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.

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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.

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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.

The Road Map You Need Before a SCADA Upgrade

Imagine agreeing to a road trip with a driver who refuses to use directions.

No GPS, no folded-up paper map, and certainly no stops to ask for directions, just an open road stretching out into a giant question mark.

“I’ll wing it,” the driver might say. “We can figure it out as we go along.”

Chances are, you’re not going on this one.

You wouldn’t agree to an aimless road trip, and you wouldn’t trust your surgeon to improvise an operation. You wouldn’t want your operators on the plant floor to just wing it.

So why risk a SCADA upgrade by skipping the system assessment?

SCADA upgrades are nothing new—nearly every company or organization has been through some kind of system upgrade. Whether it’s as simple as updating the operating system on a PC or as involved as a full-fledged SCADA upgrade project, we’ve all experienced it.

Once an organization overcomes the hesitations that typically surround facilitating a SCADA upgrade, situations that we previously outlined in the white paper, “3 Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgrades,” it’s time to get down to business.

Let’s think realistically here. Depending on the size and scope of the existing system, an upgrade can be fairly complex. In fact, some can include over 70,000 points and 13 independent legacy nodes, all of which will be combined into one seamless system.

Of course, sometimes the most common challenges surround the systems that don’t seem all that complex—small to medium systems, or situations that have 8,000 points or less.

A project of this scale takes a lot of planning. It takes a game plan, or a road map into your system. The most critical part of preparation comes down to performing a system assessment.

The System Assessment As Your Road Map 

More often than not, organizations will run through an assessment for virtually any sort of process modification. For some reason, when some organizations discuss the assessment as a first step toward a successful upgrade, it’s viewed as an extravagant step.fingers-map

But most of us would hardly label our GPS navigation for long road trips as extravagant.

It might sound simplistic, but that’s what the system assessment is able to provide– important, thorough insight into the system. It’s worth it in the end to not skip this step.

And the assessment isn’t just a visit. It results in a physical document that outlines the system in detail. The deliverable gives you an accurate, clear picture of the work that will go into actually performing the upgrade. It’s your own, personalized route to completing a successful upgrade.

So what should be documented when going through the system assessment? Here’s what you can expect.


Begin the process by noting the number of SCADA-related computers, servers and clients, computers, computer physical locations, and IP addresses.

Process Hardware

It’s important to record the hardware brand and model, the number of devices, locations of devices, and communication media and protocols.

This can be challenging, especially if operators are using older protocols. It’s possible that the companies who provided the protocols are no longer viable options. In this situation, it’s going to be critical to look for new ways to communication with new hardware.

This can quickly turn into a situation where some careful investigation and brainstorming will be needed to overcome the challenge. But that’s why you’re facilitating the system assessment.

PC Hardware

Next, be sure to note the type of PC and how much RAM, hard-drive size, or free space is available. You’ll also want to know if the internal cards will work on the new architecture. If not, it might be the time to see what else is available.

Document what supplementary equipment, such as barcode scanners, is included. It’s critical to know what’s in place that the organization frequently relies on.

And don’t forget to note the PC software—the operation system version, the Microsoft Office version, and installed components that work with the operation system.


Of course, it’s important to note the SCADA version, along with any patches or service packs that are currently in place.

After noting the basics about the SCADA, take a deeper look into the tag database, or how many tags are currently in the system. An export of the database is preferred here. It allows you to not only look further into the number of tags, but the types of tags that are being communicated with.

Additionally, document the driver versions and complete an export of those configurations. Depending on the system, those drivers may no longer be viable. Now may be the time to make wholesale changes to the drivers. If so, it’s ultra-important to know the configurations that are going to be replaced and the effect it will have on the tag database.

Historical Data

Once the knowledge surrounding the SCADA system is mapped out, it’s time to outline the details of the stored, historical data that’s being collected. System Assessment

The organization might start the process by asking: How many points are being collected? Where are they being stored? How much data currently exists?

And does that data need to be migrated to a newer system, or can it be held, maintained and accessed on an as-needed basis? Or maybe it’s important to simply hang onto the data, but not necessarily to have immediate access to run operations.

Pay special attention to reporting. It’s a term that everybody seems to understand, but it’s not always the easiest concept to define. It’s certainly not always black and white.

Reporting can be so intimidating that it’s thought of as a black hole, because there’s just so much to it.

There’s the format of how data is presented, how the data is laid out, the specific time and date of when data was retrieved, and the location where it usually comes from.

Even the most qualified, knowledgeable operators might be unfamiliar with where an actual value is coming from—not just from the SCADA, but from within the PLC.

So while you’re knee-deep in assessment, building your road map, why not spend the time to take a more thorough look into reporting. You might be able to better understand where the data is coming from.

Does a system assessment make sense as your first action into a successful SCADA upgrade? We can be a part of your next system assessment in your ongoing journey to maintaining an effective, profitable system.

In the meantime, download the Gray Matter Systems white paper, “Why the System Assessment is Critical to a Successful SCADA Upgrade,” to learn even more about completing a system assessment.

The 4 Things You Need to Know about ISA 101 HMI Standard

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 something before passing it on to someone else. 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.

Providing direction is so important. Without direction, processes are open to interpretation. In the best-case scenarios, people do their own thing in hopes of accomplishing a task and do just fine. In the worst case, when the task is difficult or dangerous, lack of direction can run the risk of people getting hurt.

