for the development of our web-based SCADA project. In addition, its remote viewer feature offered the look and feel of a fully visualized remote HMI solution that our customers demanded.
We have been able to develop a Software as a Service (SaaS) SCADA solution that creates a unique experience for each client. With iSCADA, each customer has their own virtual machine running within Vipond’s server cloud (Figure 2). All data is kept safe and independent of other machines running in the cloud.