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Blending Traditional SCADA with Mobile-Responsive Applications

The complexion of plant automation is evolving, and clients realize that the term “automation” means much more than physical processes. Users are increasingly seeking out applications that do more and are engaging their personnel. At PDA we’ve found blending traditional SCADA with mobile-responsive industrial applications that run natively on any mobile device and web browsers ideal tools to use inside plants for projects of all types.

A client recently contracted PDA to develop an Electronic Quality System (EQS). This client envisioned a software solution to facilitate all manner of production quality tests, ostensibly replacing many manual testing and record-keeping incidents within their plant. They piloted “off the shelf” solutions in early attempts but found their internal processes to be too complicated to change to a rigid, software solution. They had multiple visualization solutions in the plant along with a long working relationship with our team at PDA so they decided a customized solution might be the answer. PDA’s project approach of Discovery & Goal Setting followed by functional design specification (FDS), system pilot, revise FDS, then full system deployment was familiar to them, so they began with optimism.

Operators perform quality checks at multiple points in their process which makes organic entrees. The system needed to handle pre-production, during-production, and finished goods checks, most of which were manual examinations. The client preferred iPad tablets on the factory floor so designing a solution with dynamic screen capabilities was leveraged. “This client had serious ideas about aesthetics and usability that they wanted to wrap into the system,” says Dan Garrity, PDA Sales.

The PDA team coordinated with the client’s IT and the vendors to ensure seamless integration with limited impact on the existing architecture.  Adding the new platform within the plant was simple. Rather than increasing their server infrastructure, the upgrades were made on an existing server, and it utilized existing tools and connections to minimize complexity. This simplified development makes the maintenance of the applications easier.

We ultimately developed two solutions for them, a user-focused, frontend interface and a second, administrator element that allows the client to develop future test operations in-house.  The frontside application steps users through the required quality checks in multiple, selectable languages.  The customized user interface utilizes simplified language combined with pictures allowing their team to see exactly what needs to be done and which information needs to be recorded.  We utilized simple language-switching capabilities to accommodate both English and Spanish-speaking personnel.  The backside application was huge for them as it would enable authorized, client users to construct future quality tests without the need for outside assistance.

The unique combination of software features and PDA customization will allow the client to “future-proof” the application.  This is accomplished by providing a modular, low code environment that enables team members with a background in modern web development will find the tools intuitive and easy to easily implement modifications. Applications like this EQS could have been developed in a web platform with a language like C Sharp, however; we consider many things when determining the best path forward.  Building these tools in a mobile-native platform in this instance laid the groundwork to easily connect their in-plant industrial devices like scales and scanners so this was the best path for them.

The phased implementation is ongoing for this client.  Our solution will allow us to connect their HR system for expanded user and role management for tasks.  We’ll connect to the existing MES system to pull orders.  All the while, the sleek and functional interfaces will provide a dynamic platform that the operators like to use.  This client’s optimism has been rewarded and they have the beginnings of a large-scale solution that will eventually be rolled out to the balance of their facilities.

Posted In: Application Stories