In your experience, what are some of the challenges currently facing manufacturers on a global scale?
It’s interesting right now because you have the traditional challenges, such as ever-increasing competition, adhering to stringent regulations, striving for innovation and ultimately ensuring you’re foremost in customers’ minds, compounded by a couple of other factors putting increased pressure on manufacturers.
First, a lot of the workforce, and therefore a huge amount of knowledge and expertise, are gearing up to retire and that’s a huge concern in terms of maintaining operational productivity. Second is the acceleration rate of technology. It’s really becoming clear to manufacturers that those who adopt and leverage technology the fastest will be the ones driving the most competitive differentiation.
The thing that people don’t realise is that the next-generation of workers coming in, though highly skilled is effectively untrained; it’s so true that the untrained eye looks everywhere. You have skilled people who can’t discern the important from the unimportant, they simply haven’t achieved that capability yet, and being unable to operate at the level of efficiency that used to exist is a huge challenge.
How does GE IP’s existing software address, and provide innovative solutions to, these challenges?
We are a company, especially on the software side, which has evolved through a number of best-of-breed acquisitions and over the last several years these acquisitions have really driven our growth and innovation. We have developed an integrated software suite that can not only help our customers collect, store and visualise data, but by utilising analytics, it can also add context to the data, adding value to it by serving it up in meaningful ways.
We really offer a complete portfolio, covering everything from operations, where data is collected from the floor and operators have the ability to visualise said data, right through to performing highly capable analytics, helping to drive insight for our customers allowing them to get visibility into things that may occur, not necessarily just things that are occurring.
How does the new mobile-capable app, ProficySCADA, complement GE IP’s existing software suite, while also responding to the needs of manufacturers?
People talk about how they want to replace the control room with mobile capability, and in my view, the control room is not going to be replaced any time soon. There’s far too much rich data in a control room environment to just replace it outright. Extending the control room, that is the key. The capability that we have means manufacturers are able to view the entire operation in real-time, in a paradigm which they are already used to.
The app provides the same experience as if you were sitting on the plant floor looking at the fixed HMI, serving up the exact same picture, in the same way with the exact same level of capability. You can also tune it to your needs, such as adding a read-only security layer should you not want people to have control. The crucial factor is flexibility, anyone, from machine operators to plant managers, is provided the same level of visibility and control as if they were in the actual control room itself.
Does the shift towards a greater adoption of cloud-based infrastructure by manufacturers correlate with the release of the ProficySCADA app?
Currently the mobile capability is meant to work off existing infrastructures, the servers already in place, and focusing on allowing you to dynamically connect to them and manage operations, almost like ‘plug-and-play’. That being said, it absolutely has the capability to play into that cloud-based construct moving forward. What we are starting to see is that companies are ready to adopt, whether its mobility, cloud-based capability or one of the next steps, such as making devices more intelligent and able to serve up information on their own.
The tie-in between cloud and mobility is really key because it’s a marker which says our manufacturing customers are now ready to adopt the technology which is truly going to be a massive game changer for them, allowing them to compete, allowing them to drive productivity and stave off the demise of domain expertise through collaboration and aggregation of data.
“What we’ve heard from a lot of our manufacturing customers, is that even though most are very IT-centric and in tune with the latest technologies, they still fear having all of their production processes and methodologies on the cloud, with even the remotest possibility of people accessing it. For them, mobility is the first taste of what it would be like to be more mobile and flexible, allowing them the ability to access work stations from wherever they are Success in this will enable them to progress to the next step of mobile technologies, coupled with the new breed of workers coming in, people who live in the digital age and expect to get information in different ways. This group is really the key to actually showing our customers how to leverage this level of technology successfully.” Prasad Pai, Global Product Manager - HMI/SCADA iFIX
Though initially only available on iOS, are there any future plans to release the app on alternative operating systems?
Right now the app is exclusively iOS but we are doing a fast follow with Android before the end of the year, and depending on how much the Windows tablets catch on in the industry we will be exploring Windows 8 support as well.
How have manufacturers been involved in the development of the app?
For this particular application, manufacturers have been involved for the last 25 years, because all we’ve done is enable mobile visibility using the exact same functionality that has been built and leveraged over the life of our existing visualisation programmes, CIMPLICTY and iFIX, which sit underneath the mobile platform.
So what do you think the future holds, not just for the app itself but mobility in general?
At the moment you have to be looking at a screen to identify issues, but what about when you’re not? The next level is being able to drive notifications whenever you need it, wherever you are, and then on top of that adding the power of analytics, consolidating various alarms and warnings for each system, down to the critical few.
Think about your smartphone or tablet today, how often do you update programmes to the latest release? Frequently, and that’s the real power as we move forward. As we, or third-parties, add new capabilities to our existing infrastructure, the ability to constantly evolve and drive new value out of the platform is going to be hugely beneficial.
I really think adoption is going to take off and accelerate over the next year, not just for our products, but for mobility in general. The amount of SCADA-nodes and view-nodes you currently have, enabling them with this technology doesn’t change that paradigm at all, so it works for anyone from a true global company right down to a one-man operation. It has the ability to scale up with the amount of connections you have, offering real scalability as a business grows.