2014 Gray Matter Systems Year in Review

As we busy ourselves making the plans that will shape our 2015, we constantly look back and reflect on the amazing year that is quickly coming to a close.

In describing 2014, we use words like  “growth,” “opportunity” and “progress.” And while those words are applicable for sure, the most appropriate way to describe 2014 is “Fast”.

Anyway you look at it, this year flew by.

It seems like just yesterday it was January and we were planning to head to Texas for the first Automation Innovation and Technology Conference. Then we blinked and it was time for PIB 2014. Blink again and Christmas music is on the radio.

Here’s a recap of just a few of the most important things that happened in 2014.

PIB 2014: Our Family Grows

I often get asked what sets our automation event apart from the rest.
An easy answer is the breakout sessions, because it’s true. Every year we showcase the latest automation solutions and show how people are solving data-driven challenges across various industries.

[su_list icon=”icon: chevron-circle-right” icon_color=”#990000″]PIB 2014 Highlights

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GE Intelligent Platforms OpEx Digitization Coach Coleman Easterly did a great session on Best Practices With Plant Applications this year.  Our friend Benoit Lapensee, MES coordinating engineer at Cascades Tissue Group in Canada, gave a great presentation on his company’s efficiency improvement initiatives.

APIB2014WebHeadernd then there’s the keynote speakers we have year to year. This year we had a great presentation from GE Intelligent Platforms General Manager Bernie Anger. Last year it was Mark Bernardo, General Manager, Global Services and Support at GE Intelligent Platforms. Both were ridiculously inspiring.

But this year, when people asked me what made PIB 2014 different from all the other show this year, I started adding a new one to the mix: networking with enthusiasm.

Ok, that may be a bit much to start with. Let me back up.

First off, in case you didn’t know, Gray Matter Systems holds an annual automation event in Put-in-Bay, OH. The event is conference style and solution focused, with breakout sessions, a tabletop trade show, and lots of networking opportunities.

Though it has been going for about 20 years now, recently the event started getting its name by combining the initials of the location (PIB) and with the current year (2014).

emersonHence the name PIB 2014 – the label for this year’s event. Next year it’ll be PIB 2015. If you’re in automation and solving data-driven problems, you should be there.

In every way you could measure it, PIB 2014 was huge. Like always, attendees came from as far as Ontario and Edmonton and as near as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Newer members of the Gray Matter Systems family made the trip from the Gulf region in places like Houston, TX and Pryor, OK.

There were quite a few brandnew faces too. And just like our attendees that come year after year, the new attendees hailed from varied backgrounds and were at all different stages in their professional careers.

And they all had a great story to tell.

But even with the varied industries and skill levels, the thing that always amazes me is how these professionals from such different backgrounds connect and interact with great enthusiasm.

This year I watched a veteran PIB participant with 30 years of manufacturing experience take great interest in learning about water treatment operations from a first-time attendee from Canada. I watched oil & gas and pulp & paper guys from different states swap stories over dinner about what was keeping them up at night in their operations.

timkenI saw people who didn’t have much at all in common come together in a comfortable, professional environment and have a great time getting to know each other.

 

I like to think we foster that kind environment because we’re genuinely interested in solving our customers problems and creating long-term relationships with the people with which we work. I think that comes through in how our customers interact with each other and in the overall tone of the event.

Our enthusiasm and dedication to the relentless pursuit of ROI for our customers is the common thread that holds us all together.

It was awesome to see folks excited to connect regardless of backgrounds.  I’m already looking forward to next year, which will certainly be different but no less amazing.

Cincinnati MSD and Gray Matter Systems Tackle Tough Wet Weather Problems with Technology

In a September 9, 2014, press release, Cincinnati MSD announced its intentions to use new technology to address the city’s wet-weather challenges.  With the help of Gray Matter Systems, Cincinnati MSD will use technology from GE Intelligent Platforms to optimize its wet-weather facilities, equipment and operations, and reduce overflows.

Cincinnati MSD Deputy Director Biju George speaking at the GE Intelligent Platforms User Summit in Orlando in October.

Cincinnati MSD Deputy Director Biju George speaking at the GE Intelligent Platforms User Summit in Orlando in October.

Cincinnati will be able to capture data on excess water produced during periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, which can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or treatment plant and result in the discharge of pollutants into nearby streams, rivers or other bodies of water.

Solving wet-weather challenges stemming from combined sewer overflow issues at home is just the first step, said Cincinnati Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott.

“Not only does this enable us to meet our own needs, there’s something to be said about developing new capabilities and solutions to improve water quality that can be leveraged by other CSO communities across the country,” Parrott said. “That’s powerful stuff — we’re not only solving problems here with technology, but nationally as well as others implement similar platforms.”

