TechHub: Digital Disruption, IoT Expanding Digital Footprints and More

Digital Disruption Transcending Industry Borders

With the first quarter of 2017 coming to a close, it’s clear that the exponential growth within the technology industry is not slowing down.

25,000 new information-related jobs were created in February this year alone, according to Forbes.

As this tech push continues, we’re seeing more and more of the Digital Twin emerge as physical and digital worlds blend together.

The Digital Twin is the computerized companion of physical assets, using data sensors to show real-time data analytics.

The adoption of this trend is becoming increasingly popular as companies realize the countless benefits that the Industrial Internet of Things provides, and Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence become mainstream.

The biggest mistake companies are making right now is assuming these technologies won’t influence their business or impact their industry.

Industry 4.0 is real, and it’s here.

Smart technology is becoming integrated into every facet of life, resulting in customers having the ability to buy anything, anytime, anywhere.

“The convergence of cloud, mobile, social and data have ushered in a new wave of business models that will present unique challenges for various industries,” said Bob Weiler in Forbes.

With this new technology comes new challenges and questions emerging for industry leaders.

To stay ahead of the competition— and win— organizations will need partners who can provide a new level of knowledge and experience within the industry, according to Forbes.

Rethinking business models within critical industry operations is necessary to maximize performance.

The pace of change is accelerating fast. Organizations need to jump on board and embrace emerging digital technologies.

To learn the first three questions to ask in your digital transformation, join our webinar on Thursday, April 6, at 2:30 PM EST: Transform Your Operation: Vision Before Action.

Gray Matter Director of Professional Services John Benitz will demystify the beginning of the digital journey for you using his expertise on various transformations like the GE Brilliant Manufacturing process.

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Digital Transformation: Solving Big Manufacturing Problems

The top problems manufacturers are struggling with are visibility into operations, sharing information across one or multiple plants and allowing the right people to access the necessary data.

The solution? Digital transformation of plant operations.

“Digitizing production processes is more about running an efficient business than it is about jumping onto the next technology bandwagon,” said Industry Week.

Automating processes and storing big data on the cloud allows for a single connected platform with production visibility. It allows for a single-set of accurate data and increases the control plant operators need, according to Industry Week.

Instead of having information documented on manual paper processes like Excel spreadsheets, it can be accessed in real-time across one or multiple plants.

Access to product information, inventory, quality data and more increases the productivity and decreases downtime throughout the plant.

Automating the plant is also automating the communication, in turn freeing up people and resources. Instead of having to track down the necessary information and data, workers have instant access to it at a moment’s notice.

Going paperless and automating processes is a critical step within the industry, and lays the groundwork for future innovations.

Gray Matter has a new solution to help transform manual data entry processes into digital insights for manufacturers, utilities and energy companies.

Mobility@Work digitizes information that would have been buried in stacks of paper and puts data in a format that can be used for big picture analysis.

Hauling manifests, inspections, scheduling, incidents, inventory and time sheets are all transformed from piles on someone’s desk to an easy to read digital presentation.

“There are a lot of correlations you can make if you have the data working for you instead of in a stack of paper.” – Kemell Kassim, Gray Matter VP

Download the free white paper to learn how Gray Matter solved the manual data entry problem and helped save a leading energy company nearly $1 million in just the first year.

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IoT Devices Expanding Digital Footprints & Vulnerabilities

Security Week defines IoT devices as convenient.

They allow us to have access to data remotely and process it faster than ever.

However, with the convenience comes risk, and most people aren’t locking down their systems like they should be.

There are more avenues now than ever for cybercriminals to breach systems as more devices are connected and the digital footprint of plants are expanded.

The reality of IoT hacks is eminent. Recent research highlights how PLC controllers can be hacked and potentially taint water supply, according to Security Week. Not enough devices are accounted for, and too much personal and business data is intermingled.

The top recommendations to fix this are to get a clear policy in place, designate accountability and segment your network.

