Remote Troubleshooting / Monitoring SCADA

  • July 30, 2015

Unless you had a nearly unlimited budget, your list of options regarding remote monitoring used to be quite slim. Since the invention of the internet, a world of possibilities has been opened and now that this technology is readily available to nearly everyone this task has become much easier to obtain. Through the invention of smart phones and portable tablets, we have become able to access an internet connection from just about anywhere. With the aid of this technology at our fingertips more and more operators are able to access their Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems remotely without the need of highly limited, proprietary, or custom devices.

For years, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) have been required to make trips to the site in order to provide support.  But with a little forethought and the right infrastructure in place, they can now provide much of that support right from the comfort of their own office.  In fact, some OEMs (usually those from large corporations) may even REQUIRE the owner to furnish remote access for them – or at least offer a financial incentive to provide it.  And rightly so.  Depending on how far away they are, you could save a bundle on travel expenses alone, not to mentions the hours of ‘wasted’ time spent travelling that could be put to more productive use.

Although remote access is a wonderful tool, not every task can be done remotely.  Still, there are plenty of things that can that would justify the extra up-front cost.  And these days, much of that ‘extra cost’ has been greatly reduced to a palatable level; instead of costing “thousands” or “tens of thousands”, it’s more likely to be only “hundreds” (or less, depending on the complexity of the requirements needed or desired).

Historically, the main question that many asked is “How does one remotely connect to a site?” There are many factors that can play a role in how this question is answered, one specific example involves a remote site with no communication infrastructure for miles. There are several viable options regarding this particular example. A telephone line can be installed, assuming you have a right-of-way or easement from the point of utility connection to the site. This may not be a suitable option for remote needs of a farther distance, as it can become quite costly sometimes spending thousands of dollars. Radio is also another option that can be discussed. To be considered it would be best to have a clear line-of-site path, if this is unobtainable repeater stations can be used to maneuver obstacles. Fortunately, if you choose this method there are license-free frequencies that can be used to avoid any additional costs for this service. The evolution of the smart phone has also broadened the scope to allow remote sites to have sufficient cell coverage, supporting data transfer. Satellite transceivers are another option to be considered and can be used where cell phone coverage is still limited. However, depending on budgetary constraints it may land on the higher end of the scale. Using Cable Television could also be a suitable option as they have been branching out into the telecommunications market.

Eventually, these options must have a destination. Traditionally, the most popular choice has been the Master Telemetry Unit (MTU) and unit would generally be located at the company’s main facility. The MTU would come with a compatible Remote Telemetry Unit (RTU) that would be housed at the remote site. However, over time these units were replaced with dedicated Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) that handled the data communications between several locations. At the time this seemed to be the most logical step considering that most facilities were already facilitating PLCs for their automation and control needs. Today, Ethernet modems and radio modems are used extensively to provide a Wide Area Network (WAN). This network connects sites grants the ability to look just like another connection on the Local Area Network (LAN) at the main facility. Using this type of remote access a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be administered and will provide a secure network connection, effectively extending the LAN/WAN connection anywhere in the world.

Generally speaking, the more complex or critical the process is the more need there is to become remotely available to monitor and troubleshoot. Fortunately, with today’s technology, remote monitoring and troubleshooting has become easily obtainable.

If you currently have a facility without remote monitory capability and would like to know what options we have to add functionality to your space, please give us a call. We would be glad to discuss remote access options with you.


Author: Jeff Howard

Mr. Howard began his career with R&W Engineering in 1992.  He has been involved in the design of a variety of projects providing engineering services for street lighting, interior lighting, control systems, airport lighting and power design services. 

  • July 30, 2015