Read more here. 

AITC 2014: Kicking Things Off in Texas

texasCourtneyWorked

Keynote speaker Brian Courtney dives into Big Data and Analytics during the Automation Innovation and Technology Conference 2014 in Lake Conroe, TX.

In 2014, Gray Matter Systems held the first of what will become an annual tradition in the Gulf Region: The Automation Innovation and Technology Conference.

The event, held at La Torretta Lake Resort in Lake Conroe, TX., was designed for automation professionals interested in solving complex data-driven problems with the latest solutions.

The Automation Innovation and Technology Conference (AITC for short) was designed to inspire conversation, spotlight challenges, propose solutions, and showcase innovative technologies.

Featuring the same kind of high-quality content attendees of our annual meeting in AITCheaderPut-in-Bay have become accustomed, attendees experienced in-depth breakout sessions, success stories, and hands-on demo in our table-top trade show.

Attendees from all across the country came to Lake Conroe to attend breakout sessions dedicated to solving data-driven challenges in oil & gas, water/wastwater, and manufacturing. While the event highlighted sessions from Gray Matter Systems and its family of vendor partners, the main theme resounding through the conference was how GE is Investing $1.5 Billion in Big Data and Analytics over the next three years.

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The event’s keynote speaker, Brian Courtney, General Manager of Industrial Data Intelligence at GE Intelligent Platforms, carried on that theme. Courtney explained to packed meeting hall at La Torretta how GE is working to manage, visualize, and analyze the worlds industrial data.

Gray Matter Systems is bringing the event back to Texas in 2015 – this year at Northwest Forest Conference Center, March 25-27.  As always, this solution-focused, three-day event, is for all automation professionals interested in solving today’s biggest challenges.

Early registration is open – sign up now!

Gray Matter Systems Unveils ConvertIT, iFIX Super Historical Trending Chart

This year, Gray Matter Systems unveiled ConvertIT, a fully automated engineering service for converting  Wonderware® InTouch®HMI software to GE Intelligent Platforms® Proficy® HMI/ SCADA iFIX®.

The service automatically converts convertITInTouch tag database and WIN file graphic screens into Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX file formats, reducing Reduce conversion and commissioning labor costs by 50% or more compared to manual conversion.

To learn more and get pricing, click here.

Gray Matter Systems also announced the iFIX Super Historical Trending Chart, a pre-configured Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX screen built to help users take more control of their SCADA system.

The iFIX Super Trending Chart lets you create or adjust historical trending charts by clicking directly on an asset, all in run-time mode without any coding required.

Operators can create reports on the fly directly from an asset. Existing reports can be adjusted to fit changing needs.

The iFIX Super Trending Chart also allows users highlight critical data points by making annotations to trending reports without leaving the trending tool. Annotations are recorded and stored directly to the Historian for analysis without leaving the trending tool.

  • Create or edit historial trending charts on the fly from assets instead of tag names
  • Annotations recorded to historian available at all SCADA stations and reports
  • Work in run-time mode – no development license required
  • No programming required. Just copy the pre-configured screen into the iFIX installation

To learn more, click here. 

Top 5 Webinars of 2014

1. Show Me the Data: Why You Should Love iFIX Trending and the Super Historical Trending Chart

showmedDataGray Matter Systems senior engineer Bill Weed dives into iFIX trending.

Learn how about the different types of graphs and built-in capabilities in Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX that make the software’s trend charts flexible and powerful. Watch on-demand. 

2. The Industrial Internet and Industrial Big Data: Connected Machines, Data, Insights, and People

IndustrialInterntThis webinar will explain in simple terms what GE’s vision for the Industrial Internet and Industrial Big Data means to you.

Learn how Industrial Big Data — the lifeblood of the Industrial Internet — is being harnessed to enhance assets and process performance in ways previously thought impossible. Watch on-demand. 

3. ICS Security 101: Modern Strategies for Securing Your Network

icsThumbMalicious cyber-attacks that devastate critical infrastructure are often enacted within the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies.

All too often these incidents seem to be fictional entertainment and highly unlikely to ever occur, and once the movie ends you’re left wondering, “Could that really happen?” Unfortunately, not only could this happen – it is happening – and widely publicized cyber-security attacks like Stuxnet and Flame have proven this so. Watch on-demand. 

4.  How to Track Any Change in Your iFIX System

trackAnyChangeCheck out this on-demand webinar to learn how to track and trace changes in your Proficy HMI/SCADA – iFIX configuration using versiondog software.

Learn how simple, quick, and easy it is to instantly see detailed information on modifications made to your iFIX configuration.  Watch on-demand.

