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Edge Controllers Provide Rich New Data Access for Pipeline Operators

 Pipeline operations are ideal candidates for digital transformation due to their widespread geographic deployments and often difficult accessibility. My recent article in Pipeline Oil & Gas, titled "Edge Controllers Enable Pipeline Digital Transformation," discusses why industrial internet of things (IIoT) initiatives are the modern answer for providing reliable industrial control and enabling IIoT-capable data communications.

Pipelines are Ready for an Update
Traditional pipeline automation technologies have used programmable logic controller (PLC), remote terminal unit (RTU), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technologies available over the years. But more than half of all pipelines operating today were installed in the 1950s and 1960s, so there’s a lot of existing legacy equipment. Because pipeline automation is often incrementally updated, many users would like to future-proof their systems as much as possible. Edge controllers are the answer.

Why Edge Controllers?
Modern edge controllers are robustly packaged and incorporate a real-time operating system, much like a PLC or RTU. However, they add an on-board general-purpose operating system like Linux, which enables low latency process data to be gathered, stored, and analyzed. Results can be communicated up to supervisory systems for further analysis or transmitted securely to the real-time operating system for direct control response. This digital intelligence enables optimum local control, and benefits workers who can use it to make better decisions and work more collaboratively.

Pipeline-Specific Problems
Edge controllers are well suited for connecting to most types of leak detection and corrosion monitoring systems and can use data logging and other analysis to identify slow-moving changes trending toward a problem. This type of alarm management helps pipeline operators discover issues in a timely manner and minimizes false alarms.

Basic control is well within the capability of an edge controller, but edge controllers offer a significant advantage for solving more complex pipeline problems, like surge control. This is because more advanced automation schemes, improved interaction with upstream and downstream stations, and better central control room coordination are enabled.

The Digital Transformation Answer
Pipeline operators are becoming aware of the benefits offered by digital transformation, but they may be cautious about how to proceed. Edge controllers are a logical step to bring IIoT advantages into any operation while preserving existing investments. Using edge control devices and IIoT concepts, end users can solve many problems and improve pipeline operations.

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