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Starting a Career
As cheesy as it may sound, my first day at Avid felt like the first day of the rest of my life. I’m not usually one to be dramatic, but every step, every person I met, every action, felt momentous. I was a working woman! I had complete control of my future. Everything was so new then, but it would feel normal eventually, right?
I had worked many part-time jobs in the past, but “starting a career” had always been a distant concept in the cushioned bubble that is Blacksburg, Virginia. It was a long and strenuous journey getting through school and obtaining my degree, but at least it was somewhat guided. Out of the infinite possibilities, I ultimately chose a career in the process automation industry due to its rapid growth and diversity of applications.
Even after being at Avid for a couple of months, that hopeful first day feeling hasn’t completely worn off. I am constantly inspired by my co-workers to grow technically and professionally. As one of the other new hires, Jonathan Schmohl, gracefully put it, “the working world provides a more challenging form of learning. In college, you study for a test for a few days leading up to it. In the working world, you are truly needed. There is never a dull moment because there is so much to learn and so much to accomplish.” Fortunately, we have extremely supportive and knowledgeable coworkers, awesome mentors, and team leaders who are willing to help further our knowledge and accomplish our goals.
Because Avid works on many different platforms for a wide variety of clients, that same exciting first day feeling happens regularly. Every project presents an opportunity to learn many new things, make an impact, and be challenged.
Work Life Balance
There was something both refreshing and scary about starting a new job in a new city. It was a difficult transition moving from a college town filled with many similar-aged people to a new city knowing no one. Fortunately, everyone starting their lives in the work world is in the same boat.
Unlike in college, free time, or time not spent doing work is plentiful. However, the number of responsibilities you have can build up quickly if you aren’t diligent about managing your time after work.
There are dishes to do, bills to pay, doctors appointments to go to, laundry to wash, meals to prep, dogs to feed, errands to run on top of hanging out with friends, exercising, hobbies, and not to mention sleep! Another recent new grad, Nate Beekman, advises future new hires, “Try to establish a good sustainable routine early on. Eat healthily, work out, try your best to get eight hours of sleep each night (it really does make a difference), and make a schedule.” How else would we have the energy to kill it in the work world and still have fun after?
While it’s easy to find something do to after work, office life is much different than student life. While my hours are flexible, I can’t just put down my calculator and play frisbee with my friends on a whim. I’m not walking in between class every hour and there isn’t a dining hall next door, but that’s okay! Snack breaks, regular walks, and standing desks keep me happy, active, and productive while I’m at work. Others blow off steam playing ping pong, the iconic Avid pastime.
Your desk is where you will begin spending much of your time, so it's important to make it a homey, comfortable environment that promotes productivity and sets you up for success on the job. I have a picture of my dog which motivates me to work harder so I can provide her a better life. My dual monitors maximize my productivity, decreasing time spent flipping between windows. I get cold rather easily, so I also have a blanket to truly make my desk feel like home away from home. Comfort is key.
Exiting the cushy college bubble can be a scary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be! Now that I have a degree and a job, life is 100% what I choose to make of it. Happiness can be found in day to day life through appreciation for great coworkers, delicious office snacks, and a fuzzy creature to return to in the evening. Though I can’t predict the future, I can at least improve it by taking every available opportunity to learn. Every day is a new adventure and I plan on keeping it that way!
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In the automation world, we touch so many different industries, platforms, technologies, and standardization's, that it is important to know the most up-to-date, relevant information to help our clients get ahead. Whether it is industry specific information, the most pertinent practices, or just looking to increase your knowledge, there are a number of places to look. Below is a list of the top four places to seek information to help you reach your automation goals:
Automation World is a magazine, newsletter, and website that offers a multitude of controls information. The magazine has their metaphoric hands in both factory and process worlds, and their knowledges base regarding products – from controls and drives to energy management, is extensive. They offer information about engineering, IT, and operations, making Automation World a news outlet worth subscribing.
