Small- and mid-sized industrial organizations that are reliant upon Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems — like those in the oil and gas, energy, utilities, and agriculture industries — are facing new pressures to meet market demands. In these environments, agility and operational efficiency are no longer "nice to have" but are now essential to survival. Operations managers at these smaller businesses constantly face demands to incorporate modern technology that requires increased connectivity across networks in order to automate, monitor, and control the processes that optimize operational success (and limit risk/downtime).
The challenge for many of these small- and mid-sized businesses is that they need to find solutions rugged enough to operate in harsh and remote field locations, while reliably monitoring data, executing logic locally and enabling visibility globally — all with limited resources. In many instances, a traditional SCADA system is hard on the pocketbooks and ROI is something that might only be achieved in the distant future. The good news is that technology providers have been listening and working to craft solutions for these businesses to ease the cost burden on the front end and expedite the ROI process.
App Server Software Available Today
New app server software technology combines proven, industrially hardened 900 MHz wireless telemetry with the ability to program and host third-party applications, similar to a Linux-based Raspberry Pi embedded in an industrial Ethernet radio. Within the app server software solution, Industrial IoT (IIoT) developers have the ability to program with any language that is compatible with a Linux kernel, including Python, Java, C++, Node-RED, and Node.js development environments. Some app server software comes pre-loaded with Node-RED, Python, and MQTT for easy IIoT app development.
App-Based SCADA Systems
With the app server software comes the opportunity to transform SCADA. In order to support the small- and mid-sized businesses that face the costs of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) type hardware and monthly recurring fees, there is a prototype Small SCADA app in Node-RED, developed by an RF engineer, that is enabled by a programmable radio. The prototype app is available at a fraction of the cost of traditional SCADA.
The small SCADA app enables reliable data collection, monitoring, and remote command, and control functionality through triggers, alarms, and actions. It supports analog, digital, and HART data through a Modbus interface. It also provides a “dashboard” with user-defined status updates and data trend visualization from any web-based device. Essentially, the new app serves as a small SCADA replacement.
App Development Opportunities
With programmability introduced to the Industrial IoT network, the possibilities for developers are endless. Novice developers could even leverage the open-source technologies like Python and Node-RED to enable new applications for monitoring and control that can transform business operations. We’re also seeing automation prototypes for tank level monitoring of remote and isolated oil/gas assets. These programmable solutions are also extremely flexible, as a company can choose to develop the app themselves or integrate third-party applications.
There is at least one pilot program currently in progress designed to support and enable developers who want to create applications for expansive IIoT networks. IIoT app development can serve a number of industries. The ability to add programmability to these solutions further supports companies as they digitize operations.