By having clear rules, placing risk and responsibility on people or teams and designating sections of your network help block the threat of cybercriminals. It makes finding an easy path into the network nonexistent.

IoT devices have a lot to offer in the world of operational technology and plant management, the risk just needs to be mitigated and vulnerabilities need to be tracked.

Gray Matter offers a vulnerability assessment for OT networks that creates a security baseline for each asset with an IP address.

In a recent interview with ARC Advisory Group, Gray Matter VP Kemell Kassim detailed recent cyber initiatives and ROI case studies.

Download the Q&A Here

How IIoT is Revolutionizing Utilities

This post originally appeared in TechCrunch. 

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is creating huge opportunities in the water and wastewater industries, adding value to both the utility and the consumer. Connected machines are reshaping the way these utilities operate, allowing them to make smarter and more informed decisions.

By driving up innovation, water utilities are driving down cost. Here’s what they’re up to.

Treating water and wastewater requires chemical processes that can now be monitored more accurately using digital data collection.

These digital transformations are taking the guesswork out of chemical processing and allow utilities to optimize the amount of chlorine dollars spent to maintain safe levels — saving time, money and empowering operators to make fewer mistakes.

IIoT and Wastewater Clarification

Another IIoT development, a new SaaS application will calculate wastewater clarifier tank performance — providing quick analysis on a critical step in the wastewater process. The tool, called ClariFind, alerts utilities as they’re getting close to a failure before they experience it.

ClariFind will predict when sludge will overflow and be released. This kind of problem causes EPA issues and fines that can run in the millions of dollars. It will also be able to predict a thickening failure, which is when the effluent doesn’t settle correctly and creates a costly sludge blanket in the tank. ClariFind is just one part of a water operations suite of productivity enhancers — solutions as a service.

Predictive analytics are also solving monitoring problems that were not previously possible for utilities. For example, there are a large number of pumps that are commonly found within water facilities, and digitized data is making it possible for companies to accurately predict when these pumps might fail — ahead of time. It’s similar to the predictive analytic technology used in jet engine checks between airline flights.

This cloud-based application easily connects to pumps and helps companies avoid costly and inconvenient failures, allowing engineers to schedule controlled maintenance rather than reactive maintenance.

Concepts are in the works to apply this type of predictive technology to residential properties as well, in order to help home owners and property managers predict sump pump failures, for instance, before the basement floods. This technology will be a must-have asset for seasonal homes that don’t have inhabitants year-round. Utilities are leading the way in pilot stages for this type of residential technology.

Partnerships between technology companies and utility companies are facilitating innovation.

Safety procedures are also being monitored and enforced more closely by keeping track of them using digitized technology. In Florida, the water division of the Orlando Utilities Commission is using IIoT technology to remind employees of protocol procedures when dangerous chlorine leaks are detected. The safety procedure is sent to a worker’s device to be confirmed before access to the contaminated area is granted.

Both private companies and government agencies are utilizing IIoT technology to increase efficiency and profitability in water. GE has launched an industrial platform called Predix, a cloud-based platform as a service (PaaS) that enables asset performance management on an industrial scale. For water utilities, Predix will help utilities organize time-series data to monitor asset functionality.

The Environmental Protection Agency has technology that will be used to create a new way to digitally improve the monitoring of water age and water quality. This is a very important issue for consumers because when water ages and sits in a pipe for too long, water quality goes down — which was one part of the problem at play in the Flint water crisis. We expect an analogous approach to the way Google Maps handles traffic to represent the water age, enabling municipalities to monitor this more easily.

Running a water utility is becoming more like running a business.

Collaboration in Technology & Utilities

Utilities are no longer solely relying on customers for funding, they’re collaborating and looking at alternative revenue streams to supplement cost. While power utilities have been leading the way on alternative revenue streams, water utilities are now following suit.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) has begun to commercialize their intellectual property, giving them a new revenue channel. For example, they are commercializing their water ammonia versus nitrate algorithm (which is something that keeps the right chemical balance needed for breaking down wastewater) and selling it to other treatment plants.

