A Bright Idea: Smart Building Automation

According to data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), commercial building owners spend over $82 billion annually in the U.S. on electricity and over $16 billion on natural gas.

Furthermore, 84% of commercial energy consumption can be attributed to lighting, space heating, and water heating.

Another EIA study shows both commercial floor space and number of commercial buildings in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the last 10 years.

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All of this means one thing: astronomical energy costs.
Something as small as turning off the lights when a building or room is not in use or adjusting HVAC systems to run efficiently during peak times of the day can save millions of dollars annually and provide a tangible return on investment.

Some of the largest companies in the U.S. have already looked toward building automation systems to monitor and control lighting, heating and cooling. Hospitals, prisons, business campuses, apartment buildings, hotels, and many other large private and public buildings can benefit from some form of building automation.

We’re no strangers to this.

For over 20 years, we’ve been implementing solutions for integrating lighting, HVAC, and energy systems to monitor and control key parameters — effectively lowering operational costs immediately.

The use of historical trends can also help drive energy reduction initiatives to further increase savings for the future. All of this can be monitored and controlled from a central location, distributed locations, or on a mobile device depending on the need.

Let’s be honest, a full energy program is not a cheap endeavor and the payback can sometimes not be realized for 12-15 years. On the other hand, there any not a lot of things your company or institution can invest in that will save you money from day one and potentially millions down the road.

Take this for example:

As part of a large energy initiative, Cornell University implemented industrial mobility solutions – giving operators access to building management data in real-time as part of the institution’s plan for energy management and off-hours troubleshooting.

On the other side of the globe, one of the world’s leading generic pharmaceuticals manufacturers, Lek Pharmaceuticals, took control of their energy usage with building automation solutions with a combination of state-of-the-art SCADA system and sophisticated instrumentation and controls.

Our strategic partnerships, solutions, and expertise in automation will allow us to show you energy savings from day one.

Whether the need is part of a new construction project or replacing an aging building management system we have a staff of automation consultants and engineers that rival any in the industry.

To learn more about what we’ve done with building automation, contact us today.

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The Relentless Pursuit of Continuous Process Improvement: Lean Fatigue Ensues

When new lean teams gather for the first time there is usually an imperative for the program.

From operations managers, maintenance managers, quality control manager to C-level participants and plant floor workers, there is an initial enthusiasm for the concept and quasi-religious fervor of eliminating waste and zealous appreciation that this is the beginning of a long road to continuous process improvement.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Running a manufacturing company is akin to running a marathon. It is not a 5K or 10K race. [/su_pullquote]

Fast forward two years later and those same folks, if still employed by the same company, are tired, far less enthusiastic, and even bored with the lean process.

Lean manufacturing does work.

Thousands of examples of streamlining, eliminating redundancy, and waste fill the search criteria of Google.

More than any single factor, when the management leadership that advocated lean at the start loses enthusiasm, it permeates those on the lean initiative team and company-wide.  Just as there are term limits in politics, it is vital that lean teams have different leaders who can infuse life into tired lean programs.

Transitioning lean leadership must be part of the plan from the start.

Too often the first projects are the “low hanging fruit” or obvious areas of improving the manufacturing organization that are sorely in need of improvement.

After six months to a year, the projects that yielded fantastic cost-savings and better processes, are replaced with seemingly mundane and less interesting areas of improvement. Ironically by shifting the lean leadership, a totally different perspective can revive life into a lean initiative team.

A quality control manager’s perspective, for example, is quite different than a plant manager’s perspective or a human resources manager’s perspective.  By shifting the different roles within the organization into the lean initiative team leadership, empathy, compassion, and refreshing the zeitgeist of the entire team can happen.

It is not by accident.  Everyone on the lean team must know their leadership turn will happen.

Rarely is someone in maintenance asked to consider the hiring practices of the organization, yet it is precisely this notion of “walking in someone else’s shoes” that creates a kind of kaizen event.

All these different points of views, agendas, ideas, and experiences are precisely the backbone and quintessential value in lean manufacturing.  Through the linear functionality of one’s own job, the organization suffers.

