Taking a Bailey DCS code/HMI to an ABB 800Xa
Identifying gaps and misalignments in the flow of labor, material, and information can help identify business outcomes that can be used to direct digital transformation projects.
Digital transformation (DX) initiatives at industrial clients promise significant business process, competitive and technology adoption advantages. Many of these initiatives are also hamstrung with limited buy-in or support as they make their way from proofs of concept to scale across a client’s enterprise.
Typically, DX initiatives are driven from the top down, given the business value justification required for what many clients are realizing is a multimillion-dollar spend. To many, this is counterintuitive to the ease and flexibility with which modern technology stacks can be deployed. I am certainly one proponent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) who feels that such costs and affiliated concerns are misplaced. However, through many experiences with customers lately, and hearing from industry peers, they aren’t denying the benefits all things new and Wi-Fi ready have to offer; in many instances, it’s simply that they’re looking for solutions that extend the capabilities of existing platforms or are easily bolted on. The implicit request then becomes: “Give me something that is easily managed and maintained by existing teams.”
Speaking from the operational technology (OT) realm, this request can be addressed by solutions in the long tail of automation. Such solutions would leverage cutting-edge sensors that today cost a fraction of what they would have when the first industrial automation project was deployed and are truly the bolt-on variety that customers can rapidly test and deploy. Focusing on sensors at the OT layers becomes critical because these are data sources for all higher-level systems delivering analytics for business decisions. This approach can help with the quick wins to gain momentum and funding for continued DX interventions.
Taking a step back and looking at the customer’s bigger picture, DX is a way for them to align the flow of labor, material and information. To this end, OT-centric interventions need to be coupled with IT solutions to provide a measurable ROI through increased business process integration of such solutions.
Let’s take the example of energy management. Energy is a required input for manufacturing. However, customers often report challenges with allocating this input as a variable cost. A DX intervention in such an instance would be built on OT solutions such as smarter meters coupled with real-time dashboards and further enhanced with IT solutions such as workflow automation, allowing real-time reporting to individual cost centers.
There are numerous mid- to low-complexity areas of improvement across a customer’s operating assets. I believe there is also a vast array of technologies that can be integrated to create low-cost and scalable solutions and help clients unlock business value.
OT-centric interventions need to be coupled with IT solutions to provide a measurable ROI through increased business process integration of such solutions.
The challenge then remains at the starting point. I am convinced that the long tail of automation provides the types of projects that are outstanding given perhaps the limited business value to a plant or asset. However, such projects, when aggregated and implemented across an enterprise, can have a significant impact on a manufacturer’s bottom line.
The call to action for customers and solution providers is to identify gaps and misalignments in the flow of labor, material and information. These gaps can help identify business outcomes that can be used to vector DX interventions. A great place to start is at the OT layer, where many systems are unconnected or operating on islands.
This article was originally posted to Automation World's blog.
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!
During a recent project for a nuclear power plant, our consultants were tasked with converting more than a hundred HMI screens to Honeywell. These screens had varying degrees of complexity, from simple status screens to crowded, dynamic process graphics. The fact that this changeover took place as part of a nuclear project also required strict documentation, validation, and testing for all process shapes, graphics, and objects.
Honeywell’s basic functionality can easily handle most of the normal HMI screens that are developed, and that was the case with this project as well. However, there were a few screens which contained some custom functionality that basic Honeywell functionality could not match. In this project, certain screens contained plotting graphs: X-Y plots where both the X-value and the Y-value were dynamically linked to different real variables. The values of these tags changed independently and constantly, requiring fast updating and 30 minutes of history to be saved. The source of the links could also be changed with a simple click of a button to the side, completely changing the plot. The result looked like a game of ‘Snake’, with an ever-updating line weaving its way around the plot, changing colors and triggering alarms or warnings as it moved in and out of different regions within the plot. Those areas could also be defined by the user. To convert those plots, basic Honeywell simply did not have the tools to produce this same functionality. The necessity of accomplishing this conversion led us to discover the ActiveX plugin software - Gigasoft plots. Using this already built-in tool, it became possible to accomplish any complex plotting graphics that were needed with some simple scripting.
For starters, the Gigasoft plot plug-in is already configured to work seamlessly with Honeywell HMI. With the right licensing, it may already come included with some software packages. Once installed, the user only needs to click and drag a placeholder object into the Honeywell DisplayBuilder window. This object will then contain all the scripting needed to create the plot in runtime.
The scripting itself is no different than the usual VisualBasic Scripting found in Honeywell DisplayBuilder, so no new programming language or syntax needs to be learned before starting. From this script, the customization options are almost limitless. Plotting can be done through arrays. So, it is important to specify the length of your arrays and the update time. It is also possible to change the amount of data that is kept for a specific length of time. Adding text and different colored regions that are specifically bounded by different functions is also an exciting part of this software. The most recent (leading) data point can be customized separately from the rest of the data being graphed, so that the present value is more evident. Obviously, titles, labels, and axis configuration can also be customized. The figures below show the result of some of this customization. The first figure demonstrates visually what the data could look like as it moves across the plot. Again, the plotting style is completely configurable and customizable.
The second figure shows the added text and arrows, the changing of the color of the current data point (the blue dot), and it offers a visual of what a more complete plot could look like using this tool.
All this customization is done within the HMI object itself, or in the case of some global functions, within the actual general graphic scripting. This means that there is no limitation to producing only one of these plots per graph. Since this script lives in the object, once one plot has been scripted, then that object can be copied and pasted wherever you like and it will have the same configuration as the original. From there, it is possible to change links and titles and have new plots within mere seconds. The figure below demonstrates this functionality. All the plots are shown on one graphic that is constantly updating and acting independently. Depending on how the script is created, there will also be no lag or memory issues.
As you can see, this Gigasoft plug-in was extraordinarily useful for producing the nuclear graphic plots we were tasked to create. But the application of this software is certainly not limited to simple 2D plots. Gigasoft boasts the ability to create 3D plots, scientific plots, bar graphs, and pie charts with all the same customizability that has been shown above and more. This software can be used in any type of industry for any type of plotting that is needed.
Whenever this functionality is needed in the future, we now have the ability and the tools to accomplish whatever the customer would like to see created. Often, the most difficult part of implementing new software is the testing and validation of the software. However, since Avid has extensive experience with the documentation and testing required in the nuclear and life sciences industries, we can satisfactorily meet any regulations and requirements for any related industry. Our knowledge and utilization of the plotting software of Gigasoft now offers us the ability to satisfy user HMI demands to create unique and special displays that meet and oftentimes exceed customer expectations.
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 knowledge 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 millennium. 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.
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.