Partnerships between technology companies and utility companies are facilitating innovation and developing solutions to become cleaner and more efficient at a rapid pace. It truly is a transformative time in the industry, and the results couldn’t be more pure — better drinking water for everyone.

New technologies are giving people hope that they can achieve better standards of living and Gray Matter couldn’t be prouder to lead the way in the water evolution.

Download the white paper to read more on IoT in water, game-changing technology and real Gray Matter customer stories that increase efficiency and profitability in water.

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Gray Matter Systems’ Brian Courtney Right at Home on Innovation Drive

When someone new arrives at a company, they often take a few months to settle in, meet the team members and adjust to the new environment. But not in Brian Courtney’s case.

The MIT graduate jumped right in and started building and working with his hands at Gray Matter’s headquarters on Innovation Drive just outside of Pittsburgh. Brian has been sawing, gluing and piecing pipes together for an innovative, exclusive Gray Matter project since Day One.

Brian is the new Vice President of Development and Managed Services at Gray Matter Systems and he’s a true innovator. It shows in every conversation you have with him.

I believe there are many different styles of innovation. One of them happens to be a tinkerer,” said Brian. “I get excited about learning– a little here and a little there until it suddenly comes together in your head.

The new leadership position is a key part of Gray Matter’s recent growth. Brian will focus on building software solutions to reduce cost and increase efficiencies in manufacturing, water and energy.

Brian will help companies use analytics to determine early signs of failure before they have major equipment problems.

“Unfortunately, failures happen during the worst possible times. Machine learning helps us identify failure before something majorly goes wrong,” said Brian. “Part of my role at Gray Matter is helping companies get ahead with predictive analytics.”

Developing and building are in his blood. Brian comes from GE where he held many roles including leading a data visualization team. His team won several awards for innovation and filed for 26 patents.

“My job was to drive the team to ideate and think innovatively,” said Brian.

Brian also attributes his deep technology background and business acumen with giving him a good sense of solutions that will work the best for customers. He graduated with a computer science degree from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and got his MBA from MIT.

Brian said that the Industrial Internet of Things is already flipping the way the business world works. With massive amounts of data to maintain and analyze, customers expect connectivity and information on everything they’re running. This is turning more businesses into customer-facing operations than in the past when information was just an internal focus.

Small and medium-sized companies alike are giving the biggest ones ideas on how to journey through the transition.

A self-professed tinkering jack-of-all-trades, Brian likes to break things. He’d rather learn from failure to figure out what went wrong and how knowing about it sooner would have prevented that failure.

I think Edison said it best when he said he simply found 10,000 ways to not make a light bulb,” said Brian. “I believe people learn from their mistakes instead of their successes.

Look for Brian Courtney’s next innovation in the coming months at Gray Matter Systems. For now—here’s a behind-the-scenes look as Brian tests a water system he just built on Innovation Drive:

Brian Courtney on Innovation Drive from Gray Matter Systems on Vimeo.

What You Need to Know about the ISA 101 HMI Standard: Empowering the Operator

Updated on April 5, 2017 

A HMI by itself is only a tool.

To be useful, it needs to be used — and that involves an operator. The ISA 101 group understood this, dedicating considerable space in the standard explaining how the makeup of HMIs should be designed to accommodate the operator.

I strongly believe one of the best things we can do in life is teach others how to accomplish a task. Teaching is a noble profession, perhaps the most noble around.

Somebody had to go through the trouble of learning the lesson before passing it on. Imagine how tough life would be if we had to learn and re-learn things over and over, constantly starting from scratch. Imagine if nothing was documented and there was no direction.HMI

If we want to learn how to do something today, we go to YouTube and select one of the dozens of tutorial videos available online. It’s nearly inconceivable to think of Googling a “how-to” problem and nothing popping up on your screen.

It’s because people spend the time to document and upload these lessons in order to pass on the knowledge that they’ve learned, saving the rest of the world from painstakingly trying to start from zero.

