Efficient engineering of comprehensive projects in energy automation

The start phase, in which the design and development tasks must be defined, is a critical phase of any project. Engineers often start development without having a full understanding of the tasks they will encounter. With projects containing many variables, tags, or elements, the person creating the project can save valuable time if they consider the structure precisely beforehand.


The zenon software platform can help promote more efficient engineering in energy solutions. Numerous zenon functions help to shape a project consistently from the start. The engineering thus becomes much more efficient, and subsequent maintenance is easier. The zenon data types, for example, help save valuable development time during the creation of variables. Indirect TAG addressing – also known as “Substitution” in zenon – is another important function that saves time.


These are extremely powerful functions during implementation and maintenance of projects of any scale. However, you should consider plenty of additional aspects in order to bring your engineering productivity to perfection.


About efficient engineering

Engineering efficiency is essential in helping companies lower costs, save time, and boost their productivity. Engineering work happens at many stages of a project, and at all those stages, engineers should maximize the efficiency of their work to help lower expenditures.


What is the meaning of efficient engineering? The definition of engineering efficiency is often understood to be doing the same engineering tasks faster and at a lower cost.


In considering the efficient engineering of energy infrastructure, you should think about the engineering life cycle. In energy automation, the life cycle of a project can be 15 years or more, so engineers need to determine how to minimize labor and delays over the long-term while optimizing supply quality, safety, and security throughout a long lifespan.


Different senses of efficient engineering

In a specific sense, efficiency in engineering refers to the efficacy of particular tasks or technical project features focused on implementing an engineering tool, such as:


  • Screen templates
  • Reusable screen symbols
  • Straightforward instantiation
  • Fast and simple adaptation
  • Central definition


In a broader sense, efficiency in engineering also refers to higher-level aspects of a project, such as:


  • Scalability
  • Long term compatibility
  • Automatic generation of project parts
  • Platform concepts for large-scale rollout
  • Guidance through implementation samples


For instance, if a company can develop a system that allows a simple, efficient ex-post extension of the solution architecture, it will make the next project quicker and more cost-effective.




Engineering phases

Below, we discuss how zenon can help maximize efficiency in the key phases of engineering. This process often spans decades of engineering time. This makes it all the more important to be able to rely on the right technology right from the start and thus remain flexible.


1. Conception

During the conception phase, engineers have complex requirements to balance. They must consider numerous factors and standards as they elaborate on their overarching concept. Envisioning the project's final form and behavior can pose a challenge but focusing on efficiency during project conception can help boost efficiency in all later stages.


Rapid proof of concept

Proof of concept is evidence that a design concept is feasible. Proof of concept typically comes from experiments, pilot projects, or testing that generates data attesting to the design concept's soundness.


Working with the zenon software platform throughout the conception phase offers an array of benefits in this area. Even though zenon is designed to encompass many complex functions at all stages of energy automation, it is also simple to install and use. Even with complex architectures, its user-friendly features mean you can generate necessary data easily and immediately. Using zenon's suite of standard configurations and parameterization methods, you can quickly create test setups and begin initial testing.


Compatibility and compliance

In most cases, energy automation solutions incorporate technologies from a range of different vendors. Those technologies must work harmoniously with one another for the solution to be efficient and effective. For this reason, engineers must ensure compliant implementation of standards — for instance, protocols such as DNP3, IEC 61850, and IEC 60870.


The consequences of noncompliance are severe. Noncompliance can necessitate extensive, costly, and time-consuming workarounds. It also increases the likelihood of more extensive engineering work in the future as small issues begin to compound.


Fortunately, using the zenon software platform can help ensure compatibility across different technology types and confirm compliance. zenon provides the highest possible compliance with applicable standards, including DNP3, IEC 61850 (edition 2.0), and IEC 60870, along with many others. The platform also allows you to use protocol configuration to engineer custom behaviors.


Templates and samples

Engineering samples and template components help you figure out the best approach for implementing your new energy solution. Sample solutions and demos help point the way toward efficient engineering of a high-performing final product.


zenon's built-in energy application sets provide a reliable toolbox for developing sample solutions. These features incorporate an extensive catalog of project and component templates. You can also use the provided application demo as a starting point for your engineering process.

Various templates are provided in zenon for rapid application development.

2. Solution development (implementation) phase

During the solution development and implementation phase of engineering, a focus on efficiency is equally critical.


