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.

Architecture

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.

SCADA

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.

Wait a Minute – How Many People Are Still Using XP?

I’m going to admit it. I’m probably the only one ever to do it, but here goes.

I’ve always been a little freaked out by the XP-end-of-support page on Microsoft’s website.

First, there’s the dramatic headline – Windows XP support has ended – looming over the rest of the page’s copy in large black 44 pixel font. The sentence itself is lost amid an expansive, desolate pale-blue background.

It’s…unsettling.  Support is over, done, complete.  There’s no support.

And it doesn’t get better.

Just below the major header is a sentence you can’t possibly ever say to yourself without getting the smallest tinge of sadness:

Why is this happening?

I hope I’m not going too far when I say that the above phrase doesn’t necessarily lend itself to copy used for “software usage.”

It just sounds better suited for, well, moments on considerable frustration. Perhaps in what could be referred to as a “trying time.”

Try this for an exercise: Google “Why is this happening?”. There’s a lot there and not a lot of it is…nice.

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All dramatic embellishment aside, the page effectively states what has been known since XP’s creator made it official in April 2014 – Microsoft no longer supports the 13-year-old operating system.

No more security patches and updates. What Microsoft had been warning for quite some time had come true.

In no uncertain terms, Microsoft gives users two options:

  1. Keep using Windows XP – unprotected
  2. Upgrade

So if you don’t upgrade, at the very least, there’s the security risk — one that some say is being exploited now.  Toby Wolpe, a writer for ZDNet, says in an article that Windows XP is at the center of recent cyber security attacks, “predominantly targeting US banks.”

The only thing more unsettling than the risk is the amount of people that haven’t heeded Microsoft’s warning. Sure, some have, but certainly not all.

About 24% of the World’s PCs are Still Running Windows XP

According to NetMarketShare, 23.87% of all PCs are still running Windows XP.

In other words, nearly a quarter of the computers in the world are still running an operating system that Microsoft slapped end-of-lifed over six months ago.

That’s not all. The reason we know that 23.87% of computers are still running XP is because they are connected to the internet.

digital-map-1442178-mWhat about the computers we don’t know about? What about the PCs sitting behind government firewalls?  An estimated 10% of the several million of government PCs were still running XP by the cut-off date.

There’s a bigger population of systems to factor into the equation as well – non-PCs and embedded systems, which number in the billions.

So what exactly constitutes as a non-PC that runs Windows XP?

Well, it’s something you use every day and as it turns out, like, say, an automated teller machine.  And it’s probably running an outdated version of XP.

95% of All ATMs in the US Still Run XP

The next time you walk up to an automated tell machine think about this: You’re probably giving your bank card and PIN number to a machine that is running an operating system deemed “unprotected” by its very distributor.

According to the latest research, nearly all (that’s 95%) ATMs run XP.

broken-cash-point-16312-mThis is no secret.

Hackers have recently started injecting malware into ATMs to drain the machine’s cash – all without a card or a PIN number.

On Oct. 7, 2014, Kaspersky Labs’ Global Research & Analysis Team released news of a cyber-criminal attack involving malware “that allowed attackers to empty the ATM cash cassettes via direct manipulation.”

There have so far been four reports of hacked ATMs in the US. According to Kaspersky Labs, “the malware affects ATMs from a major ATM manufacturer running Microsoft Windows 32-bit.”

75% of Water Utilities Still Use XP

The simple idea that three-fourths of the nation’s water and wastewater utilities are running an unsupported, over-10-year-old operating system, speaks for itself.

So, let’s not belabor the point. Instead, let’s ask, what’s going on here? What’s keeping water facilities from making the switch?

utility-covers-1394418-mLast May, Matt Wells, general manager of automation software at GE Intelligent Platforms, told Forbes.com that said many utilities have a “if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to networks.

The machines that run huge utility plants are expensive and have lifespans of 30 years or more, Wells said. New applications can be added without touching the underlying operating system.

Additionally, plant managers worry about taking a system offline for upgrades. The switchover, Wells said, could drive up costs.

But then there’s the security issue. Specifically, the matter that parts of the critical infrastructure are using a system that, left unprotected, is five times more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.

This comes in a time when security firm Kaspersky Lab calls targeted attacks on computer industrial control systems (ICS) the biggest threat to critical national infrastructure.

There’s still a significant amount of businesses, plants, and utilities, running XP. Are you running XP? Have a plan for moving on? Not sure what to do next?

Get in touch with us and let us know if we can help.

9 Misconceptions Around an Upgrade from FIX32 to iFIX

In its time, Intellution’s FIX32 was a powerful automation solution that took full advantage of Windows 95 and Windows NT’s powerful capabilities.

At the time, FIX32 had more 32-bit installations than all other automation software vendors combined. But that time has passed and HMI/SCADA solutions have come a long way since then.

In its current iteration, iFIX 5.8, now a part of GE Intelligent Platform’s Proficy Suite©, offers support for the latest software standards, a robust SCADA engine, rich set of connectivity options, open architecture and highly scalable and distributed networking model.

iFIX is a superior proven real-time information management and SCADA solution, which is open, flexible and scalable.

