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Work in the Pulp & Paper manufacturing industry is never without unexpected challenges. In order to ensure a successful project, our engineers had to adapt to unplanned scheduling changes in such a way as to provide the customer with a safe, secure startup while the plant was still online.
Meeting the customer's production schedule meant installing a new/modified batch processing management system without having to stop overall plant production. Simulations and extensive testing substantially mitigated the chance for error during this high-risk/high-reward strategy. Although this type of software testing increased upfront labor costs, it provided significant return on the investment. The result was a downtime of one batch cycle, zero wasted raw materials or product, and uninterrupted paper-machine production.
To ensure mutual success, Avid worked with the customer to choose an option that would maximize safety and also meet production demands while minimizing labor cost and material waste. For this project, the customer had an existing Honeywell Experion Batch Management solution which successfully ran its three mixers and supporting equipment. But, plans for a new coating formulation required that the old system be updated. The change introduced a new ingredient, a new dispersing machine, several VFDs, and Ethernet/IP for device control. Both the batch management system and the graphics needed to be updated to accommodate these changes.
Avid’s site familiarity and extensive experience in creating feature rich C&A solutions, allowed our contractors to work with operations to identify and incorporate many quality of life (QoL) features into the project. At each step, the consultants at Avid proved to the customer that the install could be done safely and within the time window.
Some of the key factors in the success of the project included holding a 3-day Factory Acceptance Test (FAT), simulation, virtulization, backup planning and documentation. Given the overall success of this project, an online startup could be a preferential option for future companies.
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General feedback from some of the largest companies in the world indicate that they do not feel comfortable storing intellectual property or sensitive industrial data in a public cloud facility. Largely, this is due to fear of this information falling into the hands of competitors.
But, for many reasons, we believe that business and company data is not safe in the typical private data centers. Most companies use security policies, two factor authentication and RSA tokens to secure their systems and data. But, in practice this only offers a great sense of false security. The truth is, those measures only secure networks from outside penetration. There are many other methods of intrusion and security breach that are concerning.
The advent of public secure data centers created by Amazon, Google and Microsoft are shifting the paradigm of need for private data centers. These cloud-based data centers are designed with similar
security measures to those that are used to safeguard our nation’s private information but the information is held even more securely.
There are many reasons for this, including increased:
Public cloud solutions offer not only data security but also cost savings. To adopt cloud services is a choice many companies will soon face.
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As a project manager for a system integration company, I am constantly quoting projects with customers. An example of a typical scenario for a large project would be receiving a bid package, having a walk-down meeting, asking questions, and then working on the proposal. The proposal is then submitted and I anxiously await the call to find out if we're in the running for the final decision. One of the people on that call (and many times the first time I meet this person), is the purchasing agent. Then comes that dreaded question, “How can we get your price down?”
The age-old war between purchasing and contractors. No matter how hard we work on proposals to be as competitive as possible, the price question always comes up and the battle rages on. We're now time-locked to get a project off the ground, but must begin the fight on rates, T&C’s, and other fine details. It often ends with both sides feeling defeated because the purchasing agent has the very important job of driving costs as low as possible to ensure the company remains profitable. The contracting company has the task of performing the work for a profit, otherwise they go out of business. What isn’t accounted for in this method, however, is the total cost. The battle starts at a point in time to drive one cost down rather than being involved in the entire project execution process to keep the total cost down. I believe the key is for purchasing to be involved in the entire project life cycle.
The first step is to vet potential contractors. This doesn’t mean you have an active bid package or project, it simply means purchasing needs to get out and start looking. In general, plant personnel know whether they will need integration help or not and what size projects they are expecting in the future. The purchasing agent can create criteria for the companies they want serving the plant and then find them. Then, as projects come up to bid, you know right away who is a valid bidder and who not to waste time/energy on. It's critical to know the difference between being qualified to bid and qualified to do. Think about company size, number of resources with the correct skillset, insurance requirements, etc. Getting calls by business developers for integration companies? Now they can be vetted right away. The earlier you get to know integrators, the better positioned you'll be at the bid table to ensure you have the right companies. This also prevents the usual mistake of just going with the lowest bidder. If they aren’t qualified, you can expect a huge cost impact as the design and implementation phases progress.
