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.

Download the Water Innovations White Paper

TechHub: Industry Growth, Data Analytics for the C-Suite and More

Manufacturers preparing for Industry 4.0 and tech industry growth

A boom in the tech industry in Southeast Michigan is becoming inevitable — at least that’s what a leading technology and manufacturing association in the state is predicting.

Automation Alley, a nonprofit compiled of industry members seeking to transform Southeast Michigan into a leading technology and innovation region, released an industry report for 2017 surveying approximately 400 senior technology and manufacturing executives on Industry 4.0 and digitization of manufacturing within their companies, according to the Oakland Press, a Michigan news organization.

“We believe that there is a huge opportunity for the technology industry to grow, both in Oakland County and across Southeast Michigan,” said Automation Alley Executive Director Tom Kelly in the Oakland Press.

According to the report, technologies such as the cloud, big data analytics and cyber security are the top three categories invested in. Manufacturers are also planning to invest in autonomous robots in the region.

industry growth automation

Sterling Heights-based Lighthouse Molding was the first company accepted in the Automation Alley 7Cs program. Image: Oakland Press

Perhaps the most insightful findings in the report are the communication gaps highlighted between technology and manufacturing executives in the region, as well as the lack of company resources devoted towards technological advancements.

Ultimately, it’s determined that the local manufacturing industry is actually “ahead of the curve” for the adoption of Industry 4.0 technology, whereas national manufacturers are not.

Interested in joining the digital revolution of Industry 4.0? We can help — read more about our services and let us join you in the journey to becoming a digital operation.

Begin Your Journey

City of Pearland investing $160 million in new surface water treatment plant

As the population curve increases, so does the massive need for water and sewage infrastructure.

The City of Pearland, located in Texas near Houston, has a population of over 100,000 with a predicted population of 220,000 by 2050.

With a drastically increasing population, the city is in the design phases for a new surface water treatment plant, aiming to provide 20 million gallons of additional drinking water daily, according to Community Impact.

Currently the city’s only sources of surface water are the city of Houston and Clear Brook City.

Apart from drinking water, sewage and wastewater treatment is a large concern for the city. Gray Matter is aiding in an expansion of the Reflection Bay Water Reclamation Facility, which is projected to be completed by 2019.

industry growth Pearland

The development boom in Pearland has improved the quality of life, but put a strain on water and wastewater infrastructure. Image: Community Impact

By implementing GE Digital’s iFIX and upgrading the plant’s Historian software, the facility will be better secured, more connected and have data readily available.

iFix is an industrial automation system that can be implemented within HMI or SCADA systems, and uses advanced analytics to model high-flow scenarios within a water and wastewater system, allowing the plant to better prepare for weather-related issues.

Historian allows for storage and display of real-time analytics of big data, storing it in GE’s Predix cloud. This allows for higher productivity, a decrease in plant downtime and an increase in both machine visibility and reliability.

Faster Time to Value for Operational Technology (OT) Security

Our customers are telling us that the cyber headache is only growing in operational technology and when they look at the list of priorities it could take several years just to get their heads above water.

Armed with this knowledge, we developed a speed to operational technology protection cyber plan that you can put in place right now– without having to redesign your whole architecture.

The rapid digital assessment often takes a few hours to a day and micro-segmentation can often be done within a week.

Once you get the fast protection, you can start breathing and prioritize next steps. Faster security allows you to multiply the impact of your team, allowing them to make smarter decisions in less time.

Join two operational technology consultants from Gray Matter Systems, Steve Varmuza and Bill Weed, as they detail how to accelerate time to OT protection in our third installment of the cyber education series.

Reserve My Spot

Data Analytics in the C-Suite

Global executives who understand the value of advanced data analytics are currently using it to their advantage and implementing it as a core part of their business strategy, according to Forbes.

A new report from Forbes Insights highlights executives embedding analytics into all parts of their enterprise, aside from marketing and sales, to capitalize on the opportunities it creates.

Many large organizations still struggle with achieving the full potential of analytic capabilities, despite an increase in investment.