International Society of Automation (ISA)
ISA is a global non-profit organization that helps standardize, educate, and certify the automation industry and its professionals. They host conferences and exhibitions, and strive to help their members through networking and training. This is a great way to link up with other professionals in the industry and learn what they have gained through experience.
Control System Integrators Association (CSIA)
CSIA is a community of system integrators that pool together their experience and expertise, creating a library of best practices that is shared through extensive networking. Through CSIA you can attend webinars and podcasts, get certified, find integrators, and attend conferences, all to increase your personal knowledge while helping to drive modernization in the automation industry.
Avid Solutions Consultant
Sometimes, the best way to find information is by just asking an expert. Here at Avid, we have a wide variety of expertise and industry knowledge that literally spans a millennia. We offer automation solutions, information solutions, and managed services to drive industrial processes and reach our client’s needs. What’s better, we are just a phone call or email away. Our consultants can take your processes further and help you run better.
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Most of us would agree that the future is important. We make many decisions every day that affect our future - from what we eat, to how much we exercise, and even to what we buy. For example, when it comes to buying a car, the desire may be to purchase a Porsche, but the car’s value does not increase over time. The wiser choice would be to purchase a more reasonably-priced car and to invest the money for future use.
The same can be said of a manufacturing facility. Plant operations managers need to make the right decisions today that will ensure the viability of their facility for decades to come. They owe it to themselves and their future employees and colleagues to make the right decisions now to sustain the facility for the future.
The following are some questions that plant operations managers should consider as they look five, ten and even 20 years down the road:
Operators of aging manufacturing plants need to make decisions now that keep changing technologies in mind. It is possible to extend the life of the facility by keeping an eye to the future. Think about the future in every decision that you make. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, but it’ll save you time in the end.
Replacing aging manufacturing equipment can result in the following benefits:
Involving a knowledgeable system integrator can help to guide your company so you can make the right decisions today to ensure a strong future. A successful integration firm has the ability to collaborate with clients to identify and select best-in-class platforms, design and implement systems, and provide verification and validation documentation and services. It's also important to have a knowledge of programmable logic controllers (PLC), human machine interface (HMI), distributed control systems (DCS), and information applications.
At Avid, we are committed to providing unique answers to our manufacturing partners through our process of Outcomes-Based Engineering (OBE). By listening to the needs of our clients, we provide independent and unbiased answers and recommend best-in-class technology solutions that meet and often exceed expectations. We have developed a process batch documentation and implementation library that greatly streamlines batch configuration, troubleshooting, and maintenance.
Whether it’s retirement planning, saving for your children’s education, or planning for the future success of your manufacturing facility, there’s no time like the present to get started. As with most things in life, keeping an eye to the future is important.
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As seen in Automation World, manufacturers, vendors, and service providers are working diligently to understand the net impact of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
IIoT is disrupting manufacturing, starting with existing systems, and this is spurring initiatives, pilots, and studies across the world. While IIoT is a step in the future, it does beg the question for many manufacturers, “What about the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that I have today?”
Its important to note that the MES is one part of the process, people and systems triangle of productivity. IIoT is a net productivity enabler and a complement, rather than a substitute, to MES. In fact, MES have been notoriously costly to implement with long execution schedules. However, we have seen where smart devices and cloud-based systems allow manufacturers to stand up line downtime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) within days without substantial investments - costing less than a monthly luxury car payment. These IIoT smart devices can even enable machines that are not network connected or include a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).
This progress coincides with a greater demand for return on assets (productivity). On demand customization, in response to increased competition, has drastically changed how manufacturers are thinking about their lines and plants. This is only one example of changing customer trends resulting in higher productivity demands.
This shift in productivity disrupts all three aspects: people, processes, and systems, through the application of available technology. The catalyst for this improvement is access to data, a lot of data, in a steady and consistent manner. The MES layer is intended to accumulate and provide this data.
