Lightweight data monitoring solution

There’s been a wave of industry reports about how control platforms, middleware and business solutions can dramatically improve food and beverage plant efficiencies. Sensor cost, cloud storage, lightweight solutions and experienced system integrators are just some of the reasons why enterprises are adding new technologies to plant floors.

However, it can be done via addition by subtraction. Recently, a multi-national nutritional company removed its “thick” industrial PCs tied to its SCADA system with an ACP ThinManager solution. The “thin client” solution offers manufacturers the ability to remove software maintenance routines by implementing “thin” client PCs on the plant floor or control rooms. The processing is done by a central server.

According to Malisko Engineering, the system integrator for the implementation, the objective was to reduce PC maintenance costs, speed-up disaster recovery and provide redundancy at the client level—all without affecting the validated state of the system.

The company operates in food production and falls under strict FDA regulations; each aspect of its system must have thorough documentation in order to be validated. The FDA validation for this nutritional company includes acceptable, trustworthy electronic signatures and signatures of process and batches.

The company’s architecture consists of ten production areas with individual SCADA servers and 48 thick clients. These thick clients included a mixture of desktop PCs and industrial touchscreen PCs. 

“The primary driver for our facility was about turn-around time,” says Aric Butowsky, a senior automation engineer at the nutritional company. “We can have a replacement thin client up and running within ten minutes versus four hours or more to build a new thick client from scratch.”

The thin client manager allows the use of five monitors from a single thin client; an administrator can view and operate terminal on the floor, and split any screen into multiple sections and cloud security features.

Thin clients don’t store data; by default USB drivers can’t access these clients, and encryption is part of all communication between clients and servers, including mobile devices.

The system integrator set up a proof of concept demo version for the nutritional food producer before installing the thin client system. The solution was compatible with its existing SCADA system—production function and logs production data—but found its batch system couldn’t integrate it. This included the ThinManager system, terminal servers and thin clients.

The integrator used a simulated system off site to verify the company’s SCADA systems and conduct factory acceptance testing (FAT). From this process, the integrator created installation qualification (IQ) and operational qualification (OQ) protocols for documentation and verification purposes.

The onsite integration included two phases, with a small initial installation of six validated servers and one SCADA system. After the success of the first phase, the company completed the integration with an additional 48 thin clients across the remaining nine SCADA systems.

“The other driver is cost-efficiency, with the virtualization of the remote desktop services (RDS) server,” says Butowsky. This allows the elimination of the RDS server hardware and all the industrial PCs in the field.” The benefits also included reduced maintenance procedures—windows patches and antivirus updates—from 63 to 21 clients.

The company’s technicians now have ability to monitor all SCADA systems using a single thin client instead of multiple, configured thick clients to view the state of production. Plus, the new system allows for increased visibility of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) data on large format screens.

Plant efficiency and monitoring wins again as manufacturers leverage lightweight automation solutions.