The ISA 101 HMI committee, a group formed to establish guidelines for human-machine interfaces in manufacturing and processing applications, published a set of standards for the industrial user interface that does just that.

The standard serves as an exhaustive set of guidelines created to help organizations design, build and operate effective HMIs. According to the authors, the primary purpose of the standard (and its accompanying technical reports) is to “help users understand the basic concepts” of a HMI and “more readily accept the style of human-machine interface that the standard recommends.”

The standard isn’t meant to be an out-of-the-box, by the letter set of guidelines for companies to follow. Rather, the standard is more of a set of criteria that gives organizations direction on how to create a set of standards for human-machine interfaces.

When all aspects and guidelines are taken into account, the ISA 101 group suggests they will contribute to reducing human error.

With respect to the actual device and its environment, the ISA committee included various suggestions ranging from guidelines for ambient lighting to density of displayed information and more.

It also outlines guidelines for user cognitive limits, offering suggestions for dealing with how a HMI’s design could impact cognitive processes that allow the operator to transform, reduce, store, recover and use sensory input.

The ISA 101 standards group committed much time setting up some guidelines for the way an operator physically interacts with HMIs, a practice commonly referred to as human factors engineering (HFE).

The HFE aspect of the standard provides guidance on how to design HMIs with respect to an operator’s needs. This guidance includes, but isn’t limited to, how the HMI functions intuitively, if it supports both normal and abnormal tasks— such as those experienced in alarm situations— and how it provides controls and information appropriate to specific tasks.

The goal of the standard’s recommendations on setting guidelines around how a HMI impacts the operator and vice versa is to improve their awareness of what’s happening in the process now and what will happen in the future. Inadequate situational awareness, ISA 101 group said, is a leading contributor to accidents that are attributed to human error.

Join me Thursday, April 6 at 2:30 PM EST for my webinar, Transform Your Operation: Vision Before Action.

The work is based on decades of experience, includes several suggestions based on best practices and has a number of strong guidelines for specific situations.

Throughout the course of the standard the ISA 101 committee addresses the philosophy, design, implementation, operation and maintenance of Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) for process automation systems. Much time is spent on the user, dedicating guidelines to improve the user’s ability to detect, diagnose and properly respond to abnormal situations.

The 61-page standard was a collaborative effort written by a group of veteran automation professionals including end users, integrators, academics and solution-focused professional services engineers, such as myself.

While the document provides a breadth of knowledge, there are a few important highlights in the document you should know about if you are someone who works with a HMI on a regular basis.

The Big Three: HMI Philosophy, Style Guide & Toolkit

A large portion of the document includes the creation of a system standard for HMIs, which establishes a lifecycle model for packages and provides a roadmap for how they should be developed and managed properly.

This management system serves as a sort of “standards gatekeeper” for HMI display and major system changes. The punch list of guidelines acts as a must-have set of standards, assuring major system changes adhere to agreed-upon guides or the existing pre-ISA 101 HMIs are continuously improved when display changes are made.

The management system is comprised of three parts: HMI philosophy, style guide and toolkit.

1) HMI Philosophy

As it pertains to the managed lifecycle of a HMI, the ISA 101 committee suggests a philosophy that provides “a foundation of concepts” that lets new developers and users understand devices better. The ISA asserts if the person understands the what, why and how of a certain device, that person will in turn create and maintain an effective HMI.

The HMI philosophy should be a strategic document, the standard states, which addresses guiding principles governing the design structure of the HMI. Suggestions for guiding principles are provided such as operational requirements, design standards and guidelines, work practices and more.

2) Style Guide

This provides the guidance for designing and building displays.

The HMI style guide includes the specific standards and guidelines for the design and implementation of the configurable HMI, drawn largely from the specifications set by the appropriate company or facility.

Since the standard is additive by nature, the style guide should incorporate and reinforce the guiding principles in the HMI philosophy, general design rules for displays and their associated applications, as well as provide guidance on usage of scripting, embedded logic and the use of color.