One of the oldest forms of providing direction is trail blazing, which is quite simply the practice of marking trees or placing signs on paths in the wilderness. These markings, commonly referred to as “blazes,” most commonly appear on trees in bright colors and help people make sure they are following the correct path.

Providing blazes would steer travelers in the right direction and more importantly, away from cliffs or other unsafe areas. Without them, somebody could be lost in the woods for days.

A blaze mark on a trail indicating the correct path

A blaze mark on a trail indicating the correct path

Ever heard of trail blazing? Now you know where it came from.

The ISA 101 HMI committee, a group formed to establish guidelines for human-machine interfaces in manufacturing and processing applications, recently blazed a trail of its own by publishing a set of standards for the industrial user interface.

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 an HMI and “more readily accept the style of human-machine interface that the standard recommends.”

The standard isn’t necessarily 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.

The work is based on decades of experience, includes several suggestions based on best practices, and does have 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, including multiple work processes throughout the HMI lifecycle. Much time is spent on the user, dedicating guidelines for improve the user’s abilities 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. ISA 101 HMI Standard

The completed work, described accurately “the end of a challenging, windy road,” by two of its authors, is targeted specifically at industry professionals responsible for “designing, implementing, using, or managing HMI applications.”

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 an HMI on a regular basis.

The Standard Includes an Exhaustive, Clearly Defined List of Common Terms and 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 play a dual role, both sides of which support the purpose of the standard.

open-163973_640First, 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, which obviously states what the term is but more importantly defines what it is not.

The standard 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 was toward clearing the confusion between automation and general computing, especially since FAT translates to Factory Acceptance Test in a automation conversation and means File Allocation Table when referencing the file system structure in general computing terms.

Apart from providing clarity, the definitions included in the standard come from a place of experience, so it’s far and away better a reference for knowledge than an Internet source with no attribution, such as Wikipedia.

The Standard Sets Guidelines for Creating Consistent HMI Style

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

This management system serves as a sort of “standards gatekeeper” for HMI display changes (whether adjustments or complete new screens) or major system changes. The punch list of guidelines acts as a “must-have” set of standards, assuring major system changes adhere to agree-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.

The Management System: HMI Philosophyhard-hats-wide

As it pertains to managed the lifecycle of the HMI, the ISA 101 committee suggests a philosophy that provides “a foundation of concepts” that lets new developers and users understand of 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 address guiding principles governing the design structure of the HMI. The standard provides suggestions for guiding principles that include but are not limited to alignment with human factors, operational requirements, design standards and guidelines, work practices, and a HMI security model.

The Management System: HMI Style Guide

In short, this provides the guidance for designing and building displays.

The standard states the HMI style guide includes the specific standards and guidelines for the design and implementation of the configurable HMI. The style guide is 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 as well as including general design rules for displays and their associated applications. Additionally, the style guide portion provides guidance on usage of scripting, embedded logic, and the use of color.

The Management System: HMI Toolkit

The standard lays out guidelines for an HMI Toolkit, the collection of design guidelines for use within a given platform. In keeping with the theme of the standard, the Toolkit is designed to meet style guide requirements and includes display templates, pop-ups and faceplates, and static and dynamic graphic symbols.

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

The Standard Works to Reduce Human Error by Focusing on the Operator

An 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 and dedicated considerable space in the standard explaining how the makeup of the HMI should be designed to accommodate the operator.

Additionally, when all aspects and guidelines are taken into account, the ISA 101 group suggests they will contribute to red2000px-Mistake.svgucing human error.

With respect to the actual device and its environment, the ISA committee included an exhaustive list of suggestion including guidelines for ambient lighting, screen luminance, color, background-foreground interactions, density of displayed information and more. The standard also outlines guidelines for user cognitive limits, offering suggestions for dealing with how an HMI’s design could impact cognitive processes that allow the operator to transform, reduce, store, recover, and use sensory input.

In addition to laying out guidelines for devices themselves, the ISA 101 standards group committed much time setting up some guidelines for the way an operator physically interacts with an HMI’s, a practice commonly referred to as human factors engineering, or HFE.

The HFE aspect of the standard literally provides guidance on how to design an HMI 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 tasks and abnormal task such as those experienced in alarm situations, and how it provides controls and information appropriate to specific tasks.

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

The Standard Sets Guidelines for Training

Even with the intuitive design of most modern HMIs screens, the navigation and usage can be daunting for new operators so the ISA group has offered up guidelines on training users so they become effective in their operations.

The ISA 101 group suggests an operator’s training to include both general direction on the mundane, logistical aspects of the HMI like object interaction as well as specialized training on job-specific tasks.

The standard suggests organizations should wrap HMI training into it’s existing training processes and follow relevant change management procedures for adjustments to the instruction just like any other training.FL_Technics_Training_-_Inside_the_class

The standard breaks training into four areas, operations, maintenance, engineering and administration, and management, and lists out tasks associated with each. The ISA 101 standard recommends outlining training for operational tasks associated with the HMI, including but not limited to interaction with the control system under all modes of operation, using the alarm system, retrieving historical data, and more.

With respect to maintenance, the standard 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. On the engineering and administration side, training for the implementation or modification of the HMI should include familiarity operations functionality, diagnostic tools, system backup and recovery procedures, and more. The standard touches on management training as well — suggesting education on access to high-level production and plant-operating information.

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