“I would like to get access to my plant data, but its too expensive with my current system.” – Discrete Manufacturer
“I am getting data from all my equipment. I like how it’s presented. But, it’s stale and I don’t trust it. Data seems to be manipulated before it’s reported up.” – Beverage Packager
“For every 10 process parameters, only one equipment parameter is logged.” – Process Automation Manager
These scenarios show the gaps that can be filled to positively impact productivity. These gaps exist in varying degrees across MES installations and this is precisely where IIoT comes into play to expand the capabilities of MES rather than replace it. Technological progress enabling IIoT ranges anywhere from smarter sensors and actors, to more reliable cloud infrastructures. IIoT in this sense is less of a disruptor, and more of a sign of progress along the continuum of technology.
To answer the initial question of “What about the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that I have today?” - it is important to realize that it is less about substituting and more about complementing the MES with IIoT.
Call to action:
A properly-implemented MES can bridge the world of corporate IT and connect it to the near real-time world of automated operational technologies.
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I majored in International Studies and Chemical Engineering in college. This odd combination was born out of a natural ability in the sciences, coupled with a lifelong fascination with history and culture. My career, obviously, was driven far more by my Chemical Engineering degree, but I am often grateful for the humanities education I received.
I first worked abroad in college when I had the opportunity to intern at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Even without a language barrier, there were differences in the work environment that caught me off guard. For example, in my lab group at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, giving a presentation was a serious affair. At the end of my time in Australia, I was prepared to give a presentation to the group and arrived well-dressed with a formal presentation laid out. I was quite embarrassed when my Australian colleagues remained seated and simply spoke about their research instead of presenting a long PowerPoint presentation. For once, over preparing was not the right call. Australian culture is very, very laid back and I really should have extrapolated that the workplace environment would mirror that. My business casual outfits laid in my suitcase unnecessarily packed.
Based on my past experiences and my college credentials, I jumped on the opportunity to work abroad representing Avid Solutions in Frankfurt, Germany. While I had a great experience working there with many capable people, it reminded me that working abroad is quite a different experience than working in the U.S.
Before heading out to work abroad, there are a lot of things to consider. Most of the advice I have here might be considered obvious, but, unlike Australian presentations, my best advice is that adequate preparation is the key to being successful.
Just Living Life
A handful of essentials are necessary before studying or working abroad. First and foremost, research the electrical plug situation in the country where you will be traveling. Be very careful to get a voltage converter and not a plug adapter. As engineers, we should know this, but I discovered that the distinction is not always so clear when I plugged in upon arriving in Sydney just to fry my phone. Having access to all our electronics is part of life these days and certainly part of being successful at work. I suggest you make a list of what you need to have plugged in at any given time and be prepared. For laptops, most chargers serve as converters as well.
If travelling to Europe, be aware that they are much more “green” than we are in the U.S. and that needs to be respected. In every German household, there are at least five different trash varieties for various recycling. It can be considered quite disrespectful and a blunder to toss trash away into the incorrect bin. Another European quirk involves Sundays, when many stores are closed and most people spend time with their families. As far as I could tell, there’s no Amazon Prime or other quick delivery service, so make sure you’re prepared. A great thing about most European countries, though, is that the tax is included in the price. The price you see on the shelf is exactly what you’d need to pay at the register.
In Germany, cash is still very much king. I found this incredibly annoying as, like any good millennial, I rarely have cash and prefer credit. If travelling there or places more near eastern Europe, be sure to have plenty of cash. While working in Germany, my debit card was frozen for suspected fraud, so I had to scrimp and save before my new one could be shipped over. This was very frustrating and I wound up having money transferred to me through the German post, which was quite a hassle. It would have been much better if I just came over with enough cash to get by.
Politeness in other Languages
In any work space, social norms are important and serve as markers of respect and courtesy. The problem with working abroad, though, is that politeness is expressed differently by different cultures. A little research and selective stereotyping can be very helpful. For example, it’s a long-held stereotype that Germans are punctual. While obviously one cannot generalize about an entire country of people, for the most part, this one is true. It is considered quite rude to be late, although it is possibly considered even more rude to be early. When trying to foster a positive client relationship, punctuality is important in Germany.
