RTU use expands, must make full use of advantages


Use of remote terminal units began in the U.S. oil and gas industry in 1980s and has expanded to electricity, environmental protection, heating networks, water conservancy, and long-distance pipelines. It expanded into transportation, metallurgy, petro chemistry, logistics, and agriculture. Control Engineering China asks a Chinese expert about RTU trends.

Control Engineering China (CEC) noted an expansion of remote terminal unit (RTU) use and asked an expert, Dr. Fang Yuanbai, professorate senior engineer of Kunming Engineering & Research Institute of Non-ferrous Metallurgy, about related trends. 

CEC: RTU applications have expanded significantly the past two years from oil and gas fields to other areas. Well-known automation companies accelerated development, and mergers and acquisitions happened. RTU technologies also advanced. Why is RTU popular? 

Fang Yuanbai: RTU started to be used by the U.S. oil and gas industry in the 1980s and gradually expanded to electricity, environmental protection, heating networks, water conservancy, and long-distance pipelines. Recently it has further expanded to transportation, metallurgy, petro chemistry, logistics, and agriculture. It continues to gain popularity. We can say that in a specific application, such as data collection in the oil and gas field area, RTU is the main trend. However, in the whole oil and gas industry, RTU is not a main trend in automation equipment systems, where, in my opinion, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCSs) are more popular. Output, sales volume, and actual application of PLC and DCS manufacturers far exceeds that of RTU manufacturers.

RTU is gaining popularity for the following reasons:

The enterprise increasingly needs information. In the past, some measurements were given up because they are scattered and the cost to collect data is too high. Now data collection is needed.

As enterprises increase in size and mergers occur, groups can span across cities or even some provinces. Central management requires remote data collection.

As RTU costs decrease, enterprises that gave up remote data collection because of high investment costs are now starting to implement RTU systems.

RTU technologies have advanced. Communications, Internet, database, and signal transmission technologies also promote wider RTU use and market expansion. Industrial wireless transmission technologies provide new RTU signal transmission methods.

Some newly emerging industries, such as solar power plants, wind power plants, and smart buildings, are new applications for RTUs. Previously, we heard of digital oil fields, digital petro chemistry, and digital pipelines. Recently I heard about digital mines in the metal mineral industry, and I also heard propaganda about a “digital city,” although we are still far from it, actually. 

CEC: The definition of enterprise RTU is a little different. How do you define RTU? 

Fang Yuanbai: In my opinion RTU can be defined narrowly and broadly. RTU in a narrow sense is defined as the basic components of a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system. RTU in a broad sense is defined as the remote input/output (I/O) connections used by control systems, including PLC, DSC, field control systems (FCS), and SCADA.

The earliest SCADA had only data collection capability, and RTU had only two basic functions: data collection and processing, and data transmission. However, with the functions of the system expanded, RTU added PID control, logic control, and mathematical computation (such as gas temperature and pressure compensation). So RTU for SCADA and remote I/O of PLC, DCS, and FCS have some common and different attributes. RTU for SCADA can be connected to a control system comprising PLC, DCS, and FCS. For example, we connected a remote supervisory and control terminal (an RTU product from Schlumberger) to a DCS system in 1990s. Remote I/O and even PLCs, DCSs, and FCSs can be connected to SCADA systems. Beijing Echo Technology Co., which focuses on development of industrial RTU products, rolled out the Echo 5100 distributed control system with field control layers composed of RTUs or PLCs based on a standard DCS structure. 

CEC: What’s your view on RTU technology advances? 

Fang Yuanbai: SCADA systems aren’t applied as often as PLC, DCS, and FCS are. To boost the application of RTU and SCADA, we must make full use of RTU advantages. For example, RTUs are mainly installed in the field, especially in rural areas. Usually PLC and DCS remote I/O are not used in these areas. To gain market share, RTUs need to withstand high temperatures and humidity, have dielectric strength, and resist interference, so RTUs are superior to PLC and DCS remote I/O.

Wireless was applied to many RTU and SCADA applications earlier than PLC, DCS, and FCS applications, and the scope of SCADA applications is much wider. However, the industrial wireless standards were proposed and set by manufacturers of PLCs, DCSs, and FCSs. This may be because of the lack of influence or lack of vision of RTU manufacturers.

