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Data historians provide effective decision support in near real time

02.01.2011  |  Avery, Allen,  ARC Advisory Group

Keywords: [software] [data historians] [optimization] [computers] [supply management]

Plant data historians are moving beyond their traditional role as a tool for collecting and archiving data to better understand past plant performance, to becoming a powerful tool that can be used to improve real-time operations. With increased data throughput and higher data resolutions, historians have also become a foundation for plant asset management initiatives, thanks to new visibility and trending tools that can also be used to support energy management programs. Today’s historians also support techniques, such as complex event processing, which can analyze multiple streams of plant data in real time to identify and diagnose emerging problems before they disrupt the production process in the plant, or negatively affect smart grids or other distributed assets.

Plant historians get enhanced functionality.

Recent product advances increase historian data throughput, solution scalability, compatibility and connectivity with plant systems and third-party solutions. They provide powerful visualization and analytical tools. These allow users to access and leverage huge volumes of plant data in near real time. Historians can collect and display real-time data and events, giving users a more comprehensive view of what is happening in a plant or distributed assets. Powerful processing capabilities, coupled with advanced software algorithms, have changed how historians are used. Historians are transitioning from their traditional role, as plant record-keepers and planners, to tools that can have a positive impact on plant operations in real time.

With recent advances in computing technology, including 64-bit processing architectures, historians can collect and store large amounts of plant and process information. Many can archive up to several exabytes of data. Many can simultaneously store and retrieve plant data, giving users an up-to-the-minute view of plant performance. Today’s historians can handle hundreds of thousands of discrete events per second, so real-time plant data is available almost immediately for analysis. Modern computing power has enhanced historians to such a degree that, rather than just being used to look back on plant performance, they can be used to predict and positively impact future performance.

The use of de facto standards and environments, such as OPC and Microsoft .NET, allows easier interfacing between systems and different historians. This helps users leverage existing historian data, even if they choose a new solution from a different vendor. OPC compatibility also enables easy access to, and use of, data from HMI, DCS, CMMS and other plant-level applications. Since suppliers are also beginning to offer OPC-UA compliant products, historian data is now also readily available to applications running on non-Microsoft platforms. In addition to plant-level equipment, historians also interface well with EAM, ERP and advanced optimization applications.

Historian suppliers have worked to offer improved data access and visibility tools with their solutions. Many offer web-based, thin-client access to historians, and most offer access to historian data via mobile devices. Powerful trending and graphics tools allow users to generate custom reports and charts to visualize plant data. Suppliers have also emphasized ease of use and configuration in their product development. Users can easily create custom interfaces and role-based dashboards to view and manipulate historian data.

Due to their high data capture rates, today’s historians can act as a foundation for plant asset management programs. The ability to store, access and analyze plant data in near real time can help users identify any anomalies or troubling performance trends that could indicate a problem with production equipment. Historical data can be used to develop models or profiles that help users determine how a given asset should behave under normal conditions, and to set alarms or formulate maintenance strategies to balance production needs with asset viability, remotely and in real time. We expect historians to play a role in energy-management initiatives as well, by helping to develop energy-consumption models that can be used to identify under-performing and inefficient plant equipment, or to make real-time adjustments to production to minimize energy costs.

Coming soon: Complex event processing.

Though in its infancy, complex-event processing is another technology that can harness the capabilities of plant historians. Historians can be used to complement and augment complex event processing, a technology that can analyze multiple incoming streams of data in near real time. When viewed individually, these streams might mean little. But when viewed simultaneously and in context, they could help identify process or plant equipment problems using advanced data filtering and algorithms.

ARC analysts are following recent trends in data historians closely. These include the evolution of many plant historians from large-capacity historical data repositories, to real-time decision-support and business intelligence platforms, and—ultimately—to platforms that enable real-time operations centers functionality for a single plant or even a set of plants. HP readers should stay tuned to this column, or visit www.arcweb.com for details on future reports on this important topic. HP

The author 

Allen Avery is an analyst at ARC Advisory Group. His focus areas include field systems (flow, level, pressure, temperature and gas detection) and wireless networks. In addition, he covers plant asset management, energy management issues, and SCADA systems. He recently completed an extensive end-user study on energy management practices, and is the author of the report “SCADA Systems Oil & Gas Industry Worldwide Outlook.” 

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