In pipeline management, a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system is akin to an orchestra conductor, coordinating operations with precision much like transitioning a symphony from strings to horns and percussions. Rife with complexities dovetailing those of sheet music, SCADA is meant to bring harmony to a pipeline’s workings, complemented by control room management’s (CRM) day-to-day administrative functions.
But as data increasingly drives decisions about infrastructure, sour notes emerge when pipeline operators slow or unwilling to maximize data’s inherent potential eventually must face the inevitable conflict of what to do with SCADA systems well beyond their prime. The daunting choice then: Take chances with that aging software and risk possible trouble or invest thoughtfully now in new or updated data-capturing that optimizes safe operations.
Simply put from a risk-management perspective, it should never be about being passive and praying that things simply work out.
Without question, dependence on SCADA is the norm in the world of pipelines and updating or replacing an outdated SCADA system demands a shift to more holistic thinking when designing SCADA functionality supportive of a pipeline’s commercial functions. Similar attention should be given to the governing CRM that optimizes monitoring and handling of pressure, flow and volume.
Now more than ever, as a new white paper by global infrastructure solutions leader Black & Veatch makes clear, it’s incumbent upon managers to abandon siloed decision-making when setting up a new or replacement SCADA system, identifying the disparate operational stakeholders and have them articulate their requirements, accounting for all moving parts. Each business discipline — from engineering to compliance, sales, control and measurement and operations — brings unique requirements, and those fields have varying data requirements from SCADA.
A more-inclusive approach — appreciating that SCADA isn’t just about CRM — ensures a more-rounded vision of what the requirements should be while adhering to varying safety code requirements. Integrating systems, applications and data can enhance processes involving both pipeline control operations and CRM business considerations.
Complacency, Band-Aid Approaches Carry Sizable Risks
When it comes to helping ensure the safe, efficient movement of gas or hazardous liquids, SCADA is about telemetry between pipeline components in the field that send data — actionable information — back to the operator. Measurement data is critical to the system’s commercial operation and understanding where and how much product is within the system ensures that it effectively gets to where it’s needed. Such data also is essential for product custody transfer purposes, both into and out of the pipeline system.
Yet too often, pipeline owners may get complacent, simply maintaining a system that may be fine today without the vital awareness that it’s nearing the end of its lifespan — a mindset that could imperil system efficiency and public safety.
So what’s the game plan when SCADA and CRM systems go out of tune, most commonly because such systems are so outdated that vendors no longer offer product support? It’s a dilemma not dissimilar to owning a 1980s car in need of parts when that automaker long ago discontinued the model.
Band-aid approaches to failing systems buy time but delay the inevitable, underscoring the need for investing in a systematic overhaul after requisite planning and research. And it mandates that operators and managers of pipelines view the matter through information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) perspectives. Research then can flesh out what’s available in the marketplace, with deep appreciation that OT hardware in the field must integrate with the IT and SCADA software.
Replacing SCADA: Expensive, But Benefits Abound
Replacing a SCADA system can be an expensive but rewarding proposition. From the OT perspective, operators can get flow control unlike anything they’ve seen, while out in the field crews may be spared the chore of cutting apart pipes to weld in new components, then installing the telemetry that goes with them.
In many cases, as the Black & Veatch white paper notes, pipeline operators and other stakeholders hold a parallax view of the system, each looking at the same object from different vantage points. Such intersecting interests range from commercial operations professionals involved in product purchase, sales and supply to issues related to alarm management, control room management compliance, and pipeline control and measurement.
Complicating matters is that SCADA vendors typically focus myopically on their offerings — software or screen displays that don’t always address trafficking data necessary for all facets of the commercial enterprise — while companies require a broader, more holistic view. What’s needed is a deep review and consideration of existing or needed pipeline hardware to fully leverage the capabilities of modern SCADA systems, including such things as flow controls that allow operators to set volume threshold parameters that dictate how many million cubic feet should pass through the system each day or hour — or between specified intervals.
A well-designed, intentional approach to SCADA design and implementation is critical to reaping all benefits from an investment in SCADA, and the blueprint to getting there rests with a few key steps. An enterprise must review its business processes to identify improvement areas and define the functional components to address the diverse stakeholders’ needs.
Compliance must be ensured through integration of applicable codes, standards and recommended practices, and a design discipline around CRM should be established early in the project. SCADA and CRM data flows must be integrated to enhance business processes, and test cases should be developed to validate stakeholders’ needs.
In short, conversations about SCADA operational readiness and CRM design must address the complex requirements that meet all stakeholder needs. It’s commonly believed that compliance rules strictly govern CRM and SCADA design, but the pipeline’s chief purpose needs to be considered to fully understand the relationship between the commercial value and purpose of the pipeline and the role that compliance rules play in safe operations. Putting these requirements in perspective and including all stakeholders’ needs will shorten and improve the SCADA-CRM design phase and ensure that both compliance and operational requirements are met.
This article was provided by the Black & Veatch Insights Group. Black & Veatch is an employee-owned engineering, procurement, consulting and construction company with a 100-year legacy of innovations in sustainable infrastructure.