Using symbols and templates

Using symbols and templates, along with object-orientation, can help boost your energy solution's efficiency. Using templates has several distinct benefits for engineering efficiency:


  • Reusing components: Using a template lets you reduce waste and improve efficiency. Reusing elements helps speed up development because it reduces hands-on engineering time.
  • Single verification: When components are formatted as templates, they do not require constant verification — and in some cases, you may have to perform only a single verification. Reducing verifications also boosts efficiency by reducing the required testing time.
  • Reduced learning time: A modular template mechanism helps reduce learning time by enhancing existent process familiarity. When you can reuse components, you'll keep working with elements you're already well versed with, so you won't need to spend extensive time learning new processes.
  • Easy maintenance: Using modular template objects offers easy maintenance by keeping the project structure clean.


zenon provides all these advantages for efficient solution development and implementation. Below are a few of its beneficial features:


  • Screen templates and symbols: With zenon, creating a visualization design for certain tasks is an easy process. You can use screen layouts for an SoE (sequence of events list), command processing, or switching sequence management. Once you create a screen layout, any detail within the layout can be customized. Generic screen symbols can be created, to display information or visualize process statuses. Once a symbol is applied to a screen, you can dynamically assign the actual variables and functions linked to it. A symbol can be utilized for multiple assets in many places throughout the HMI application. The original symbol implementation will remain centered at a single spot.
  • Smart Objects: The "Smart Objects" functionality in zenon enables you to create fully elaborated automation templates that include graphical symbols, drivers, variables, data types, detailed screens, command groups, and interlockings. You can use this feature to preconfigure an entire data model and attach all related functions, alarms, and views to the template.
  • Import/export mechanisms and defaults: Robust import/export mechanisms and practicable defaults also enhance the functionality of the template environment to boost engineering efficiency.


Configuration of existing functions

Implementing an energy solution through configuration and parameterization instead of programming helps enhance engineering efficiency. One of the main benefits of focusing on configuration and parameterization instead of programming is that it reduces the complexity of setting up a functional module. You need only set the essential parameters, and the rest falls into place relatively easily.


The project vendor usually performs the functional implementation, and the implementation runs in conjunction with other modules and potential architectural arrangements — for instance, server-client, redundancy, network-token or interlocking arrangements.


Here are a few of the other benefits of focusing on configuration and parameterization:


  • Freedom from having to develop or reverse-engineer custom code.
  • Freedom from reliance on deep-programming skills.
  • Reduced risk that bugs in custom code could destroy data or inhibit the entire process.
  • Standardized module parameters that transfer well across different versions of the energy solution.


Automated engineering

Automated engineering increases efficiency because it allows for the automation of standard, repetitive tasks. With automated engineering, you can automatically create or alter any item in the project programmatically via a comprehensive application programming interface (API) such as zenon's Object Model.


Here are a few of the ways automated engineering can benefit efficiency:


  • Time savings: Mass data import from a database or file-based information frees you to spend time on more complicated tasks.
  • Adaptability: Automated engineering solutions are generally adaptable to any source data format and applicable to any sequence of engineering steps.
  • Preventing mistakes: Automated engineering helps avoid human errors that can creep in with manual engineering.
  • Enforcing standards: Standardized structures and designs build an essential basis for clean and modular solutions. Engineers will have a much easier life working in a standardized environment. Automatic engineering, as well as template-based engineering, will help to systematically roll out these standards.

Automated engineering helps to improve large-scale rollouts in the commissioning phase.

3. Commissioning phase

Engineering efficiency is critical in the commissioning phase of a new solution:


Platform concepts (for large-scale rollout)

For large-scale rollouts, standardization at all stages helps to increase the efficiency of projects and operations. When technologies, hardware assets, and software all have similar features, design conception, development and maintenance become much easier because of the basic familiarity across all products.


Most modern systems support the creation of an engineering framework via a platform concept, using tools like these:


  • Template project: The template project contains the cross-cutting functions necessary for the energy solution.
  • Template building blocks: Template building blocks include components like screen types, screen symbols, and smart objects. You can add single and special process components to the project step by step.
  • Automated engineering tools: Automatic engineering tools allow you to use a custom algorithm, or wizard to create special configurations, make checks or assemble building blocks.