Next, purchasing agents need to know about projects before they are sent out for bid. One of the biggest factors that goes into every bid package from consultants is risk. There's an old adage in project management, do you want it fast, good, or cheap? If the scope is unclear or the schedule is not defined, it adds risk. The higher the risk, the higher the price. Remember, contractors are trying to run a profitable company as well and we must protect ourselves from the unknown. Purchasing should get ahead of this dilemma by ensuring the scope is very well defined and the schedule allows for proper execution. If you can’t determine this internally, contact one of your trusted providers to perform a FEED/FEL to establish this baseline scope and schedule. The upfront cost is worth a lot when considered against unexpected surprises on the back end of projects or higher prices during the bid process.
Lastly, understand the value the integrator is bringing to the table. It’s common practice for the first project that the industrial automation firm works on to have a lower price in order to get in the door with the client. But, the purchasing agent shouldn’t expect reduced pricing every time. Once the value of the industrial automation firm is realized, the commensurate price should be expected. No one expects to pay more than the services provided, but you shouldn’t expect to pay less for higher skills or more value. It’s understandable to ask for a discount from the industrial automation firm for taking the initial risk of working with them, but once they're a proven partner, a higher price needs to be acceptable to keep projects running on track.
It’s important for purchasing to get involved early with the industrial automation company. Before the project is bid, get to know the company, and understand if they are a good fit. When necessary, let the firm get involved in scope development, base design considerations, and developing the expected project schedule all the way from design to implementation and installation. Purchasing shouldn’t focus so much on the price at the bid table but instead should think more about the total project cost and how developing relationships will result in better lifetime costs for the company. With this approach, not only will you gain a valuable partner, but you will also reach the objectives of saving costs for your company.
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We've all had that wonderful experience of getting to the end of a project and stepping back to admire the glory after months of hard work. After all the hours of programming, testing the programming, getting new information from the customer so that it’s necessary to go back and change the programming – the end is in sight. At this point, for most projects, there still remains the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT), where we get to show off all that hard work in front of the customer. During this time, we must summon the fortitude to remain sharp to carry the project over the finish line mistake free. With this in mind, I would like to share a cautionary tale of an FAT that ended much like the Olympic hurdler face-planting on the final hurdle.
For most projects, pre-FAT testing involves simulation that is virtually accomplished through software and not actual hardware. This is all well and good for logic testing, and even HMI testing virtually is fundamentally safe, but when it comes to actual hardware testing, the inadequacies are obvious. Therefore, while our FAT design is largely derived from our pre-FAT simulation testing, we are left to conceive of a functional design to test the hardware. It is in this design phase where we once again must put on our engineering hard hats when it is so tempting to think they are no longer needed.
In this particular situation, I was approaching the hardware FAT much like the software FAT. My thought bubble was saying, “All I need are some screens that quickly show an Input turning on a corresponding Output.” The customer could easily see from the HMI, for each digital output channel, the little circle turn from red to green when the channel was turned on. I was even prepared to point out the channel LEDs on the output module to show the channels turning on and off. At the time, for a simple hardware check, this seemed adequate.
If this were a movie, we are at the point where there would be a dramatic flash forward scene. Picture this, I am standing with the customer and other contractors and we are ready to start the system up. This is a waste-water expansion project, so we are filling up the sump tank to reach the high level trip point, and when we do, low and behold, not one sump pump starts as per the design, but both the primary and backup pumps start. Since I have extensively tested the logic to know that only one pump should be running, while also confirming that only one pump is being commanded to start - this led me to conclude that the electricians must have wired something wrong.
Let’s fast forward through the frantic troubleshooting efforts that took place next of draining the large tank, tracing and checking the pump wiring, triple checking the logic, and visually seeing only the one channel LED illuminating on the output module. At that point, I was yet to arrive at the culprit. But, it was then meter time where every system integrator gets to impress the electrical contractors, or plant electricians, and get some “street cred” for not just being a programming nerd.