The product is constantly evolving – version 6.0 is on the horizon. A recently developed iPad app, coupled with iFIX Webspace©, is allowing operators to easily and quickly harness the power of iFIX or CIMPLICITY on the iPad with minimal engineering effort.

Unfortunately, there are a many misconceptions surrounding the upgrade from FIX32 to iFIX. Horror stories of complicated installations abound. Fears of a complete systems re-architecture keep companies from moving forward.

The good news is, if properly pulled off, the move from FIX32 to iFIX can be relatively painless.

The purpose of this document is to dispel some of the myths around moving from FIX32 to iFIX so you can harness the power of this solution and move forward.

Misconception 1: I don’t need to do an upgrade – we have been running our plant without it for years.

If it isn’t broke, don’t FIX it, right? Wrong.

Trust us — your it department wants you to keep up with the latest Microsoft technology. iFIX delivers support for all the latest Microsoft operating systems including Windows 7!

There are many things that are enabled by moving to the new platforms such as easy to maintain historical data, centralized maintenance of configuration and pictures, thin clients, mobility (ipads), and web based clients.

Misconception 2: My current strategy — HMI With FIX32 — is adequate.

There are significant advantages in moving to iFIX.

There were over 300 “voice of the customer” recommendations incorporated into just the first version of iFIX. Since then it has undergone many majors releases all the way to version 5.8 and soon 6.0.

Here’s a few improvements to iFIX over the years:

  • Increased reliability
  • Improved trending
  • The iFIX workspace
  • Advanced failover capabilities
  • VisiconX interfacing to relational data
  • A vast IO driver library
  • A VBA based script environment
  • Integrated Windows security

Misconception 3 – An upgrade from FIX32 to iFIX will take too long to implement.

Simply not true.

As with any project, it depends on proper planning and a sound road map for attack. Our 20 years of experience with these kinds of projects tell us that having someone on the team that has been there and done doesn’t hurt either.

The biggest reason we have seen upgrades projects take a long time is the normal project problem of “scope creep.”

Fact: Most items that are done in an upgrade project that push the deadline back further and further are really new pieces of scope.

Misconception 4 – An upgrade is too risky to implement and hard to get started.

There are plenty of experts to help you in this and guide your journey. For example, we have over 15 experts just in our company who can do this task completely or be available as a project team member or coach.

As one of the leading products in the marketplace, there is an entire ecosystem around the world to support iFIX. With the modern environment that is extensible, it is easy for an automated tool to be used to aid the upgrade process as well.

Misconception 5: It will be too expensive and it’s like starting over. Should I just switch out to another brand of HMI?

GE has spent millions of dollars on upward compatibility so that you don’t have to.

The concept of the FIX desktop can even re-use all of your FIX32 graphics complete with script files if you wish. Or the conversion utility can help you migrate the old pictures completely to the native iFIX format.

There are also many wizards and productivity tools that we
can show you to help work within the new environment. Even
though you have driven your old ride for a lot of miles there is an attractive trade in policy that we can walk you through that is commercially viable. Your investment is protected today and tomorrow – 350,000 installations worldwide can attest to that.

Misconception 6: You will need a ton of training and the iFIX system is hard to learn and come up to speed on.

In our experience, if you understand how the FIX32 system works, you will be able to navigate your way around the iFIX with limited trouble.

The database builder concept is fairly similar and is still the backbone of the system. A concept of the “workspace” development and runtime replaces View and Draw.

We find that most engineers that maintained a FIX32 system can maintain an iFIX system. Instead of training, sometimes some assistance in doing the upgrade is prudent since it may be a one-time occurrence for your plant or facility.

However, if you still want to go the training route, we can certainly suggest a place to find the best classes available.

Still not convinced? Consider this: With iFIX 5.5, there is no need to manage multiple drivers in SCU anymore. Instead, you can use one IGS driver – a single interface, communicate with multiple vendor’s controllers (the IGS driver offers more than 100 protocols).

Misconception 7: Doesn’t GE own iFIX now and don’t they also own CIMPLICITY? My competitor sales person told me that GE was getting rid of one or both of them.

There are significant customer bases in both products.

There is also shared technology in IO drivers, encryption, historical archiving, web, advanced analytics, MES and mobility solutions. There is a robust product team, support team, and product roadmap for both iFIX and CIMPLICITY.

Misconception 8: The decisions I need to make about my systems are hard and complicated.

We are not going to sugar coat the situation, there are some good engineering trade offs to think about since there is so many more options with the new computing power and new software power. Here’s a question we get all the time:

“Should I replace my distributed architecture SCADA (which was more common earlier) and go with a redundant pair after the upgrade?”

In this case there are issues like duplicate tag names, picture directory locations, thin clients and the proper failover technique to choose. But this is all good news!

These are things that weren’t even possible when you installed the last system. You can stick with the current architecture and make no changes — no problem. But here’s the upside: the options for improvement are great as well.

Misconception 9: All HMI systems are about the same.

Not true. Some HMI systems deliver unique capability and iFIX does for sure. For example:

  • Mobility (iPad) support
  • True failover for redundancy systems and high uptime
  • Intelligent alarming
  • The ability to integrate workflow and electronic standard operating procedures.
  • In addition the unmatched ecosystem, the investment, and support power of GE make a commitment to iFIX a smart choice.

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