The survey was based on over 1,500 executives across various industries and geographic locations. The C-level executives’ companies had at least $500 million in annual revenues, with 21-percent having revenues more than $50 billion, according to the report.

TechHub: Industrial Hacks, Automated Cars and Smart Elevators

Top cyber security conference kicks off with water treatment plant hack

In case you couldn’t make it, we’ve got updates from one of the world’s largest security events happening this week in San Francisco, CA.

The RSA Conference gathers the industry’s top security and technology leaders and pioneers—including a Gray Matter cyber security consultant– promoting a forward-thinking global community to foster innovative ideas and new approaches to inspire and empower the industry.

FBI cyber division at industrial RSA 2017

The FBI Cyber Division recruitment booth at the RSA Conference 2017.

The event featured keynote speakers such as a defense intelligence officer for cyber at the Defense Intelligence Agency, senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research, director of information security at Google, a senior security engineer for Fitbit and more.

This year, it started off with a bang– kicking off with an intentional ransomware attack on a water treatment plant launched by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

According to Nextgov, a National Journal Group, the attack successfully shut down valves, adjusted chlorine levels and falsified readings.

This demonstration highlighted the increasing fear of malware attacks on utility companies, much like what’s been happening to power plants, banks and others.

Industrial control systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable, and are oftentimes connected to the Internet without intention.

To get ahead in cyber security, the first step is finding out what you don’t know.

Take our cyber challenge to test your knowledge and find out what you know — and don’t know — about your own system.

What’s Your Score?

Ford’s Billion-dollar self-driving car deal creating 200 high-tech jobs by end of 2017

This week Ford announced a partnership with Argo AI– investing in the company to create an engineer and test center for self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, PA.

Argo AI is run by alumni of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and specializes in development of artificial intelligence. They are looking to work with Ford to develop autonomous vehicles by 2021, according to Trib Live media group.

It’s estimated that the partnership will add 200 high-tech jobs in Pittsburgh, Michigan and California by the end of the year­– amounting to over 1,000 jobs within the next five years from the Ford deal, according to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in Trib Live.

Uber has already been testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh since 2016, according to Wired, where pre-selected Uber users within a 12-square-mile radius of downtown have the option of riding in one of the autonomous vehicles — with a human engineer behind the wheel, naturally.

“Pittsburgh continues to make global headlines on this growing industry,” said Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO. “Which stems from the hard work and brainpower of our friends at Carnegie Mellon and the many industries they continue to seed and grow throughout our region.”

Partners in Global Alliance and Digital Enterprise

The GE Global Partner Summit hosted by GE Digital in Napa, CA, features premiere alliances in all committed to supporting the growing industrial data marketplace.

Starting on Tuesday, the summit showcased the newest technologies and innovations in the industry. Not an alliance partner? Don’t worry — Gray Matter was there to help bring you up to speed.

The buzz of the event was success stories in digital transformations.

“The world needs a system to take industrial data from the edge and move it to the cloud,” said Harel Kodesh, Vice President of Predix and Chief Technology Officer of GE Digital.

That system is Predix.

Predix is an operating system for the Industrial Internet that connects industrial equipment, analyzes data and delivers real-time insights as a result.

Four themes of Predix were outlined throughout the summit: scale the platform, support the digital twin, edge-to-cloud platform and advance developing experience.

Predix has been implemented for various issues, including elevator safety.

Imagine you’re stuck in an elevator, alone. Who will know you’re in there and come to save you?

The solution is connected elevators.

By using GE Digital’s Predix software, Huawei Technologies developed IoT enabled elevators — reducing operational and maintenance costs by detecting potential risk immediately and in turn improving passengers’ safety.

GE Digital’s partnership with Gray Matter Systems is a part of their growing industrial ecosystem. The goal is to help companies undergoing digital transformations in every industry.

In the two-minute video spotlight with Gray Matter CEO, Jim Gillespie, GE focuses on the journey of two Gray Matter customers, Procter & Gamble and Anadarko. Watch the video here:

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.

Contact Gray Matter Systems

Get in touch with us!