Again, if this were a movie, the dramatic music would slowly build as I traced with the meter from the module down to the terminal block, only to reveal the flaw in my hardware FAT design. Although the logic was not turning on the backup pump output channel, and although the output module channel LED was not on, and although my HMI screen only showed one channel at a time turning on during the hardware FAT, the meter proved that both channels were on from the terminal block. So, the culprit was none other than a faulty IFM cable that had a short between the module and the terminal block assembly.
You may be thinking at this point, “Yes, but this was beyond the controller hardware because it was an IFM cable that plugs into the module and extends to the terminal block.” I confess that that was my knee jerk self-defense statement at the time, but as I thought further about the hardware testing design, I began to see how relevant this was to even the most basic hardware architecture.
First of all, the hardware for this project was all contained inside a control panel, and it should have been tested all the way down to where the outside connection was made. Secondly, even if the hardware scope only extended to the local chassis, channel shorts could still be missed if a simple hardware testing design were used that only looked at one channel at a time. After all, before finding the shorted IFM cable, my first thought after seeing both channels on at the terminal block was that possibly a metal filing had gotten between the channels because the electricians had to drill another bottom hole in the panel when it was brought on site.
To bring this cautionary tale to a close, I'll summarize what I learned from this. First of all, I learned to not think of the hardware side in the same way as I do the software side when it comes to testing. Thinking this way led me to oversimplify the hardware testing and rely on testing methods that are better suited to the software side. Secondly, I was reminded that the signal should be tested at the scope end point. I needed to determine at what point the signal left my scope and became someone else’s responsibility. This is common sense, but can be forgotten when the temptation of quicker and easier, yet less reliable methods are available. Third, I needed to watch out for the dreaded short. Testing only one channel at a time, even with a meter, can lead to missing shorted channels. For digital hardware, taking the time to devise a test for all channels to ensure that no shorts exist may add some time, but could eliminate a costly error.
My final and most important learning is that after all the endurance it takes to get through the initial programming and pre-testing phase of a project, the project is not truly over until the system is installed and performing to the customer’s expectations. The same level of diligence is needed to carry the project over the finish line each and every time.
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As seen in Automation World, the idea that your company can gain a significant leg up on the competition by implementing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is over. If your plant is not already reducing waste, identifying bottlenecks, and coordinating data across the corporation, then you are behind the curve and playing catch up.
Over the past 30 years, advancements and improvements have been made to the simple concepts contained within the general term MES. Many dedicated applications have been developed and many companies solely dedicated to providing MES production process solutions have sprung up.
In addition to a general surge in MES concepts and technologies, there have been efforts to drive segment specific MES application targeted to industry specific needs:
Of course, those are only a few of the industries. Most, if not all, of the heavy players in these industries have been involved in these technologies for years. However, many companies and industries have not stayed up-to-date on adopting new technologies and strategies and several of them are no longer in business or are not thriving.
One example of an industry that did not take improving technology into consideration is the American newspaper industry. Managing editors at newspapers across the country likely cringed when Craigslist showed up on the scene with a dynamic, ever-changing classified section that was online and free. A major source of income for most newspapers went away in a matter of years. Very few newsprint organizations developed even a simple counter to this threat before it was too late. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about local newspapers across the country that folded because of the advances in technology in these and other areas.
Another example is the American auto industry in the 1970’s and early 80s. With a focus on consistency, detailed engineering, and quality control - the Japanese took away the U.S. auto market from local manufacturers. It took decades for domestic car makers to recover. Many are still feeling the effects of not being prepared and forward-looking.
With new technologies like machine learning for predictive maintenance, IoT sensors, and other cutting edge technologies just beginning to enter the manufacturing space, those companies that are poised to take the next strategic leap forward are those that have already embraced and adopted the concepts of MES/MOM (manufacturing operations management) and advanced data solutions like dashboarding of integrated system data.
With the introduction of MES in the early 1990’s, the concepts and solutions have had plenty of time to saturate through various manufacturing spaces as diverse as food and beverage through pharma to pulp and paper.
It's hard to name one major manufacturing software vendor that does not have some flavor of MES/MOM offering. Rockwell has Production Centre, Wonderware has MES Operations and Performance, Emerson has Syncade, and so forth.
The manufacturers that have embraced and adopted some version of these solutions are the ones that are prepared to pivot to address market forces and customer demands as well as move into the future and adopt higher end new and improved solutions.