It’s also important to be cognizant that others will likely have stereotypes about you based on your country of origin. In my experiences, I have been asked numerous times if I owned a gun and asked to explain my country’s political choices. Try to avoid being the loud and rude American since that is a frequently held stereotype. Remember that when encountering new cultures, nothing is good or bad, just different. Don’t read too much into stereotypes and be cognizant of the culture.
Getting the chance to study or work abroad is a wonderful opportunity. I am lucky to work for an employer like Avid where it is a possibility to work in other countries. It allows me the chance to grow both personally and professionally. I would recommend traveling to other countries to work and study as long as the proper planning takes place so that you are adequately prepared.
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Avid today announced that CRN®, a brand of The Channel Company, is honoring the company with a 2017 IoT Innovators award. CRN’s newest awards program, IoT Innovators, recognizes North American solution providers and systems integrators whose design and implementation of breakthrough solutions place them at the forefront of the IoT revolution.
Avid has built automation and process optimization solutions across multiple industries using many tools and platforms. The system integration company’s uncanny ability to listen to the client’s needs and its reputation for complex problem solving led to the creation of a Trusted Partner program where customers rely on Avid to manage technology as well as long-term process improvement.
“We are excited to be part of CRN’s debut Innovators List,” says Jeff Miller, Chief Technologist for Information Solutions at Avid. “This recognition validates our investment in IoT platforms and services and our partnership with clients to drive continuous process improvement.”
“The solution providers and systems integrators on our first-ever CRN IoT Innovators list are confidently leading the channel into the exciting, opportunity-rich new era of IoT,” said Robert Faletra, CEO of The Channel Company. “Each of these ambitious companies has brought to market a complex and cutting-edge integration of platforms, software tools and technologies, managing the entire process from design to deployment. Their remarkable IoT innovations are paving the way for an unprecedented level of global interconnectivity that will transform the way we live and work.”
The IoT Innovators list were announced at the IoTConnex Virtual Conference (www.iotconnex.com) today and featured on CRN.com at crn.com/IoTInnovators.
A fast-growing system integrator specializing in industrial automation and information solutions, Avid collaborates with clients to identify and select best-in-class control system automation platforms, design and implement systems, and provide verification and validation documentation and services. Turnkey capabilities include UL panel fabrication and installation and system commissioning. The company has developed exceptional depth in the following process industries: chemical, food & beverage, life sciences, power generation and pulp & paper. Avid maintains long-standing customer relationships that are built on technical acumen, two-way communication and mutual trust. Avid has provided industrial automation and information solutions across the U.S. and globally for 30 years. The combination of domain expertise and adoption of new innovative technologies help make Avid a top leader in the market. Find out more at www.avid.run.
About the Channel Company
The Channel Company enables breakthrough IT channel performance with our dominant media, engaging events, expert consulting and education, and innovative marketing services and platforms. As the channel catalyst, we connect and empower technology suppliers, solution providers and end users. Backed by more than 30 years of unequaled channel experience, we draw from our deep knowledge to envision innovative new solutions for ever-evolving challenges in the technology marketplace. www.thechannelco.com
Follow The Channel Company: Twitter, LinkedIn
Follow Avid Solutions: Twitter, LinkedIn
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If you're trying to troubleshoot or optimize different aspects of your manufacturing process, consider adding an historian. This software is used to store and analyze vital process and industrial data. Historians fall into their own category in the world of industrial software due to the critical role they play in the success of analysis and decision making. Unfortunately many companies have lots of data, but do not use it effectively.
Many companies are looking for ways to determine the root causes of why their plant’s performance is not at its best on a consistent basis. For example, a plant manager may know that the plant is losing money because a process is taking an extra three minutes. However, determining why this process is taking those three extra minutes can prove to be challenging. Using historian software may provide the needed insight into this issue.
Historians are designed to capture and store a large amount of data from many different sources using disk space efficiently so that years of data can be quickly retrieved. For instance, OSI’s PI Historian can handle millions of points, archive thousands of events per second and quickly retrieve data from a million gigabytes of data (many years of data for most users!).