Market volume of automation (including control systems) ranks high globally. However, the big players in this market are still overseas automation companies, such as U.S.-based Emerson Process Management, German-based Siemens, U.S.-based Honeywell, Japan-based Yokogawa, and U.S.-based Foxboro [now part of U.K.-based Invensys]. China Beijing Hollysys and Hangzhou Supcon are growing and can compete with big players overseas, in some areas. However, when it comes to RTUs, few companies (such as Beijing Echo Technology Co.) can compete with overseas players. I hope more China enterprises focus on the development and market promotion of RTU, build high-end national brands, and make a greater contribution to the development of the RTU industry in China. 

Key concepts

RTU and SCADA are:

– Growing rapidly in many markets as costs decrease and capabilities increase
– Advancing and important in China and abroad
– Dominated by non-Chinese companies, though several China-based companies are gaining 
– This appeared in Control Engineering China and was translated for the Control Engineering North American print and digital edition. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer

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3 Steps to Build a Strong Team


By Daniel Burrus

Tech Futurist & Innovation Expert

An old cliché has it that there is no “I” in team. Like many well-worn phrases, that one holds a certain amount of truth—and not just in the literal spelling. In effect, a strong team emphasizes the group, not just one individual. The thinking is, when the team advances as a whole, so, too, does everyone within it.        

That begs a question: How do you build a team that is characterized by strong, coordinated teamwork?

It’s not as difficult as you might assume—particularly if you adopt an anticipatory mindset.

Break Down the Challenges

The obstacles that organizations face in fostering teamwork can be highly specific, depending on the particulars of the industry, the culture of the organization and the individuals involved. However, Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange offers a useful list of eight challenges that teams often encounter:

Absence of team identity
Difficulty making decisions
Poor communication
Inability to resolve conflicts
Lack of participation
Lack of creativity 
Groupthink (unwilling or unable to consider alternative ideas or approaches)

Ineffective leadership

Taken on its own, that can be a daunting set of obstacles. But certain core principles of my Anticipatory Organization Model™ can effectively address all of these issues and create a well-coordinated, focused team:

Step One: Communicate, Don’t Just Inform

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in helping to create a solid team is effective communication. Take a quick glance back at the list above—every one of those issues can be traced in some manner to poor communication.

The reason is simple—instead of genuinely communicating, we can all fall into the trap of merely informing.

Let’s break that down a bit. Informing is one-way and static. It merely passes along information without any related form of action. When you inform someone, you’re not even sure if they agree with you or not.

Communication, on the other hand, flows in both directions and is dynamic. The dialogue is genuine, and an enhanced level of engagement results. In effect, you wish to hear as much as you wish to speak.

As a leader, it’s simple to promote that sort of environment. Whether you’re chatting one-on-one or participating in a large group meeting, set the tone by being as active a listener as you are a speaker. You’ll get better results and, at the same time, offer an ideal example to those around you.

Step Two: Collaborate, Don’t Just Cooperate

The terms collaborate and cooperate might seem rather similar but their differences are both distinct and meaningful. It’s amazing how many companies and organizations say they are collaborating when, in reality, they are only cooperating. That’s because they don’t know the difference, and in this case, the difference can make all the difference.

People cooperate because they have to. And because they have to, the focus is on protecting and defending their piece of the economic pie. It’s a strategy based on scarcity.

On the other hand, people collaborate because they want to. You choose to collaborate because you understand that by working together you can create a bigger pie for all. It’s inclusive and expansive.

Need examples? In technology, Apple, Microsoft, Google and others can attribute much of their early success to strategic partnerships with competitors. Likewise, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly collaborating to share resources and information to develop and distribute life-saving medications.

In many ways, collaboration and communication are closely intertwined. It makes sense—if you’re communicating effectively with someone else, you’re more likely to build the level of trust with which collaboration flourishes. By fostering effective communication, you’re also building a collaborative environment—and, in the process, a stronger team.

Step Three: Use the Tools

One fortunate factor that can help build communication, collaboration and a better team is that we have so many tools with which to approach the challenge. Consider our smartphones, Skype, FaceTime, Twitter and any number of other devices and platforms. They’re tied to the moniker “social” for a very good reason—encourage their use, dialogue and engagement.

There are a great many effective strategies with which to build a strong team—one that’s characterized by communication and collaboration. Build those two competencies, and all those smaller, more defined challenges will likely melt away.

Daniel Burris is considered one of the World’s Leading Futurists on Global Trends and Innovation, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including New York Times & Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight.   

Daniel Burrus is also the creator of The Anticipatory Organization™ Learning System–named a Top 10 Product of the Year.

The AO Learning System is a training process for executives and their teams to develop the skills to accurately foresee and take critical actions before disruption strikes.

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