Only when the industrial operation is viewed as a whole, from a wide variety of vantage points, can lean manufacturing remain interesting, fun, and truly continuous.

Long international flights have multiple pilots to avoid the fatigue one pilot might experience during flight.  When lean teams are getting tired, allow team members a break; infuse the team with a new member and new point of view.

Running a manufacturing company is akin to running a marathon; it is not a 5K or 10K race.  Lean is for the long haul and strategies to keep going and growing through wasteful practices requires discipline, rigor, and planning.

Lean road kill is simply not an option.  Dig deep and set a series of finish lines to keep lean alive.

Want to carry on the conversation? Have a question? See how we can help:

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Related reading:

The Millennials Are Coming!!


Why Creating a New SCADA for a New Age of Operators is Critical, Regardless of the Industry

As engineers, when we think of a SCADA system, we generally think of a boring gray screen with pipes, motors, and valves.

That has been true for over 20 years.  A customer asks you to create a SCADA system for them and as the engineer you instinctively go for the PID diagram to replicate in a screen.

The problem is that operators are generally not engineers.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]To develop an HMI for today’s up and coming youth, we need to forget a lot of what we were taught to do. [/su_pullquote]

A recent report by the ADP Retirement Research Institute claims that 18% of the current workforce may retire in the next five years. (Check it out here). And that number may be even higher in the industrial workforce.

On the other side of spectrum, Millennials are said to make up 36 percent of the work force in 2014 and will make up 45 percent of the workforce by 2020.

So what does this mean to us?

As SCADA designers and engineers, we need to forget everything we’ve been taught about how operators interact with screens.

Chances are, today’s youth entering the workforce probably have never turned a wrench, changed their oil, or wired a light.

And why would they? For many, there’s doubt if it’s still even worth going to college or trade schools because of the high costs associated with the lengthy commitment.

What Millennials have that the older generations do not is the vast majority of them were raised with mobile devices.  They are very tech savvy and information aware. They’re plugged in.

Foolish is the company that doesn’t innovate and leverage the capabilities of their employees.  Wise is the company leverages employees’ knowledge.

Do employees need to know how to operate machines in all conditions?

The old answer was yes. The new answer is, surprisingly, no.

More important than how to operate a machine is being knowledgeable about where to find the answer to operate a machine.

A modern SCADA system can put information at employees’ fingertips and Millennials know how to navigate to and leverage this technology.  After all, you don’t need to know something as long as you know how to “Google it” or look it up on Wikipedia.  Designing a SCADA system with built-in search and Wiki features is a must in today’s day and age.

The question is, if I were to take a PID — or a PID-based SCADA screen — and show it to a new operator, would they even recognize what they were seeing?  Probably not.

Because of this, and with Millennials being as tech savvy as they are, companies like Gray Matter Systems have developed ways of creating SCADA screens that mimic the user experience from the mobile world.  Specifically, we’ve developed a methodology to create a more Graphically Intuitive SCADA system (aesthetic as well).

[su_pullquote align=”right”]A modern SCADA system can put information at employees’ fingertips and Millennials know how to navigate to and leverage this technology. [/su_pullquote]This has been accomplished by doing things like creating icons that graphically represent where an operator would want to go based off of what they would look for on a smart device.

Want to configure the settings? Click on the rotating gears.

Want to see your temperature reading? Mouse over thermometer icon.

Need help on what you’re seeing? Click on the question mark.

We’ve also gone away from using traditional P&IDs and imported 3D drawings that mimic what the operator actually sees and interacts with.  Alarming conditions are highlighted on the drawing and clicking on the highlight brings up a popup illustrating the component in alarm and details of actions to take.

To develop an HMI for today’s up and coming youth, we need to forget a lot of what we were taught to do.

Generation Y/Millennials are different than their parents.  As designers we have to ask ourselves if we are to make them conform to our standards or if we need to adjust to theirs.

Ultimately, it will one day be their world and I for one like to move forward and explore better ways to do things.  The most successful companies are those considered to be innovative.

The Millennials are coming and we raised them this way.  Let’s learn to leverage and maximize what comes naturally to them.

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