In a process control system, very common items that are historized include temperature, flow rate, pressure, level and other types of analog data. Also common is the historization of digital data, such as the output or feedback states associated with valves, pumps and other discrete control devices. Integration with other software systems, such as Laboratory Information Systems (LIMS), allows the comparison of process data with lab results.
There are many advantages to adding historian software to your manufacturing process. They include:
Visibility Across Different Systems/Vendors
If a site has multiple, separate systems, historian software can bring all those disparate systems into one view.
The historian can be used to analyze data for Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and batch cycle improvements.
Increased Availability of Data
Efficient Storage of Data and Quick Retrieval when Needed
A historian can store many years of data and make it available for immediate retrieval. Some of our customers have systems that were installed more than 15 years ago and all of the data since the initial installation can be easily retrieved for analysis and viewing. There are some installations where the historian can display historical data better than the control system. In one instance, operators actually preferred pulling up trends in PI Processbook because of the faster performance and the more convenient user interface.
Connectivity with Other Business Systems
By connecting the historian to business systems, it is possible to reduce downtime and more accurately report material consumption.
If you are interested in adding historian software to your manufacturing process or using the data you have more effectively, consider us. We have installed many historian systems including those from OSI, Rockwell, Honeywell, Wonderware and GE in a variety of industries, and our teams have interfaced with PLC and DCS control systems as well as a myriad of business systems. We work with a wide variety of industries including life sciences, chemical, food/beverage and consumer packaging, power, and pulp & paper. We understand the type of information your engineering, operations, technical services, maintenance, and business groups need. Big data is the wave of the future, don’t be intimidated, it is possible to use large volumes of data to improve your processes.
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Like many in the field of Information Technology (IT), I find that technology shifts before our eyes at a nosebleed pace. Technologies come and go - some technologies are replaced quickly, while others seem to hang around for the long haul. As seen in Automation World, I believe it is important to stay relevant and knowledgeable about new technologies for those of us who are in the field of Industrial IT.
At each shift in my career, from Support Specialist on a global banks stock trading network, to Network and Security trainer, and then virtualized datacenter designing engineer, I spent some time thinking about my role and how I could best contribute, often in ways that are not confined to the title of the role. I would like to think that my hard work has led me to where I am today, as part of an Information Solutions team at Avid, a leader in the field of automation and information solutions. At this point with Avid, I’m asking about the next thing that I should be learning, which led me right to the world of Industrial Control Systems or ICS.
I’m new to ICS. But, contrary to popular belief, being new doesn’t mean being unproductive in a new industry. This is the busiest I’ve been in my entire career, and I’m enjoying it in ways that I didn’t expect. I firmly believe that, in this role, I can help our customer’s Business IT (Information Technology) organization to better understand and support the OT (Operations Technology) design and requirements. Customers in the industrial space need a translator between their IT and OT organizations.
Remember, I come from the Business IT side of the technology world. I’ve seen how many of the IT organizations react to individuals or groups trying to run their own networks and servers. IT often feels that they are the defacto experts and should own all aspects of the server’s operation. Sometimes, it’s a lack of trust by the IT group – they worry that a new server that they have not personally built is not secured properly or will become an unmanaged ad-hoc rogue device that will become forgotten about until it becomes a problem.
There are also IT organizations that operate with a bit more hostility towards others. These exist and operate through resource power-grab primarily for reasons of fear or in order to justify their existence. In this situation, IT may resent the firewall team and vice-versa. Private Cloud Virtualization teams don’t trust Public Cloud initiatives and cybersecurity trusts neither.
Where does this leave OT? In my short time here at Avid, it’s become painfully apparent that OT is misunderstood. IT wants to run the OT networks the same way it runs the business networks. People in IT wonder if it’s possible to run the network on behalf of OT. For my part, I think it’s a completely plausible expectation, but I have not seen it work - yet.
