The Life and Times of Your Data

A colleague shared with me a whitepaper written by Robert Findley, in Emerson’s Remote Automation Solutions business unit. This business provides process manufacturers with remote measurement and control solutions with familiar brand names like Bristol, ControlWave, Helicoid, ROC, and FloBoss.

Robert’s paper, Data, This is Your Life, takes an interesting look at the flow of data and comparing it with the flow of life itself. The journey of data begins with the electronic field technicians:

Through simple, but important, fundamentals such as clean wiring practices, proper calibration routines and input protection methods, they control data at its infant state. Field technicians must understand the basics of how information can be represented and communicated.

The complexity of data ranges from basic things like state, proportionalities and accumulations. Robert cites an example of valve where this basic information is not enough. He writes:

If you wanted more information from the valve, like its exact position between open and closed, the state characteristic is not enough. This is where the data characteristic proportionality become more effective as it can represent the position (in %) of the valve moving towards a full open or closed condition. Incremental, continuous current/or voltage to the valve represents the exact amount of open (or closed) position that is required.

From a remote measurement perspective, remote terminal units (RTUs) are considered the parent of this data in keeping with the life analogy. They represent, monitor, store and communicate this data as well as providing alarms, filters, and control actions. Most importantly:

…RTUs also give a meaningful name to the data point. They are referred to as descriptive “Tag” names or variable names. The naming convention is certainly preferable to just placing a value in some memory location.

At some point this data must “leave the nest” of the comfort of the RTU to go to a centralized location or control room. Important considerations are the reliability, speed, power requirements, protocol, and encrypted security. The collection of this data from various RTUs paints a picture at the receiving end of an overall picture of what is happening.

Robert makes the final analogy of maturation of data. Just as the information we collect over time turns into experience that makes us more valuable to our organizations, so it is with data collected from these RTUs. Robert writes:

Gathering pieces of data for extended periods of time is the foundation for process modeling, preventative maintenance practices and overall safe operation of a process. This process could be one location to thousands and can the information gathered may span for many years. In historical gather form it is at its most mature stage, just as you are to your company.

Although he readily admits in the whitepaper that this life analogy is somewhat of a stretch, it certainly provides a new perspective in viewing this journey your data takes through… well… its life.

Posted Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 under Remote Automation.