Comprehensive plant data collection: From HMI to SCADA to reporting

Meticulous, dependable plant data collection procedures are essential for optimizing plant performance. And data collection is only the beginning — you'll also need to be able to compile that data, compress it and archive it so you can access the data easily whenever you need to. Moreover, the data needs to get to you in a form you can use. It must be accurate, and it must arrive unaltered by the collection and transmission processes. It must also contain precise time information so you can tell immediately when it was collected. Data that comes from sensors and machines must follow additional requirements that preserve its integrity and make it useful for analysis. Fortunately, reliable data collection software such as the zenon Software Platform can collect, time-stamp, compress, and archive your data and visualize it in comprehensive reports for easy analysis and use.


In this guide, we discuss plant data collection software in more detail, particularly plant data collection with SCADA and HMI. We also suggest some key features to look for in quality plant data collection software and provide specific examples of ways to use it to optimize your plant performance and efficiency.



Comprehensive plant data collection (PDC) software

Comprehensive plant data collection software makes collecting data easier by offering convenient, compatible, and reliable features for recording and processing information. Good PDC software can provide a plant with benefits like these:

  • Real-time data collection: PDC software allows companies to collect various plant data in real-time — for example, to supply energy performance data. The exceptional value of real-time data is giving it a tremendous boost in popularity. Currently, around 15% of collected data is real-time data, but by 2025, that figure is expected to double to 30%.
  • Long-term availability: PDC software also makes the data available over the long term so your company can process and analyze it.
  • Report capabilities: PDC software typically makes its data available immediately and this data can be distributed in various reports.
  • Integration and communication: To be able to collect data from the entire plant, PDC software must integrate seamlessly with all hardware and software, communicating directly with all necessary sensors, machines, equipment parts, building services systems and applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP).
  • Direct connection: To function most effectively, PDC software should minimize interim stages as much as possible. PDC software therefore generally relies on many drivers and communication protocols to query and forward the necessary data while reducing errors.


Precise plant data collection is an indispensable resource because it provides a wealth of accurate monitoring and development information that companies can use to document projects, analyze key performance indicators (KPIs), improve performance, and enhance quality assurance.



Types of plants that benefit from in-depth data collection software

Plants across a range of industries and verticals can benefit from in-depth PDC software and its analytical advantages. Below are a few examples of plants that see particular benefits from using this software:

In a manufacturing plant, collecting the right data is critical. Obtaining a wide array of data types can significantly improve performance.

1. Manufacturing plants

For manufacturing plants, in-depth data collection software offers tremendous benefits, including improving process control, bolstering process efficiency, increasing product quality, and reducing overall time and budgetary expenditures. A sophisticated PDC software platform makes activities like data collection, management and analysis easier, and boosts application engineering and system control.


In a manufacturing plant, collecting the right data is critical, and obtaining a wide array of data types — about status, energy monitoring, line management, shipping, order cycles, and delivery accuracy — can significantly improve performance.


Data collection via software such as zenon generally involves a few key processes:

  • Acquisition: Data acquisition is the process of collecting data from your manufacturing facility's equipment. It's essential to connect all your equipment to your data acquisition software to give yourself the best information about your facility and receive it in a form that's easy to work with and analyze.
  • Recording and storing: Data recording allows you to input data manually and collect it automatically. Once you've recorded the data, you can store it in a cloud-based system using aggregation, which enables convenient, secure and cost-efficient access. With a cloud platform, you can access your information from anywhere. Then, your software can compile and structure it correctly so that you'll have it in a usable form.
  • Management: Getting the most benefit from your collected data requires managing and contextualizing it correctly. Quality data collection software can model and display your information in an intuitive, easy-to-understand format even if the data comes from different machines and locations.
  • Analytics and reporting: Analytics and reporting can take a variety of forms. You can make a few quick calculations, or you can create sophisticated, expansive reports. Whatever level of analysis your manufacturing facility requires, data collection software gives you the tools to make the best use of your data once you have it.