3) Toolkit

The standard lays out guidelines for a HMI Toolkit, the collection of design guidelines for use within a given platform.

The toolkit is designed to meet style guide requirements and includes display templates, pop-ups and faceplates, as well as static and dynamic graphic symbols.

Included in the standard’s document is a roadmap detailing guidelines for the process design, implementation and operation of HMIs.

Empowerment Through Knowledge: A List of Common Terms & Guidelines for Training

The standard suggests organizations should wrap HMI training into its existing training processes and follow relevant change management procedures for adjustments to the instruction just like any other training.

Training is broken into four areas: operations, maintenance, engineering and administration and management.

Operations: The ISA 101 standard recommends outlining training for operational tasks associated with the HMI such as interaction with the control system under all modes of operation, using the alarm system, retrieving historical data and more.

Maintenance: With respect to maintenance, it suggests training plant or site maintenance staff to be prepared to use the HMI to accomplish required tasks, as well as vendor documentation for both HMI hardware components and configuration tools, in addition to other things.

Engineering and Administration: On the engineering and administration side, training for the implementation or modification of the HMI should include familiarity with operation functionality, diagnostic tools, system backup and recovery procedures and more.

Management: The standard touches on management training by suggesting education of access to high-level production and plant-operating information.

Common HMI Terms & Acronyms

Included in the standard is an exhaustive, long list of industry terms and acronyms. From “alarm” to “yoking,” the document contains 46 terms with detailed definitions and another 16 acronyms.

While the list might seem a bit excessive for veteran automation professionals, its thoroughness plays a dual role. Both sides support the purpose of the standard.

Defining a term provides an accepted, agreed upon set of terms for the things we use on a daily basis that can provide guidance to newer engineers. It also clearly explains what the term means in simple, straightforward terms. This states what the term is, but more importantly defines what it is not.

It­­ spells out the 16 most common acronyms automation professionals encounter in the industry, providing a much-needed reference for the abbreviations that color so many conversations like HMI, SCADA, I/O and more.

Again, defining an acronym goes a long way towards clearing the confusion between automation and general computing. An example is the acronym “FAT.”

FAT translates to “Factory Acceptance Test” in an automation conversation, and means “File Allocation Table” when referencing the file system structure in general computing terms.

Apart from providing clarity, the definitions included come from a place of experience. So, it’s a far better reference for knowledge than an internet source with no attribution, such as Wikipedia.

Even with the intuitive design of most modern HMIs screens, the navigation and usage can be daunting for those new to the industry. The ISA guidelines on training users helps spread knowledge in an effort to create and empower all operators to be the best operators.

Looking Towards the Future: ISA 112 SCADA

The newly formed group ISA 112, SCADA Systems, is expected to release a series of ISA standards and technical reports in the not-so-distant future.

It will provide guidance on system design, implementation, operation and maintenance of SCADA systems by showcasing case studies of best practices within a range of industries.

The focus will be on companies and utilities within water and wastewater, power, oil and gas, as well as other industrial organizations that rely on SCADA systems.

Currently, there is no set release date as it’s still in the drafting process. I’ll be providing more information once it’s available in early May after the ISA Spring Leaders’ meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With the popularity of the Industrial Internet comes pressure that you have to change now to survive.

Embracing data and analytics as the driving force of your transformation is key, and that’s where I come in to help.

Transformation is Now

I’m looking forward to helping you take the first steps to becoming a digital, industrial company.

Join me for my webinar Transform Your Operation: Vision Before Action on Thursday, April 6 at 2:30 PM EST.

Let me demystify the beginning of the digital journey for you. Through my expertise, I’ve helped guide some of the most innovative companies through digital transformation.

Curious about how the GE Transportation Brilliant Manufacturing project started? How about the biggest mistakes companies make in the beginning, or what the next step is?

Getting insights that unlock unprecedented efficiencies and allow for process optimization is the goal of all industrial companies.

Everybody wants to thrive in the digital world, let me help you get there.

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