An IT network is a relatively available infrastructure. But, there is an argument that the HA (Highly Available) network infrastructure that has been built will failover and the client server stream will continue. I agree, but is it OT quality? IT managed networks don’t conform to the needs of OT in many cases. OT needs the network to be up, all the time. Rebooting a router to fix a problem is often not an option. If there is not a 30ms to 250ms failover between redundant paths, the network is not good enough. In a shared network between IT and OT, an employee’s large file transfer of an ISO file could bottleneck and impede OT telemetry. Of course, all efforts must be made to prevent this.
Similar arguments can be made for virtualization. Could an IT virtualization group run the OT Virtual Machines? Sure, it could. But first, it’s important to understand that the cornerstone of IT virtualization in an enterprise is to put lots and lots of VMs on one or a few pieces of hardware to optimize resource sharing. This doesn’t work for OT without defining guaranteed up-time, reserved memory and CPU, real-time hitless failover, protection for OS changes (including not patching), and being secured from hostile business and internet networks. Lastly, placing OT’s VMs on a distant IT network can lead to major problems if the real-time telemetry traffic from the controls network are dropped.
IT Security compliance is also not directly compatible with OT at the lower levels of manufacturing. These systems are operating in real-time, collecting records, controlling equipment, and informing engineers of status on an HMI. Interrupting this flow of traffic, even by accident, could damage property or worse, it could harm the humans who are operating the system. Applying a patch on a live ICS network could impact data collection, controls, and regulatory compliance. There is a need for IT to understand that it could be a year or even a decade before a plant is offline for maintenance and patching. The focus needs to be one ensuring that only secured, authorized access is permitted from the outside, since the inside OT network needs to remain in a steady state for long periods of time.
In other words, it’s important for OT to explain its needs better to get the other groups to listen.
The National institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has an excellent publication that defines the core differences between IT and OT. Reviewing this publication led me to imagine a person standing between the IT and ICS columns. This was my ‘a-ha’ moment and where I discovered that I can uniquely contribute by helping customers in IT to stop, step back for a moment and review what they are attempting to take on. They often need to decide if it is within their scope to try and be successful at running an OT infrastructure or if a dedicated group would be best suited to do the job. If they are already operating the OT network and it’s not working well, a systems integrator can assist in identifying the changes needed to make the endeavor a success.
Another quick note about the NIST 800-82 publication. If you look at the diagrams 5-1 through 5-5, there is a common Control Server that remains near the controls network. In some of the designs today, this particular server has been moved out to a virtualization infrastructure.
My thought is that its importance is being overlooked since being a server, it’s being moved to the IT Virtualization in the corporate network. This object server is the first in the line of real-time telemetry collection for the manufacturing processes. Consider what happens if this is moved across a best-effort network and multiple routers and switches.
Let’s take a look at how the disconnect formed between IT and OT.
For those unaware or not familiar with Industrial Control System (ICS) requirements, the whole concept of the OT requirements seems backwards when compared to the rapidly shifting Enterprise and Consumer technologies. Someone familiar with IT networking and security best-practices at the enterprise level will rightfully get agitated at how crazy OT sounds, at least until we explain why OT is this way and it’s not easy to change without breaking the manufacturing functionality.
First, they need to get past the gut reaction, ask questions and most importantly listen. Not listening can result in a tough situation where (as in one real customer case) an IT team thought it knew better than those providing the site requirements. They didn’t apply the stated requirements and it resulted in dropped traffic across a shared business/production network. Also, they incorrectly defined VMs on a shared infrastructure. The IT department is an expert at enterprise best-effort and shared resource design, but, it just didn’t work for the ICS and had to be heavily modified.
So, my shared words of wisdom today for all IT and OT staff – don’t assume that you are more knowledgeable than the other and listen. In other words, ‘the quieter you become, the more you will hear.’
For our customers, having a seasoned Information Solutions team as part of the solution integration process can have unexpected value, including clarification of any requirements early on during the design process, and a set of educated eyes to identify any potential concerns that may cause issues in the final product.