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Adopting basic best practices using OPC-HDA and Excel

Mustafa Al-mosawi

Executive Summary

Over the past several years, there have been two significant trends in the industrial marketplace. First, the adoption of even more automation has resulted in an explosion in available data. Second, many companies have an increased focus towards predictive or condition based maintenance and KPI Reporting in order to achieve operational excellence. This quantitative change in the availability of data and in the way it is used, demands a new strategy. Excel and OPC-HDA play an important role in both trends.

The pressure is to do more with less. Process and Equipment data is the life-blood for making that a reality.

Companies have long had industrial assets such as pumps, compressors, boilers, manufacturing devices, and other mechanical equipment. Automation of this equipment through a Distributed Control System (DCS), Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) from control system vendors has resulted in an explosion of available data. The pressure on everyone is to do more with less, and this data is the life-blood for making that a viable reality. Mechanical maintenance departments need it to move towards predicative or condition based maintenance. Operations need it to enable lean and green initiatives for waste reduction and optimization. It is essential for Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in order to achieve operational excellence. All of that requires data.

The real challenge with Excel is not in presenting the data. Excel is an excellent tool for that. The problems and they are many arise when we start storing data in Excel in CSV.

Figure 1 Getting data where it needs to go

When All You Have is a Hammer

Those who came of age with the gradual proliferation of sensors and meters on their equipment will have become accustomed to a variety of storage systems for their data. CSV, DAT, Databases, and that perennial favorite: Excel. The Swiss-army-knife of applications, Excel is well understood by users. It is easy to change the look and feel of cells for reports. It has charting. It has built in math functions for creating quick totalizers, unit conversions and efficiency calculations without having to delve into PLC code, or open up DCS blocks. It has a popular built-in scripting language for real heavy lifting. Excel is so widely used that expert help is only a web-search away. It is really hard to find a tool that combines all these features. As the old saying goes: Sound too good to be true? It probably is. The real challenge is not in presenting the data. Excel is an excellent tool for presenting and reporting on process and equipment data for precisely all the reasons outlined above. The problems and they are many arise when data is stored in Excel and CSV.

The the GET common refrain from integrators and engineers aroundand world: CLOSER TO HISTORY WITH OPC I need a way to take some data from my fill in the blank put it

The long standing misperception is that process historians are only worthwhile if you have a large enterprise with millions of points of data. The reality is there are great, low cost, zero-maintenance, standards-based historians available on the market.

OPC Technology outdated. Maximize Return on Process of thinking is simply Helps Historian Assets
Debunking Historian Myths
Sean Leonard, P.Eng - 2007 The long standing misperception is that process historians are only worthwhile for large enterprises with millions of points of data to maintain. That they are expensive, complicated, and take a team of experts to manage. This is no longer true. There are great low-cost, zero-maintenance, small footprint, standards-based historians available for teams, projects, and small and mid-size corporations.

into Excel. Its only a little bit; besides a historian is overkill. This kind

Separating Data from Presentation

A common design flaw when storing data in Excel and CSV is that often the presentation layer is combined with the data and logic layer. When this happens, every time a reporting requirement changes, the whole system needs to break. When calculation logic needs to be updated, the whole system needs to break. When equipment tags change? The entire system needs to break. By separating data storage from data presentation, these problems are avoided. When storing data in Excel or CSV, where it is common to rely on data position, removing or adding data columns can result in weeks of hunting down broken links and missed reports. Sometimes people try to work around this by creating ever more files, which will eventually expand to a tangled mess of linked spreadsheets and orphaned files.

Figure 2 One Excel of a Mess

Data security also becomes a problem with this approach. While it is possible to secure spreadsheets and CSV files, granularity is limited. Furthermore, once open, the file is completely unsecure from certain actions - one accidental Save As is all that is needed to wipe out crucial data. In system design, it has long been acknowledged that an N-Tier approach is one of the better ways to build a system that can be scalable, maintainable and flexible. An N-Tier approach allows the integrator to delegate file management, security, and concentrate on data analysis and delivering value.