Surprisingly, technology is the easiest sector to research for companies that missed the boat. Many companies either ignored or adopted new concepts and strategies in their marketplace too late. They paid heavily for not being prepared. If you’re interested, a simple Geographic Information System (GIS) for “Companies that Missed the Boat” returns over a million results.
With operating margins shrinking and the continuous quest for the best deal, it’s important to protect your company from ending up like the familiar example of the mom-and-pop family business staring at the groundbreaking for a big box store in the neighborhood.
The key is to find your company’s niche or method of reducing cost or improving efficiency and then creating a solid data foundation to build on.
Systems Integrators like Avid can help companies to catch up to the competition and surpass them using solid proven data acquisition/MES solutions and implementing advanced data analytics and business intelligence answers. The time to act is now.
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In the United States, 94% of plants miss their scheduled start date after a process control systems upgrade. When schedules slip, expenses add up quickly. For plants operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a single day of lost production can cost $600,000 or more. At that rate, the price of a delayed start-up will surpass your capital investment within a week. Fortunately, with some advance planning, you can ensure a timely start-up and avoid such losses.
We collaborate with clients to identify, design, and implement the best industrial automation solutions. We also provide the installation and commissioning expertise you need to “Get Your Plant Back Online, On Time.” Based on that experience, we’ve compiled the following start-up guidelines for a successful automation system upgrade:
Because a process control systems upgrade is a significant investment, you may find yourself looking for ways to reduce start-up expenses. But, outsourcing your start-up project to your install contractor or trying to manage it in-house comes with risks. Working with a dedicated start-up specialist, on the other hand, allows you to foresee and resolve issues that could threaten your project timeline.
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The process of replacing an existing batch system and providing for more transparency involves developing a system capable of full batch processing but also of running phases manually if the full system becomes unavailable.
This, of course, incorporates the basic concepts of the S88 standard for batch process control but unfortunately, a strict adherence to the S88 standard does not provide all the functionality that is needed. For this implementation at a chemical plant, operators needed to have the ability to run process phases independent of the unit.
So, to complete this replacement, a system needed to be developed that included all programming levels, but allowed for more manual control of the functions in case the batch executive failed. The system also needed to fit into the graphic and operator interface standards established at the site.
The solution involved moving the configuration to the equipment module level. This provided the ability to individually start and stop the equipment modules without having to start a phase. Not only did this change help accomplish the goal at hand, it also fit in with how the current system already worked.
The new system allows for recipe parameters to be set at the equipment level in the event of a batch system failure. But, if the batch executive is running correctly, default recipe parameters are enforced and that, in turn, provides consistent quality. The new operator interface has been designed such that the operator can seamlessly alternate between running with the batch system or without the batch system.
The end result is that the system is set up for the best results possible in either situation. This type of flexibility is particularly helpful in chemical applications where the ability to react to unforeseen circumstances is critical.
Successful batch control implementations allow companies to optimize timing and run multiple batches simultaneously. With batch processing solutions, companies gain quality standardization and optimize overall equipment effectiveness. They’re able to increase throughput, reduce risk of cross contamination, and reduce risk of human error because the automated system takes the place of operator decisions. Systems can be validated and guaranteed to run the same way every time and also to present failure notifications when needed, giving greater assurance of adherence to the standards set by regulatory organizations like the FDA.
In some cases, a strict reliance upon the automated batch can increase reaction time, which, in turn, increases risk. This solution combines the advantages of a full batch system with the flexibility required to adequately react to adverse conditions.
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During my more than five years here at Avid, it has been both challenging and rewarding to be aligned with a company that consistently moves our candidate experience in the right direction. Our HR department works hard to ensure that all of our candidates and employees have a special experience here.
As a part of our core values, we're an organization that values employees at all levels. Our company has grown at the rate of almost 18-20% over the past few years. It’s been an exciting time to watch the company grow at such a brisk pace.
From the time I first joined, it’s been fulfilling to be a part of the team that helped the company reach many milestones, including opening offices outside of North Carolina: one in Atlanta, GA and another in São Paulo, Brazil. During the past year we have even crossed our 100+ employee mark!
