May 04, 2020

Operating remotely: intelligent distributed optimization (IdO) to get the most from your technological tools

  • Article
  • remote operations
  • IdO
  • intelligent distributed optimization

One of the major challenges associated with remote sites is the difficulty of ensuring qualified personnel are present to ensure optimal operation. Lack of strong technical leadership can compromise operational performance. This deficiency could have greater consequences during commissioning. As such, it may appear worthwhile to use specialized data analysis software that automates performance monitoring and problem detection.

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      However, more often than not, the results produced by these software programs are complex and require specialists to track and analyze them and resolve any problems, particularly for control loops. The solution then consists of relocating data analysis activities to a control and supervision centre in the company where the various performance analysis and monitoring experts work together as a group.

      The often limited bandwidth at remote sites can make it very difficult, if not impossible, to transmit the large amount of data needed for analysis to the company’s control centre. The solution then involves applying edge computing techniques to the use of performance analysis software. This allows large amounts of data to be analyzed at the source before transmitting the results using minimal bandwidth. Simple performance indicators and alarms can then be provided to local operators, and remote experts have access to more advanced data to optimize the process.

  1. Information and skills in the right place at the right time

    The implementation of intelligent distributed optimization, or IdO, automates decision making and notifies the right people at the right time with the right information.

    In order to optimize data leveraging, the results obtained using advanced loop performance analysis software can be combined into simple key indicators and sent to local operators right in the operation pages of the supervisory control and data acquisition system/HMI. Standard pictograms can be used while respecting best practices specific to high performance HMI and complying with ASM standards. In this way, operators can concentrate on their daily operational tasks, knowing that they will be automatically informed if the performance of a control valve, pump or PID controller deteriorates to the point where they need to take immediate action.

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      • A condition associated with this pictogram may, for example, indicate to the operator that there is a problem with a pump that requires a back-up pump to be started immediately so an adverse short-term consequence will be avoided.
      • It is normal for the performance of control loops to deteriorate over time due to changing process conditions and wear and tear on pumps and other terminal components.
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      • A condition associated with this pictogram can identify a case where the performance of a loop has reached a threshold that compromises operation quality and safety.
      • Obviously, in both of the above cases, a process alarm would also be generated to immediately attract the operator’s attention.
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      Here’s what the operating window for a typical loop might look like:

      A colour can be assigned to the pictogram based on the priority of the associated alarm.

      When the alarm is activated, the operator can click on the pictogram to quickly bring up the loop operation window.

      Clicking on the Graph tab automatically displays historical data for the last few hours as trends to help the operator analyze the situation.

      This method adds intelligence to the operating displays, making up for a lack of experience or technical skills.

      It would also be desirable to automate the actions to be taken by the operator where possible. For example, a back-up pump could be started automatically after the analysis software detects an imminent problem. In addition, if critical oscillations are detected on a control loop, it could automatically be put into manual mode at the same time as an alarm notifies the operator of the problem.

  2. Focus on prevention

    It would, of course, be preferable to avoid such situations by detecting problems well in advance. For this reason, advanced loop performance analysis software can also be used to act proactively. It is often possible to determine that the performance of a loop has begun to deteriorate before it has a significant impact on the process. Problems of premature wear and tear of pumps or control valves as well as the need to adjust PID loop parameters can be detected automatically and far enough in advance, in most cases, to avoid the need for urgent action. Problems that can be detected automatically include sticking or hysteresis of valves, lack of lubrication or air leakage from actuators, and pump operation outside of normal curves.

    In this case, the local operator is not notified (no alarms or pictograms on the operation pages), but the information will be passed on to the experts at the company’s control centre. Here again, the use of edge computing will be very advantageous. Automated local analysis informs experts of the problem directly, rather than transmitting a large amount of data that would have to be analyzed at the control centre. In this way, experts in process control, metallurgy and mechanical maintenance can coordinate the necessary efforts with the maintenance teams at the site. This promotes preventive maintenance and allows operators to focus on their operational tasks by being proactive instead of reactive.


    The use of intelligent distributed operation can be very advantageous for analyzing the performance of control loops at a remote site. Through advanced analysis software, the solution makes the most of all the data available on the site without having to use bandwidth, which is often limited. In addition, problems detected preventively can be transmitted to the company’s control centre team, where experts can coordinate maintenance work that minimizes the impact on the site’s daily activities and thus avoids production losses or quality degradation related to control loop performance

    In the event of a problem requiring immediate action, the control system can act automatically using the information obtained from the advanced analysis tools. If the required actions cannot be automated, an alarm notifies the operator, who will also be informed of the actions to be taken to correct the situation.

    The intelligent distributed operation or IdO solution developed by BBA makes it possible to take full advantage of the information in the data and help staff effectively meet the day-to-day challenges of asset operations. You can count on the BBA team’s support in implementing intelligent distributed operations.

    If this topic interests you, our blog Operating remote assets might also interest you.

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