Data Historians and Their Necessity

Many companies do not realize the advantages that historical process data can offer, helping them to save both time and money. Ed Stern, Vice President of Canary Labs, discusses his experience in the matter:

Many companies do not realize the advantages that historical process data can offer, helping them to save both time and money. Ed Stern, Vice President of Canary Labs, discusses his experience in the matter:

"Over the past twenty-nine years at Canary, I have observed how many companies obtain great value from their historical data. There are many ways to utilize this data depending on what is important to monitor for the customers’ needs and areas of responsibility. Usually it is unique for each client and in some cases the client keeps these KPI's (Key Performance Indicators) secret as they can be game changers for their company."

The first decision a company must make, is the commitment to properly collect historical data. Collecting reliable and continuous process data requires an investment in a true data historian. Often companies try solutions that are not very effective. Utilizing the historical data collection mechanism of any HMI will not give you the results you need. With these systems, a user would be lucky to get 1 to 3 months of data online before the need to dump data due to the typical reading and writing performance problems that appear with the SQL databases they utilize.  Beyond the required management of the database, these "built-in" historians suffer data loss, creating virtual “holes” in the data stream due to the starting and stopping of the HMI for routine system changes and updates.

Canary has also evaluated different DCS systems (Distributed Control System) and have found their historical data collection solutions to be very weak.  Many times the user cannot access the historical process data needed without several hours or even days of work.  This same process should take only seconds in a true historian featuring a proprietary database.  Other limiting factors of "built-in" historians are the lack of easy to use tools for the data analysis of trends and easy data exportation to Microsoft Excel.  Additional tools not available without a stand alone data historian include alarming software and reporting tools.

The number one factor that most companies site when excusing their decision to use the "built-in" historian over a true stand alone data historian such has Canary?  Cost.  "Why pay for something that we already have that is free?"  Simple.  Cheap never equals good.  Although the best things in life often are free, we all know from experience, the best things at work require a capital investment.

The great news is that the value a company will receive from properly collecting historical data will quickly surpass their initial data historian investment.  By granting more employees access to historic process data, staff members will better understand their manufacturing process, including variables that they previously made 'gut guesses' on previously.  Simply put, the data doesn’t lie.

These questions can be answered and knowledge gained with a proper data historian installation.

  • Was the incident a result of equipment failure or operator error?  
  • Could this downtime have been prevented?  
  • Did the equipment show signs of failure over time and could proactive action been taken to prevent an unscheduled shutdown?  
  • How do variables react to one another, or are their relationships between these variables that were never realized before? 
  • Why does third shift production seem low compared to a year ago?
  • How does the current pump efficiency compare to the pump efficiency before changing this valve?

Once questions like these are answered, further questions arise and the process is refined, resulting in higher yield, increased profits, and lower equipment failures.  These types of savings and returns can quickly return the modest investment of a data historian.

The industrial process is never complete, it can always be improved.  If you are not currently using a true data historian like Canary, what are you risking by trying it free for 90 days?


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