This guest post is by Michael Toecker of Context Industrial Security and a Digital Bond Alumnus. It first appeared on the SCADASEC list. I thought it was great, and Michael kindly allowed us to post it here.

The world isn’t about just the process anymore, it’s not just about moving water from A to B, or just producing X MW 24/7, or just cracking long hydrocarbons into short hydrocarbons.

It’s about moving water from A to B, while using as little electricity as possible, while monitoring proactively for failures, while watching for leaks in the pipes, while maintaining a balance between too much and too little chlorine, while maintaining an adequate reserve based on historical trending and real-time analysis.

It’s about producing X MW, while minimizing fuel cost, while reducing unexpected failures, while minimizing emissions, while matching renewable output, while ensuring grid events don’t take you out, while also bidding into a real-time market, while….

You get the picture.

It’s not the operations piece that has gotten more complicated, it’s the business needs that have changed. The control system is the best place to get the data for all this, which means it gets the all the add-ons. This also means that we should be buying control systems with the ‘capacity’ to handle stuff like that, assuming a much steeper rate of change.

The process of listening to other business units is an engineering process, no less than any other.  The business may want to increase production, which to an engineer might mean increasing flow through a certain set of pipes. If you want to increase flow through those pipes, you have to pull out small aperture valves and put in new bigger ones. Those bigger ones might require better motor/air drives, which might mean beefing up the electrical cabinet, and probably a different scheme for stroking the valve.

More flow means you need better pumps so you have to replace the old ones. The new pumps happen to be VFDs to comply, so you need a motor control center along with better power conditioning equipment. The new pumps require liquid cooling, so there is another subsystem. And since there’s an increase in the input via the pipes, all the calculations for the reaction and the eventual output all have to be redone, tested, and implemented. And all this means you’re operators will need new training on the new parameters, and new displays, alarms, conditions, set points… And at the end, you’ll have a system which (i hope) saves enough time, money and produces enough product to be worth the trouble. Or not, maybe you’ll have a design that costs more than the value of the increased product, which means it DOESN’T get ok’d.

How is this mechanical/electrical/hydraulic process any different from the computer one?

Upgrades cost money, get complicated, and require thought and expertise, but that’s not a reason to NOT do them. It’s a reason to bring in folks who can do the planning well, and come up with a good design and cost estimate so that the business can make the determination. If engineers don’t identify that the add-ons being requested might need new switches, vlans, rejiggering of logic, replacement HMIs, better controllers, etc, then they aren’t doing the full engineering of the job.

Why invest in some complexity? Because your competitors might be making these decisions, doing these designs, and reaping any benefits.

Image by Newtown Grafitti