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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented advancement in the development and acceptance of remote technologies and secure data management. 

It is clear that customers are more willing to consider alternatives to their traditional business practices and see value in remote technologies.  

Claire Volkwyn, editor of Smart Energy International spoke to Stefan Maier, Director of Product Management, Nexus Controls, and Nate Martin, Senior Product Manager, to get a glimpse into the future of control systems in an age where remote working is the new normal.

According to Martin, COVID-19 undoubtedly impacted the direction of control systems. He explained that reduced numbers of on-site personnel have resulted in a need for systems to be smarter, with expanded automation capabilities.

A key element driving change, said Martin, is the need to maintain reliability and availability, while reducing the burden on the human element and augmenting the workforce for greater efficiency and safety.

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Maier added that customers are really starting to see the benefits of these types of control systems with in-person factory acceptance tests falling by 80% this year.

“Customers are starting to see control systems as more than a necessary evil, and rather in the light of how it can help their business and ensure visibility.”

Customers are embracing the change and accommodating virtual support. Maier explained: “Nexus has been able to offer 24/7 support, quick response and augmented reality in services. We are seeing less resistance from customers in terms of embracing these virtual experiences”.

However, customers are facing this new world with tight budgets. The panel emphasised that phased migrations can help mitigate financial constraints.

Maier said that customers “must think beyond the idea that the controller is just an asset, they must ask, how do I manage the overall risk of my business and [gain] with new insights?” Phased migrations can ease the financial pressure of an upgrade while ensuring risk management is prioritised.

Key drivers for digital control systems

What are the key reasons for moving towards digital control systems?

  • Challenges around employee retention, the loss of skilled workers and a transient workforce are causing the need for more intuitive, easy to use systems;
  • The rise of renewables is causing traditional plants to change operations, allowing response to the intermittency of renewables;
  • A growing need for remote inspections and the use of drone technology;
  • The transition from baseload to peak load – for example in older mechanical hydropower plants, controls upgrades will be needed to allow participation in the market to stabilise the grid;
  • The need for increased cybersecurity and safe data flow.

Both Maier and Martin stressed that as customers change their operating procedures, it is important that they take steps to reduce risk and ensure operations are continuously monitored.

This is giving rise to the advancement of simulated environments,  that can provide layers of operational models. These models allow for scenario testing, a kind of predictive troubleshooting and training that combine the benefits of simulation technology and data analytics.

The use cases are numerous stated Maier, as IT and OT converge and strategies integrate. Real-time visibility and control has never been more of a priority.

Learn more about the panel’s opinion about supporting interoperability and how to maximise a phased migration based on customer value and priorities.
Register for the on-demand webinar here