24 Apr

Address your Vulnerabilities in Cyber Security

Address your Vulnerabilities in Cyber Security

Control Engineering recently published the results of their 2014 Cyber Security study. Data was collected from individuals directly involved in their organization’s cyber security efforts. The most alarming results involved threat levels and vulnerability assessments. A quarter of respondents claimed their threat was high and nearly the same amount reported they had never performed a vulnerability assessment.

Cyber security continues to be a hot topic as plant assets become more interconnected. These systems provide huge benefits for optimization and monetary gain. With each new addition or replacement in a plant, safety and security measures should be considered.

Threat levels can’t always be changed. Certain systems must be connected to the internet and some industries are targets simply by existing. For example, power plants are tied to national security. There is no avoiding the threat level and need for security. The good thing is, effective cyber security is out there.

Vulnerability assessments are crucial to defining where the largest threats are at.  When people think of cyber security, they usually consider computer viruses and hackers. While these are very real threats, a vulnerability assessment may bring to light other areas of concern, such as internal threats. The perfect example of this is flash drives. While they may be convenient to use and seem harmless, a person can accidentally transfer a virus with these devices.

Cyber security measures are just as important as plant safety. When systems are at risk, the machines they control may also be at risk. With so much of today’s businesses revolving around cyber data, going without cyber security is no longer an option.

07 Aug

Human Machine Interface Essentials

Control-Engineering- MagazineAn article on page 14 of the latest Control Engineering Magazine ask the question “Who is building your HMI?” The question related to high-performance HMI and implores readers to answer honestly about the human machine interfaces they use and/or create. Industrial accidents, collectively costing billions of dollars every year, are often related to poor HMI. The discussion of what is and isn’t high performance HMI is curtail to an optimally running plant.

While there are a number of HMI guidelines out there, the variations in what a plant or organization needs are so great that it is hard to nail down specific standards that must be followed in every case. The true test of high performance comes down to usability. The Control Engineering article considers usability testing as a worth-while step when creating HMI.

Consider your typical new hire. You are confident the person has the basic skills needed to perform the job, but, since the person hasn’t been on the job for a significant amount of time, those basic skills are the only ones you can be sure of. Would that new hire be able to use operational HMI screen successfully with just those basic skills?

Usability testing can be as simple as having a person with basic skills in operation use the HMI and taking note of errors they make and questions they have. In this way, you can be sure to have high performance HMI made for the mind of the operator instead of the mind of the programmer.

Regardless of your unique HMI needs, there is no question that operational screen should be accurate in their presentation of process data, safety data and alarms. Ease of use and accurate portray of information should be the primary focus of all high performance HMI.

Here at Synergy, we often perform our own usability test, asking members unrelated to a project to utilize the screen and the user manual to perform basic tasks. Not only does this improve our HMI, taking it to a higher level of usability, it also improves our user manuals. The first place an operator should be able to turn to when a questions arises is the user manual, making accurate portray of screen operations equally important in that document.