Once you've collected and analyzed the data from your manufacturing equipment, you can use it to make improvements in a few key areas:

  • Plant operations: Use the collected data to streamline your manufacturing operations. For example, you might examine data from machine settings to determine which ones are most efficient, or you might use your data to evaluate system configurations or employee speed and accuracy. Data from your equipment can also guide you toward areas in which employees might need more training.
  • Quality control: Data from your equipment can help your manufacturing facility provide quality assurance by showing you the limits on your production and identifying variations in product quality. The zenon Software Platform can easily generate reports to help you assess product quality so you can address any issues.
  • Monitoring maintenance needs: Data can show you immediately when equipment is underperforming and may require maintenance. Using your data collection software to boost your predictive maintenance program also allows you to monitor real-time data so you can predict when problems are likely to arise and head them off with preventative maintenance.
  • Reducing energy consumption: The collected data can give you valuable information about your manufacturing equipment's energy consumption. You can use that information to locate outdated equipment or other points of inefficiency, reduce energy use, and lower your environmental impact. Energy data can also help your facility comply with the ISO 50001:2011 standard for energy management.


Improving these areas allows you to meet the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) standard, which identifies the percentage of productive manufacturing time within a facility. Measuring OEE is an industry best practice for manufacturing, and you need to have the right data on hand to help you monitor operations and make the necessary modifications.



2. Power plants

Power plants also rely on plant data collection software to help improve performance. Using data collection software and data analytics in a power plant provides several different benefits:

  • Upgrading older systems: Power plant software often lags behind the times. Many plants still rely on older, simpler technologies like spreadsheets that can't provide real-time data or reporting. Upgrading to data collection software allows power plants to see the advantages of improved efficiency, accuracy, and engineering speed in constructing energy automation projects.
  • Preventing catastrophic breakdowns: In the absence of performance data, it often seems that equipment often fails randomly and all at once, instead of wearing out slowly and predictably over time. But real-time data about equipment performance can alert you to otherwise undetectable problems and allow you to address them before a catastrophic failure occurs.
  • Optimizing plant performance: Data helps optimize plant design by providing valuable information about inefficiencies in the current setup. Being aware of inefficiencies and weak spots can allow you to design a more efficient and practical layout. And optimizing the use of products like emissions treatment chemicals can help your plant save money, reduce waste, and minimize its environmental impact.
  • Improved safety measures: Because work in a power plant is hazardous, ensuring worker safety should be a high priority. Data collection software gives your teams real-time information about equipment conditions and alerts you to problems as soon as they arise.

Real-time data about equipment performance allows operators to address otherwise undetectable problems.

3. Chemical facilities

Chemical plants also rely heavily on plant data collection software for safety, efficiency, and optimal performance:

  • Improving yield and reducing waste: Reducing waste in feedstock, energy and time helps chemical plants perform more efficiently, reduce their environmental impact, improve yield, increase revenues, and boost customer satisfaction. Data collection software helps give you valuable information about where high yield and waste are occurring so you can make the needed adjustments to equipment and processes.
  • Monitoring KPIs: Many chemical plants want to monitor KPIs for safety and productivity reasons. Data collection can help plants monitor metrics related to safety, product stability, supply-chain efficiency, and compliance.
  • Integrating data from multiple vendors: Chemical facilities often have different generations of equipment from different vendors, and they need a way to access and aggregate all the available data. Quality data collection software makes this process seamless and efficient.



Benefits of comprehensive plant data collection (PDC) software

A plant manager should look for particular features in PDC software to help optimize plant performance and improve efficiency. Below are a few of those key features.



HMI: A perfect data source

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) are ideal solutions for receiving data and allowing users to access it. They offer options for filtering, sorting, and exporting data, and they enable the user to add comments to the data. With error reports, for instance, users can add comments to identify potential causes for further investigation.

One essential function of HMI software is to ensure that user data is permanent and unchangeable. This software helps ensure the validity of the data by recording any attempts to interfere with or change the collected data, thereby securing it at its source.


Mobile data collection: Makes plant data collection more flexible, personal and up-to-date

More and more plants are turning to mobile logging devices for assistance with their plant data collection. Mobile logging devices are particularly useful in situations where plants must undertake the laborious task of collecting data from media, or if subsequent entries are necessary. For this reason, the computers that receive the collected plant data must be able to communicate directly with the mobile devices and be able to understand and process the data. The plant data collection software must support communication between the mobile devices of different systems.