One excellent example of using zenon to enhance efficiency in platform concepts is the automated engineering of IEC 61850 projects. For substation projects, users can automatically generate a single-line diagram (SLD) based on the substation configuration language (SCL) and substation configuration description (SCD). An independent configuration tool (ICT) is often used to create and manage these data models. The data models then match with a set of preconfigured template symbols with both the variables and the screen symbols automatically generated. The SLDs come ready to use with just a few graphical adjustments.


Testing and verification

During commissioning, it's critical to have access to essential system states so you can see whether communication links are live, devices are ready for commands and network devices are stable. You also want to be able to spot any malfunctions quickly and easily and have a clear overview of the solution architecture, detailed adjustments, and tests.


You'll also want your testing to be efficient enough that you can perform a test once and then use the feature many times. Doing so helps save time and speed the commissioning phase along. Fortunately, with zenon, process templates like screen symbols and the Smart Objects that have undergone one round of testing will not need detailed tests again.


Process simulation

During commissioning and in many other stages of project engineering, process simulation enhances efficiency by helping you speed up development. Simulating processes allow you to prepare screens, control algorithms, perform first tests, and optimize your designs. Once you're on-site, you can also use process simulation to simulate the signals from any missing parts.


Using zenon helps you optimize your process simulation. You can switch drivers to simulation mode, keep variables on static values, or animate variables dynamically — for instance, on the basis of a soft PLC script, which can simulate even complex process behavior.




4. Extension/update phase

In the extension/update phase, efficiency is key to maintaining a hands-off but effective process:


Extending/updating the engineering content

With a completed project, you may find that different modules you had intended to be independent nevertheless exhibit interdependencies. This scenario makes ex-post updates challenging to perform because you may not be able to alter one module without affecting others.


A modular project architecture with clear interfaces helps keep the project clean and maintainable so you can perform updates quickly and confidently.

The zenon software platform can help. Especially where smart objects are concerned, zenon follows a modular, object-oriented paradigm that enables you to build up applications with clear interfacing and strict modularization. You can identify and update any object in a precise, controlled way.


Managing project changes on the fly

The time crunch associated with managing project changes on the fly generally calls for speed and efficiency. With some platforms, you can't manage on the fly at all. But zenon allows you to make quick, immediate changes with minimal disruptions. You can change a screen, insert new variables on a driver, or include additional variables in a historical archive, all without interrupting the runtime system. zenon transfers the project files to the correct runtime and propagates them automatically to all other runtimes — such as clients or standby servers — that operate on the same project.


Once the transfer of the new project configuration is complete, you can activate the new configuration either locally or via a remote network command facilitated through zenon. With this system, you can make as many changes as you desire without sacrificing the continuity of your processes.


Extending the architecture

For architecture extension, the general rule of thumb is to start simple and scale fast.


For example, in the first stage of a digitization project, you might merely set up a basic human-machine interface (HMI) solution with a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) server and an HMI client. From there, you could expand to many other substations and back each up with a standby server.


With a software platform like zenon, architecture extension becomes easy. You can duplicate projects and then specialize them as you need to. You can use templates from a central library to help you propagate a single change into a variety of other projects.


You can also create a control center application by virtually cascading substation projects into an integration project. Once this happens, the control center project can access resources like screens, variables and archives, and you can create additional screens in the control center application as needed. To add redundancy, you can easily work within standard parameters, merely needing to specify the hostnames of the server and standby.


Long-term compatibility

Since the life cycle of an engineering automation project can be 15 years or more, attention to long-term compatibility is essential. Updates, retrofits and extensions can all take place years after a project began. When this happens, you need to strike a balance between accommodating advances in technology and preserving the integrity of your existing assets and infrastructure.


Fortunately, zenon is perfectly poised to offer long-term support and compatibility. Projects from previous versions can cluster with current ones in a common network architecture, and you can compile these projects even for a SCADA runtime commissioned much earlier.


This setup lets you manage the entire solution architecture in a single environment without switching between tools or versions or spending excessive time on cumbersome project conversions.


Contact COPA-DATA to see more efficient engineering with zenon

To see the benefits of engineering efficiency in your work, partner with COPA-DATA. Our zenon software platform helps boost reliability, flexibility and efficiency in energy solutions. We have over 30 years of experience in the industry, and we are continuously improving the software to make sure it maintains all the necessary logic and algorithms to keep your projects efficient and high-performing.

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