Because of the steady influx of new hires, we've worked to ensure that all of our employees have a wonderful candidate experience beginning with their first contact and continuing throughout the entire hiring process. In this competitive world, which is now a candidate-driven market, we believe that the success of an organization depends on its services, customers, and profitability. And of course this also depends on the mindset and achievements of its current and future employees.
The strength of our recruitment process lies in having a ‘Red Carpet’ mentality, right from the minute our team reaches out to a candidate. This helps to contribute to the best possible ‘Candidate to Hire’ experience.
Some of our key focus areas include:
Once a candidate agrees to join us, their relationship with us begins with a surprise gift mailed to their home. This is followed by the option of having all initial paperwork completed online at their own pace prior to the first day of work. We believe that our new hires should have an enriching first day experience spent enjoying the day and getting to know their colleagues, not filling out forms.
Each new employee is assigned a mentor who helps them to acclimate to our culture. The mentor also connects the new employees to their colleagues across our four offices during their first few months onboard.
New employees also get to know more about us via a fun and informative new hire portal that guides them during the onboarding process. This not only includes what happens inside Avid, with details about our mission and values, but also has information about what fun things there are to do in the area, our employees’ favorite restaurants, and places to hang out after work. The portal also provides answers to any remaining FAQ’s that candidates may have.
We love and value the feedback from our candidates and new hires and want to hear from them. After they join us, we make sure to collect their opinions about what they felt we did well and what we could improve on. It's a nice perk when your own employees can help the organization improve.
Overall, we ensure that our potential employees and candidates enjoy and cherish their experience with us right from the start.
We are currently hiring some excellent talent in automation engineering, information solutions, and other areas. We encourage you to visit our website for more information and apply online. We also encourage you to connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Thought leadership is a term that is used widely, but varies in definition, which often makes it difficult to navigate a clear path to thought leader status. It can be challenging to pinpoint what a thought leader truly is and how one goes about achieving that title or career status.
According to Forbes Magazine, a thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
Why is thought leadership important?
In short, thought leadership leads to mutual success. It allows you to provide measurable value to others consequently contributing to your own effective business development. We are all familiar with the comfort zone in our lives because we spend time in that zone daily. But without continuous professional growth, our impact (and for some, even our happiness level) can become dormant. In order to become a thought leader, you must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and focus on your knowledge development and influence on all sides of your expertise. With this in mind, below are 7 steps to standing out as a thought leader.
7 Steps to Obtaining Thought Leader Status
1. Gain experience and knowledge.
The technical industry knowledge required in most careers is ever changing, and continuous growth in this area is imperative for success. However, thought leaders are also skilled in non-technical areas. They need to be good client managers, project managers, and leaders as well. Within these areas, determine the skills where you excel and those that need improvement. Then, focus on bridging those gaps.
2. Maintain and develop effective, successful client relationships.
Develop trust and two-way positive communication with clients. Use communication effectively to understand the true needs and beliefs of your clients. Make every effort to deliver impactful results and keep the focus on the successes. Their success will ultimately be yours as well.
3. Find your niche.
Determine the areas of work that interest you and that you also excel in. Then, dive deeper. For example, you may decide to take part in round table discussions, get involved with online groups, or research trends in this area. It’s important to get to know your niche inside and out.
4. Share your successes and ideas.
Throughout your career, you have developed valuable experiences. As a thought leader, you should share your learnings with others. You can write a blog, lead a webinar, present at a conference, write a case study or even a book. If possible, perhaps even record a video or go on television in your community. Other ways to add value are through volunteer community efforts or public speaking at local events. Keep in mind that a key component of sharing is that the information should provide value to your audience. The content should allow them to achieve more than they would have otherwise achieved because the information is focused on current trends, solves problems, inspires dialogue, and provides practical advice, thereby positioning you as a trusted resource.
5. Encourage others to share your ideas.
There are many ways to get others to share your ideas and guidance. You can post your added value information on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. And, if possible, give credit to others and link to their information. Then, they may be more likely to share or retweet your information. If you write a blog, you could request to be a guest blogger on someone else’s blog to get in front of a new audience. Another idea is to simply ask someone to share your content.