SCADA software: Collect, process and use plant data comprehensively

A supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system allow plants to store data from all sources, from HMI data to information from software or manual entries, in a central location. This centralized storage system provides several different advantages. Well-integrated SCADA software allows plants to combine data from very different sources, process it, and forward it to other systems. Modern SCADA software can take on a central role in the handling of plant data within the company.


At the press of a button, if the system is configured correctly and the system is powerful enough, the SCADA system receives completed reports, which plant managers can use to provide valuable information about their operations. The equipment can also react automatically to predefined situations — for example, by taking actions to correct a malfunction before it causes further problems.


In energy management, for example, the SCADA system can automatically disconnect electrical devices from the mains or activate additional sources of energy if the operating data in the energy management system indicates the threat of a load peak. Or in quality management, the software can trigger an alarm if something appears to be defective.

Aggregation, processing, reporting: The pinnacle of optimization

Many plants process their raw data on specialized computers with their own software. They aggregate the data and then forward it in the form of easy-to-read reports. The success with which the data collected can be used depends on the quality of the plant data collection systems and the software used.


However, plant data collection systems can also be part of other systems, such as a SCADA system with integrated reporting. Using a plant data system that contains a SCADA system with built-in reporting functionality provides a range of advantages, primarily by minimizing the number of interfaces. In energy management, the SCADA system can automatically implement the changes made in response to the collected data.


SCADA systems that support advanced reporting provide the company with other benefits as well. They can create reports quickly and with different data — both real-time and historical, including comparative — and immediately send them to the appointed recipients.


Plants that take advantage of all the opportunities of modern plant data collection, from direct data from machines and controllers to mobile data recording and comprehensive processing in the system to flexible reporting, have the best chance of discovering optimization potential in the company and then turning that potential into measurable gains.


Plant data collection optimization examples

A few concrete examples can help give you a clearer picture of how data collecting software is relevant to your business and industry. Below are a few specific examples of how you can use plant data collection — with HMI or SCADA, for instance — to optimize your processes and achieve substantial, measurable goals:


1. Optimizing performance

To optimize performance in your plant, you'll need to figure out how each piece of equipment is working and make adjustments accordingly. To gain that kind of information, you'll need to collect and analyze data over the long term and develop effective improvement strategies. Data collection software provides you with the wealth of real-time, analyzable data you need, and it offers the additional benefits of precise time information and the ability to keep data from different machines separate.


2. Providing quality assurance

To provide superior products and keep customers happy, you'll need to have adequate procedures for quality assurance in place, and data collection software should be part of them. Data from the machines at every point on your production line can help you determine areas of weakness that may be causing defects and make adjustments to help prevent errors. Data collection software can help you in this endeavor by providing vast amounts of readily analyzable data and archiving it so you can refer to it even years after its collection.

Data collection software provides operators with the wealth of real-time, analyzable data they need.

3. Creating project documentation

Engineering project documentation is essential to have, but it's also time-consuming and can lead to inefficiencies if your staff members don't have a reliable, easy way to generate it. Data collection software is essential here because it can create documentation almost automatically after collecting and logging all the necessary engineering project data.


4. Streamlining energy management

To boost efficiency, minimize environmental impact and maintain a sterling reputation with environmentally conscious customers, you'll need to collect comprehensive data on your plant's energy consumption so you can determine the areas to target for improvements. To implement and maintain energy management procedures according to ISO 50001, in particular, as more and more plants are now doing, you'll need to have automated procedures for collecting, logging, and processing plant data. You can implement these procedures via targeted HMI data collection, special data collection modules in the SCADA system, and software optimized for data analysis.


Let COPA-DATA help with plant data collection

To see the benefits of plant data collection in your facility, make COPA-DATA your trusted solutions provider. Our zenon Software Platform has been around since 1987 and we are continually enhancing its powerful and flexible interface to help you optimize your plant's performance with superior data collection. We know that collecting data is a top priority and that the quality of your plant's data informs the management decisions you make, and we have the technical expertise and years of experience to help your plant meet and exceed its operational goals.