How OPC and Excel work as N-Tier Architecture

The N-Tier architecture is surprisingly simple. At the bottom tier are the industrial assets: pumps, compressors, boilers, manufacturing devices, and other mechanical equipment. These all speak a variety of protocols on a variety of different physical media. By standardizing on OPC-DA, these physical and protocol layers now appear as a single cohesive interface to the next layer: the historian. The historian is responsible for tag management, data storage, retention periods, dead-banding, update rates, etc. A word here on historian selection: find out up front the cost of getting OPC-HDA. By choosing a historian with OPC-HDA, there is flexibility to choose ones client tools, not just the ones the vendor approved. Long term control over data is kept inside the organization, instead of being given away. Should the need arise, OPC-HDA can be used to transfer data from one historian to another. The third and final tier is the presentation layer. This is where the rubber hits the road. There are OPC-HDA clients for Excel that keep the ease of use, without sacrificing security or data integrity. There are OPC-HDA clients that can do control Loop analysis, trending, process improvement, vibration monitoring and more.

Figure 3 An N-Tier Architecture with OPC

Having your cake and eating it too

Excel is undoubtedly one of the great engineering tools today. Often the quick choice for ad-hoc data storage, it can quickly be abused. This leaves organizations open to unnecessary data security and data integrity risks. There are simple, low-cost, zero-maintenance, small footprint, standards-based historians that enable process engineers, integrators and IT Professionals to build a scalable, secure and reliable system for archiving and reporting on process and equipment data. By standardizing on OPC-DA and HDA, it is easy to deploy an N-Tier application that uses industry best practices, while keeping the ease of use of Excel.

There are four components to the solution:

OPC Micro Historian

For process engineers, integrators and manufacturers looking for long term storage for up to 100 tags, MatrikonOPC Micro Historian gives you the perfect solution at the right price. Using the same trusted technology as our popular OPC Desktop Historian, OPC Micro Historian is ideal for storing data from individual PLCs, in small plants, or for simple processes for analysis and reporting. or

OPC Desktop Historian

For manufacturers who need to analyze more process data, OPC Desktop Historian is an affordable, easy to install, configure and administer data archiving tool. Unlike enterprise process historians that are designed to manage the needs of the entire corporation, OPC Desktop Historian focuses on data collection, not data presentation or processing. OPC Desktop Historian is a lightweight solution for time-based data storage that can stand alone or become part of a total enterprise data historian solution.

Excel Reporter
Excel Reporter is an OPC Client for Excel that transforms Excel into a reporting tool for your process and equipment data. Connect to any real-time (OPC DA) or historical (OPC-HDA) data source. Sample reports make getting started a snap. Easily create production, quality and performance reports. Excel Reporter is an out-of-the-box solution that is easy to set up, configure and manage - get up and running in less than 5 minutes.

OPC Trender
MatrikonOPC Trender is an easy to use, standards-based, Plug-and-Play analysis tool. Connect to any data source via OPC DA (Data Access) to gather real-time data, or connect to archived data, such as a process historian, using OPC HDA (Historical Data Access) to retrieve historical data.

About the Authors

Mustafa Al-mosawi, BSc, is Matrikons product manager for Matrikon Analytics. He has 8 years experience in design, development, commissioning and testing of industrial software products. Mustafa previously worked in the nuclear industry as a business and systems analyst with Ontario Power Generation-supporting next generation initiatives. Prior to his current role, he was a senior product designer for the Matrikon Suite of products, including Operational Insight, Alarm Manager, and TaiJi PID.

For More information on OPC Architectures

For more information other OPC topics, be sure to follow up with these associated titles on our website at Easy Data Historization Without Log Files Traditional data history gathering relies on data file formats such as .csv, .dat or binary files for data storage. This works in the short term but fails in the long run because data files are insecure and hard to manage. For example, analysis and report tools often use imported copies of data which, leads to multiple copies of the truth. Unlike relational database solutions that require an understanding of SQL statements and database architecture a simple OPC standards based micro-historian overcomes both data file shortcomings and the complexities of using databases. Cost Effective Reporting With OPC and Excel Excel is the most commonly used analytical tool in industry today, which is why it makes sense for reporting on your process, production and manufacturing devices, controllers, and applications. Using OPCDA and HDA technology, Matrikon Analytics Excel Reporter provides consolidated access to all your devices and data sources in a familiar convenient interface.

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