6. Schedule your influence.
Try to balance out your thought leadership efforts so they are not all occurring at one time. Schedule something every month or each quarter, for example, or create a time frame that works for you.
7. Take a break!
You work hard. To avoid burnout, be able to adequately deal with challenges, and consistently be at your best, it’s important to schedule time for your own wellness. Take time to focus on your hobbies, exercise, or even to make sure you are getting enough rest. Allow yourself the time and space to rejuvenate so that you can be at your best when business or leadership opportunities arise.
Following these seven tips can put you well on your way to being a thought leader whether you are in industrial automation and information solutions or a related field. Sharing your knowledge with others can help create a dedicated group of fans who replicate and scale your ideas into sustainable change whether it is in their company, industry or niche.
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Wonderware invited Avid to preview the new Wonderware InTouch Omni (think of it as System Platform 2017), release before the official unveiling at the Orlando Wonderware Users Group conference. They provided us with a running alpha system. This gave us a jump start for how we will be able to incorporate all of the new features into our customer’s projects. InTouch Omni is touted as Wonderware’s biggest release since System Platform 3, which was game-changing technology for our industry. Being able to test out this new platform really piqued our interest. Once the walk-throughs and hands-on demos were completed, the one word that came to mind was… finally. There are exciting new ways to construct objects, intuitive support for multi-monitor applications, new WPF HMI rendering, built-in navigation objects, target platform resolution independence, HMI historical playback, auto-build object wizards and so much more.
Some of the more powerful features include the new ways to construct objects within the System Platform editor to allow developers to create super objects without the additional expense (licensed I/O count) and weight of super objects. For example, in previous versions, to create a valve that could support the different varieties of valves i.e. 2-way, 3-way, 1 limit switch, 2 limit switch, no limit switches, Posi-flate valves with the additional inputs, etc., the object had to carry all of the I/O, attributes and graphics of the most complicated version of the object. With the release of the InTouch Omni, you can now design objects with all of the complicated versions that are appropriate for your organization. Then, on the instance of the object within the System Platform IDE, you can define its type later in the design process. This has several advantages.
One of the advantages is that when you pull information from a P&ID as a control module list and build your objects, in many cases neither the electrical design nor the instrument specification has been completed. So, prior to this release, you had to choose whether you wanted to design for super objects, which would have a negative impact to performance and licensing cost. But, that did enable you to start the HMI build process in parallel to the electrical design and instrument specification. Or, you could design for performance and cost mitigation but that required you to wait until electrical design and instrument specification had been completed in order for the galaxy and HMI build to start. With this new System Platform, you can now have your cake and eat it, too. In other words, you can have the super object with no additional weight.
Another advantage is that a simplified graphic pick list will be available to the HMI developer that will streamline the symbol lay-down process. In super objects, scripts, attributes and graphics will be exposed to the end user within the IDE that have no bearing on the actual instance of the object. Once a super object instance is identified by its type definition - only scripts, attributes and graphics that relate to the defined instance are displayed. This reduces the confusion for end-user support personnel in wading through attributes and scripts when trying to understand or troubleshoot the object.
The multi-monitor support in the new release of the InTouch Omni is fantastic. The new support for both the development environment and runtime will make many a developer and operator happy. During design time, you will lay out your multi-monitor runtime configuration similar to how you would within the windows O/S, identifying which monitors will be on top, on the side, center, primary, and what resolutions. Also, don't worry if your development environment doesn't match the runtime environment, they have also covered that situation by incorporating some magic that allows for developing an application that leverages eight monitors while your development environment may only have two monitors.
Finally, one incredibly awesome feature is the ability to conduct staged deployments. Gone are the days of deploying an area of objects and all of those objects being taken off-scan, effectively taking down that area until deployment is complete from start-to-finish. Now objects will be deployed, staged and verified one-by-one and then taken off scan individually once the system is certain the object will execute. This will allow deploys to occur and the system to stay up and running with no downtime. This is fantastic!
There is much more in this release and we expect as you become acquainted with the InTouch Omni product slated to be released in Q2 of next year, you will be equally impressed. We were pleased to be able to get acquainted with this new System Platform before its official launch, and we plan to put it to good use with our clients next year.