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The strategic value of industrial data visualisation

As the Industrial Internet of Things grows and data become abundant, George Walker argues visualisation will become necessary for success 

Today, there are almost as many devices connected to the internet as there are people in the world to use them.

By most measures, approximately half of these devices are in industrial environments, collectively making up the industrial internet of things (IIoT). 

A recent report by IoT Analytics suggested that, by the middle of 2018, there were an estimated seven billion IoT devices in the world. 

While this figure doesn’t specify how many of these devices are industrial, a GSMA Intelligence report claimed that more than half of the total connected device market will be industrial by 2025, with 13.8 billion IIoT devices expected to be in play.

With so many devices in use, it’s not surprising that companies can generate overwhelming amounts of operational and environmental data, from electrical usage and ambient temperature to device vibration and even time-since-maintenance. This data brings with it the potential for substantial process improvement, cost savings and margin enhancement, but only if the data is in a usable form.

Raw data collected from these systems provides almost no benefit to plant managers making strategic decisions. If an electric motor transmits data saying that it is operating at 110˚C, managers seldom have a clear frame of reference to identify if this is good or bad.

This is why plant managers invest in SCADA systems to connect devices together and provide context to the data, which is where the idea of data visualisation comes in. 

Data visualisation allows plant managers and engineers to see a graphical representation of control signals, systems and performance data. This offers an easy to understand view of a plant’s operations, all from a single human-machine interface (HMI).

However, more datasets and systems mean more clutter from HMI screens. As such, it’s important that the HMI has an accessible user interface with a layout that balances ease-of-use with effectiveness.

Few systems do this better than GE Digital’s iFix, a fourth-generation HMI/SCADA system that combines informative plant data visualisation with a clean layout and a context-rich design. This layout is responsive to the HMI it is being viewed on, ensuring an intuitive and effective user experience on different devices. 

By coupling the iFix software with Webspace from GE Digital, plant managers can make the SCADA visualisation securely accessible from web, tablet and mobile devices for field technicians and remote management.

With this, we get the strategic value of industrial data and visualisation. Plant managers can only make decisions as effective as their understanding of operations and events. 

By bringing data from connected devices into one central, easily understandable platform, plant managers can see trends, gain process insight and make more effective operational decisions.

Visualisation also means that senior staff and C-suite executives can make as much use of the data as the field engineers can, using it to inform operational decisions.

Even as we head towards 2025 and a world where connected industrial equipment outnumbers engineers and technical staff, visualisation means we can remain effective and make informed strategic decisions that provide legitimate business value.

George Walker is managing director of industrial data specialist Novotek UK and Ireland.

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