5.  How Mobile Computing and ACP ThinManager are Transforming Automation

ACPheaderThis webinar shows how ACP ThinManager simplifies the delivery of centralized productivity applications (HMI, MES, ERP, etc.) to virtually any device.

ACP ThinManager’s Jamie Blanchard will show you how to properly manage complex, mixed-use computer environments, while optimizing resources with a context-sensitive “needs-based” delivery system that can provide user specific data in and beyond your automation platform.  Watch on-demand. 

Everything Old is New Again in SCADA Architecture

I can recall from my youth a day where my cousin and I hung out at my uncle’s engineering office on a Saturday.  Maybe it was several days, but as I get older the days seem to meld together.

While my Uncle worked on whatever project was eating up his weekend, he placed us in nearby cubicles and logged us into the facilities mainframe computer.

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Zork Screenshot

I found myself lost in countless hours of Zork.

For those of you not fortunate enough to have experienced Zork, it was one of the earliest interactive fiction games available for computers.

They just don’t make games like that anymore – for better or worse.
Shifting back to present time, it dawned on me as I was presenting yet again on a thin and virtual architecture I put together for a client, that everything old was new again.

[su_list icon=”icon: chevron-circle-right” icon_color=”#990000″]Related Reading

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We are once again supplying operators terminals to access a cabinet full of computing resources.  And for several good reasons.

In today’s data driven world, companies are looking for solutions that are fault tolerant while being easy to maintain and configure.  At Gray Matter Systems, we have developed what we like to call the Virtual and Thin Architecture.

By being Virtual and Thin, what we are doing is leveraging Thin Client Technology in a VMWare Environment.  This gives us several advantages.

What is Virtualization?

When I said the word server, most people would think of a physical box, by virtualizing that box, we can host many software based servers within it.  This reduces our overall footprint on several levels – physical space, power consumption, and unused resources.

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Courtesy: freeimages.com

Using VMWare also allows us to create a Highly Available and/or Fault Tolerant environment by leveraging VMWare technologies such as VMotion, VMotion High Availability, and Fault Tolerant.

VMotion allows you to manually move servers from running on one host to another dynamically while the server remains running.

VMotion High Availability automates this process such that when a Host Box fails, any server that was running on said Host Box will restart on another Host Box in the Virtual Center.

Typical reboot time for a Virtual Server is around 30 seconds as compared to the 5-10 minutes of a typical physical server – thus minimizing downtime.

Couple that with iFix Enhanced Failover and the end user will not see a loss of data as the redundant server would take over operation as the primary server automatically restarted on another host box.  Within 1 minute you’d be fully redundant (hardware and software) again.  VMWare fault tolerant can take the hardware redundancy one step further and start a shadow instance of a server on another Host Box in the Virtual Center.

In this case, when a Host Box fails, any server that was running Fault Tolerant that was on that host box would see its corresponding shadow go active near instantly – thus no downtime at all.

With our servers centralized, we can now look at how our clients connect to the data contained in our databases (which are running on the servers).

For the last 20 years, thick clients have been the prevalent technology used to connect to our data servers.  This required a physical PC to be located and maintained at each operator station or any station that needed access to our data.  We now recommend the use of Terminal Servers and Thin Clients.

Thin Clients Are Not PCs

They are devices that generally have no moving parts that power a keyboard, mouse and monitor and establish an RDP session to a Terminal Server (Citrix or Web as well).  The actual processing and configuration for the clients are then maintained on the Virtualized Terminal Server running in our VCenter with Virtualized Data Servers.

Thus all of our computing resources are centrally located and maintained.  Replacing a Thin Client can be done in a matter of minutes.

Even less if you use Thin Client management software such as ACP’s Thinmanager.

Courtesy: freeimages.com

Courtesy: freeimages.com

Our typical rollout these days for a distributed client server SCADA system consists of the following:

  • Redundant set of iFix SCADA servers
  • Redundant set of Terminal Server running iFix Terminal Server and  ACP Thin Manager
  • Proficy Historian
  • Optional Proficy Webspace

These servers in turn are then accessed by thin clients out on the plant floor as illustrated below:

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The overall solution provides for ease of maintenance and a centralized configuration.  All the while allowing you to more efficiently use your processing and storage resources while using less power and having a smaller overall footprint.

Lastly, it provides significant uptime performance and fault tolerance.

It’s funny how as times change, aspects and strategies of the past become vogue again.

In many ways we are back to that “mainframe serving the client terminals” architecture of the past.  Even bell bottoms made a comeback in the near past.  As far as myself, I’m just waiting for someone to develop an open-world version of Zork for the PS4 or XBox.

One can hope.

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