It’s hard to say that is was planned, but it certainly is convenient that so many of today’s young adults have been groomed since early childhood to operate HMI/SCADA-based applications. After all, they grew up using the world’s most popular Human-Machine Interface – the video game. In fact, a generation of mothers and fathers has been pulling its hair out trying to get their kids to stop their incessant HMI experimentation and get outside into the real world. Well, now that so much of the real world is monitored and controlled using video screens, maybe mom and dad should have saved themselves some stress by just accepting the inevitable march of progress and letting their kids prepare for a much more automated future.
Of course, HMI screens are not video games. They are used to manage some very serious processes with some very serious consequences for mistakes. If little Susie accidentally removes the cooling rod from the reactor too soon, she doesn’t just go back to her previous save. Mistakes now carry severe penalties – up to and including death. That doesn’t sound like a game, nor should it be treated like one.
Nonetheless, all of these years of seeing things in terms of graphic representations, while simultaneously developing expert hand-eye coordination, has filled the world with a plethora of aspiring process control operators – whether they know it or not.
Today’s 35-year-olds were raised at a time when video games were in their infancy. Many men and women watched the evolution of gaming just as they themselves were growing from childhood to adolescence and on to adulthood. They watched as Mario grew from hopping barrels and breaking blocks with his head to racing cars and domesticating dinosaurs. They recoiled in horror each time the princess Zelda was abducted and Hyrule plunged once again into darkness, before directing young Link to her inevitable rescue. They have conducted full-scale military operations with little more than a few buttons and a thumb-stick. How’s that for some HMI training?
What Does That Say about the Future?
In earlier days of SCADA software, some of the key concerns that would shape a company’s decision to employ one product over another revolved around reliability and security. It was important to know that the system was stable and safe. If a SCADA system could not be trusted to relay accurate and timely information on a consistent basis, then it was of little value. In fact, if the system couldn’t be trusted, it was of no value whatsoever.
Enter the next generation of process control engineers and operators. These are people who have been raised alongside evolving technology. A computer is as natural and appropriate a tool as a car was to their parents. Reliability and security? Of course, these are still concerns, but to the technologically adept, these concerns are almost taken for granted. Of course this system is reliable. Of course this system is safe. Why would it even be available if it wasn’t? Today’s consumers want more features, more bells and whistles.
Think back to changes that took place in the automobile industry. In the 60s and 70s people were still thinking about safety and reliability, but the technology had been established to the point that these concerns were all but taken for granted. People wanted something more; they wanted horsepower and sex appeal. They didn’t just want to get from point A to point B – they wanted to get there in style, maybe even turn a few heads on the way.
I’m not trying to compare today’s SCADA systems to American muscle cars, but the analogy isn’t entirely inappropriate. Of course, today’s culture is a bit different – more cost sensitive and environmentally conscious, but the fact remains that many of today’s SCADA consumers are going to naturally expect it to do what it’s supposed to do. The question is less about ‘what does it do?’ and more about ‘what can it do?’
And SCADA goes mobile
Smart phones and tablets are not just fun accessories. Today, they are tools for business and education. Today’s process control operators are going to want to have mobile access to their SCADA systems. And why not? Why should I have to be on the factory floor to keep an eye on production? That’s not how the world works anymore.
More and more developers are creating SCADA software that allows for mobile access. This is the sort of innovation that does nothing to make a SCADA system more secure or reliable; it simply makes it fit more easily into our lives. And there are plenty of benefits: key decision makers can access real time data more easily from anywhere they may happen to be, field operators can have accurate real-time data with them as they move from one site to the next.
Mobile accessibility is yet another example of what today’s operators are looking for from the current generation of SCADA software. And mobility is an example of how the world of SCADA is changing. A more tech-savvy generation is stepping to the forefront, and they intend to bring their toys with them. The SCADA developers who are willing to embrace the evolving demands of today’s young adults will position themselves as the leaders of tomorrow’s SCADA industry.