The smartphone is the new laptop. Mobility is critical for running a plant, and the smartphone is easier to cart around than a laptop. With mobility and ease of use in mind, Opto 22 of Temecula, Calif., has developed an iOS application for the iPhone.
The Opto iPAC iOS app offers iPhone, iPod, and iPad access to Opto's SNAP PAC system, an integrated plant programmable automation package comprising control, monitoring, and data acquisition. The app gives users access to detailed real-time control system information. Automation and control personnel can view, de-bug, and fine-tune wirelessly accessible control and I/O systems. That includes executing control functions such as turning digital output points on or off, writing values to analog outputs, and changing control variables and table entries. Specific I/O points and tagnames can be retrieved, viewed, and saved to a watch list for quick future reference. Users also can start or stop any flowcharts running within the control system.
Because mobile devices have small screens, the app has some limitations. "It's not a full-blown HMI screen," said David Crump, marketing and communications manager at Opto 22. "It's a quick app for maintenance and for checking on controllers or trouble shooting."
The app was designed to solve the challenge of moving around the plant while being able to retrieve data from the control system. "It grew out of feedback we've received," Crump said. "We know the engineer finds it difficult to be tethered to a desktop. You can bring your laptop, but it's hard to balance a laptop while you're walking around. We wanted to make it easier."
Security Is Always a Concern
If you have your plant connected to your iPhone, what happens when your teenage son picks up your iPhone and clicks on the control system app, thinking he just found a cool video game? Is he now running the plant?
"Security is always a concern with wireless devices," Crump said. "The main thing you're going to be using it as [is] a looking glass into the plant, the inputs and outputs, the variables, a watch list, quick access to I/O points."
People will use the app mainly to view real-time information, but it certainly can interact with the plant. "You can stop a controller and start a controller," Crump said. The solution for keeping unknowing hands off the plant levers is security. "It's a matter of locking down the wireless network as securely as you can. You can make it quite safe with encryption."
The price is consistent with many iPhone apps -- a trim $4.99. Crump noted Opto 22 is planning a similar app for other operating systems. "We're working on Android and BlackBerry. We've had a ton of request for Androids.