February 2014, Vol. 241 No. 2


Involving Controllers To Support SCADA Migration Success

Daniel Roessler, Principal Consultant, DANR Consulting

SCADA migration projects are complex and filled with many challenges. When pipeline companies undertake these projects they are often focused on technical aspects such as selecting the right SCADA system, scoping and planning the conversion, establishing interface connectivity, and configuring the system properly.

However, another critical factor in SCADA migration success, which should not be overlooked, is the need to get controllers involved in key aspects of the project. These include:

• Graphics design, review and approval
• Improving control functionality
• Alarm reviews
• Training

This article examines how pipeline companies can involve controllers in these four areas to improve the chances of migration project success.

Graphics Design, Review And Approval
Either in advance of a migration project or in the early stages of the front-end engineering and design (FEED) effort, a decision must be made concerning the methodology used to convert the graphics to the new control system. In general terms, the choice is to either replicate the existing graphics design or re-design the graphics from scratch.

This is usually not a straightforward decision even though it should be. The common inclination is to convert the existing SCADA graphics with which the controllers are already familiar to minimize changes, save money and reduce training time. However, if companies do not take advantage of the opportunity to redesign graphics and leverage the features and capabilities of the new system, one significant benefit of having a modern SCADA will be diminished.

Assuming that graphics will be redesigned, it is essential that controllers be significant contributors to the design process. Ideally, a combination of SCADA engineers and controllers should design the new graphics. Current human machine interface (HMI) and situational awareness best practices should be used as a starting point and built into the design.

Where there is flexibility, it is important that the preferences and input of controllers be considered. After all, they are the ones who will spend a shift working in front of the graphical user interface (GUI), and it is essential that the graphics are easy for them to use and allow them to operate the pipeline safely and effectively.

There is always subjectivity related to how SCADA graphics should look. As a result, changes can often occur when someone new reviews the graphics and has differing preferences from the design team. This can lead to an endless cycle of graphics modifications that can affect a migration project’s schedule and budget.

To reduce this risk, companies should establish a defined review and approval process at the start of the project. This should specify when reviews will take place, how many review cycles there will be, who among the controllers will review each graphic and who has final approval sign-off authority. This process can be a great opportunity to involve multiple controllers and expose them to the graphics in the new SCADA system ahead of training and commissioning activities.

Improving Control Functionality
Another migration project challenge is determining whether existing control algorithm functionality can be improved. Many times, SCADA engineers are not fully aware of what works well and what doesn’t within the existing control algorithms. While controllers know where their frustrations are, they often accept them and live with less than ideal control schemes, working around deficiencies.

When migrating to a new SCADA system, it is vital that companies take advantage of the opportunity to improve and optimize their control approaches. One way to identify troublesome control functions is to do a survey or poll of all controllers. Alternately, having a controller who reviews all control functionality with the engineering team or helps develop control narratives can also be a beneficial approach.

Specific goals when reviewing and developing control functionality should be to:
• Leverage the standard functionality within the new SCADA system to minimize customization.
• Simplify the control schemes as much as possible.
• Develop or modify control narratives and other documentation that can be used in controller training.

Alarm Reviews
Alarm management is another key area that must be addressed during SCADA migration projects. Poorly designed and maintained alarms are among the most significant operational issues in many older SCADA systems. Reviewing alarm philosophy, alarm design and alarm configuration is a necessary part of migrating to a new SCADA.

The ANSI/ISA 18.2 standard, which defines a comprehensive work process for developing, designing, installing and managing alarms, can be used as a guide. Controllers play a significant role in identifying existing alarm issues and should be heavily involved in all alarm review and alarm configuration efforts.

There are various philosophies on how best to approach alarm reviews and the rationalization process related to a migration project. Some companies choose to initiate the process by reviewing the alarms in existing SCADA. Others use the new SCADA as a motivation to start from scratch and go through the rationalization process with a clean slate.

The state of a company’s alarm problems within its existing SCADA is often the deciding factor. Whichever approach a company uses, the effort can require a substantial number of resources, including both engineers and controllers for a significant period of time. Companies should not underestimate this undertaking in developing their SCADA migration project schedule.

The good news for most U.S. pipeline companies is that they have recently addressed alarm management in a holistic manner to meet the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) 49 CFR, Parts 192 and 195 requirements. This should reduce the effort required to address alarms as part of SCADA migrations and will likely translate to minor alarm configuration adjustments as opposed to a complete rationalization exercise.

Regardless of how successful the technical elements of a SCADA migration may be, the project will fail if controllers do not have a high comfort level with the new SCADA system when it is commissioned. There are several philosophies among companies about how to best handle controller training. Some send controllers to formal vendor training well ahead of the conversion and then do follow-up training just before the cutover. Others prefer to wait until just before the training and do a longer, more in-depth training session.

Many factors go into determining the most effective approach for a given company, but no matter what approach is used, it is important that controller training cover two essential aspects. The first is to ensure controllers gain general familiarity with the new SCADA system, learning how to maneuver within the system, how to call up displays, acknowledge alarms, etc. The second aspect of training is to gain familiarity with the details of company-specific configuration, including what graphics they will be controlling from, how their specific faceplates look, how their alarms are configured, etc.

Standard vendor training is adequate to gain a general familiarity with the new system. However, learning to operate the pipeline from the new monitoring and control screens requires a deep dive into pipeline specific configuration.

One of the best ways to accomplish a comprehensive controller training is to have one or several controllers involved in designing and giving the training. They should become coaches to the other controllers on staff.

The preference is that these controllers are heavily involved in the project from the beginning, giving them adequate time to learn the new system and understand their pipeline-specific graphics and control algorithms. These lead controllers can then also put together documentation that helps explain the new system in terms familiar to the other controllers and may potentially create a cross-reference index with terminology from the old SCADA system.

While there are many ways to approach controller training, it is important to address it at the beginning of the SCADA migration project with a comprehensive controller training plan. This will allow companies to leverage the learning experiences that occur throughout a SCADA migration project to help educate controllers. The more involvement controllers have in the training process, the more likely the training materials and approach will resonate with the other controllers and lead to thorough training that prepares controllers to operate on the new SCADA system.

SCADA migration projects are significant undertakings for pipeline companies. The success of these projects is not only contingent on technical execution but also on using the knowledge of controllers to optimize the new SCADA and educate other controllers.

Beyond the four areas of controller involvement discussed in this article, there are other areas of SCADA migrations that can be positively affected by controller involvement such as factory acceptance testing and cutover planning. Finding ways to gather controller input and actively involve controllers in SCADA migrations will pay great dividends in reducing project risks and maximizing the benefits of a new SCADA system.

Author: Daniel Roessler has over 20 years of experience with control system migrations and is the principal consultant for DANR Consulting. He wrote “Control System Migrations: A Practical Project Management Handbook” (Momentum Press, 2013), a comprehensive collection of best practices for control system migration projects.


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