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.
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.
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.
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