From remote field sensors to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and I/O modules, industrial wireless radios connect your device and sensor ecosystems with robust and reliable links. Furthermore, wireless data radio networking technology connected to I/O modules for SCADA applications have become faster, smarter and their firmware now easier to upgrade. More options and frequencies, including 2.4 GHz for short range I/O and 900MHz for long range data networking, continue to improve SCADA-based network communications for robotics, industrial automation, unmanned systems and heavy machinery. So what do Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) need to know when deciding upon which technology to use? Below are seven tips for OEMs to consider when reviewing industrial wireless communication options.
1) Assess Technology Options for the SCADA Network
Start first by identifying your needs, goals, and limitations. When it’s time to research technology options, observe what’s available today and what’s going to be available in the future, heeding the “buyer beware” saying. Communication products vary in many ways, and each manufacturer and/or technology has advantages and disadvantages. No single product—and likely not a single manufacturer—can meet all application needs.
2) Reduce Costs
While some companies seek to continue to preserve existing investments of wired and wireless technologies, wireless options have clear advantages for SCADA systems. Most obviously, wireless installations reduce labor and material costs by avoiding hard-wiring remote assets. Speed of deployment adds savings. Wired systems can take days or weeks to be properly installed. Wireless networks generally require only the end points to be installed, saving substantial time and costs. Networks need to scale gracefully as the number of end points increases. After installation savings, scalability is the biggest advantage of wireless over hard-wiring, including slow integration into wired systems as it’s implemented.
3) Consider Hybrid Benefits
Toss out any old perceptions. If you need mobile SCADA network access, find somebody that offers it. If you have a microwave tower place, use it. Piggyback slower licensed radio networks with faster 902-928 MHz frequency hopping, AES encrypted networks. Know that you can install I/O capable radios (analog and digital signal, 4 to 20 and 1 to 5) to relay contact closures or other data without adding a new Progammable Logic Controllder (PLC) or Remote Terminal Unit (RTU).
4) Maximize SCADA System Value
With telemetry technologies, such as spread spectrum radios, the same radio used in RTUs can act as a slave device sending data back to the SCADA host, and as a repeater to other field devices or other RTUs. This allows almost limitless network expansion by using remote sites as a series of repeaters, and by using radios in the RTUs to poll the instrumentation. Polling the instrumentation creates a second network reporting wirelessly back to the RTU. This shorthaul network is the equivalent of a local area network (LAN).
5) Don’t Use a Proprietary SCADA System
By using a non-proprietary SCADA system, users gain real-time access, control, and monitoring of their network (including all the devices and functions of their network). They can manage requirements of an ever-growing system allowing them to manage their network in real-time with fewer bodies and hours invested. Security and safety improves with better monitoring. For instance, some industrial systems don’t contain a process for monitoring the cathodic integrity for corrosion (like in water/wastewater and oil and gas) to avoid disaster. But with deployment of a wireless system, they can. They can begin by monitoring simple things, such as pump stations at wells, using I/O radios communicating back to the central SCADA system to get up-to-date information on the tanks’ or pipelines’ status. End users can more quickly resolve an emergency wirelessly, instead of manually.
6) Seek SCADA System Flexibility
Advanced flexibility of radio communications offers benefits to new SCADA system deployments and upgrades performance of existing SCADA systems. For example, in water/wastewater industrial applications, there need to be generation/distribution, lift stations, system monitoring, and treatment facility systems in place (or planned) to meet the expanding growth of a community’s population and/or service areas to meet future requirements. Each year, many industries deploy more frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) SCADA solutions to help monitor and manage critical infrastructure. Several manufacturers (including FreeWave Technologies) offer FHSS radios capable of retrieving data from remote locations. And although wireless IO (input/output) has been available, only recently have both capabilities been offered in one communication solution.
7) Seek Easy-to-Use SCADA Software
OEMs implementing and using a SCADA network systems for data communications want a simplified, rapid setup and easy management of a network. That includes ability to manage multiple frequencies and multiple networks within one system. A centralized storage and management center provides easy access to system configuration and diagnostics data. Technicians in remote or harsh weather environments need robust reporting capabilities. Software like FreeWave’s ToolSuite can manage data communication diagnostics and configuration.