JC Tellez, President of JCB Solutions, was working on creating a software visualization application for a wastewater treatment plant in southern California. Operators needed to see real-time process data and receive alerts about impending problems. Although such applications typically require expensive Human Machine Interface (HMI) solutions, Tellez used OPC Expert to provide real-time data to Microsoft Excel, delivering all necessary features at a far lower effort and cost.

“There were two key aspects to the project,” said Tellez. “First, operators needed typical HMI functions enabling them to see a real-time view of the process, adjust various setpoints, and toggle equipment operation states (on/off/auto).” To get real-time data, Tellez used OPC Expert’s Excel Real-time data (RTD) functionality. He visually dragged items from OPC Expert and dropped onto Excel. Tellez then used graphics he created from previous projects to represent data visually to operators. He was also able to use Excel’s powerful graphing capabilities to quickly illustrate tank levels (using a bar chart) and visually pleasing displays using Microsoft Office existing art tools. “Microsoft Excel already has all the graphic tools I needed, so I used OPC Expert to get real-time data from my OPC servers directly into Excel,” he added.

Tellez can monitor a variety of functions, including pump states, any active alarms, temperatures, flows, and more. The graphics react to changes made in real time, for example, green means the pump is on, while red means pump has failed and gray pump is off. If anything in the plant fails, operators can see where it occurred quickly and without having to scour spreadsheets for the information.

Figure 1 Microsoft Excel (as seen in top-left corner) showing pumps (green indicates pump status is active) and switches showing various states of hand/off/auto. All graphics dynamically change as per real-time OPC data parameters. In addition, all numerical data values appear on the right-hand side.

For Tellez, the graphic component of his HMI cannot be understated. Creating an interface in which operators do not have to pour through spreadsheets to get the information was his main goal. Working on similar projects in the past left him with a toolbox of graphic components he used in creating the interface. While his artistry in this project comes from practice, anyone can create these Excel graphics without much hassle.

Figure 2 Microsoft Excel showing Lift Station status. Excel represents different plant areas with separate tabs (visible at bottom of screenshot).

Tellez also realized Excel is only a visual tool for operators and may be turned off. “In the project’s second part we had to monitor the wastewater process while operators were not watching,” he expanded. Tellez setup OPC Expert to run as a Windows service enabling it to start automatically after a reboot without requiring a user logon. Using event triggers, he configured OPC Expert to send email alerts based on preset conditions. “We send emails, based on real-time data, to alert operators when something goes wrong at the plant. So even when Excel is not running, OPC Expert continues to monitor and alert us when necessary,” he said.

Figure 3. Microsoft Excel showing ‘Active Alarms’ tab. This tab notifies operators of alarms in this Geo Pump System.

Using OPC Expert, Tellez was able to provide his client with a custom-made HMI programmed specifically for their wastewater plant. His solution saved tens of thousands of dollars in licensed HMI software and training costs (since they already knew how to use Excel). His creativity resulted in an easy to read and detailed HMI.

“Almost everyone knows how to use Microsoft Excel, but they are buried in spreadsheets. You really need to know what you are looking for to decipher it all. Over the years, I have learned people no longer have time. Our solution enables powerful Excel features to benefit from real-time OPC data, enabling operators to have a quick overview and know they are good to go.”

Figure 4. OPC Expert collects all the data from the OPC Server and transfers it to Excel in real-time. OPC Expert also triggers alert emails whether Excel is running or not.

JCB Solutions provides automation and controls solutions for any industrial business looking to maximize their investment. JC Tellez, President, has been in the automation and controls field for 30+ years and has extensive knowledge of automation controls hardware, and software to build robust SCADA systems and local network HMI systems.

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