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September 19, 2019 Jeremy Boren

Blockchain Coffee, Aqua America Grows, Predictive Analytics

Blockchain Could Bring Transparency to the Coffee Industry

Blockchain could offer coffee consumers a way to feel better about the source of their favorite blend, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The J.M. Smucker Company (a GrayMatter partner) and other companies plan to adopt a blockchain strategy developed by startup Farmers Connect, Swiss coffee trader Sucafina and International Business Machines Corp.

The idea is to give sustainability-minded customers a way to “trace the origin of the beans they buy and sell as well as their pricing along the supply chain.”

A consumer-facing app called Thank My Farmer, debuting next year, will be able to display information about the coffee’s origin. It will also provide a way to pay farmers directly.

Smucker’s coffee brands include Folgers, Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Bustelo, 1850 and Kava.

“Our participation in the Farmer Connect blockchain initiative demonstrates our commitment to providing consumers with the transparency they crave while also creating new ways to support smallholder coffee farmers,” Joe Stanziano, senior vice president and general manager at Smucker’s, told Bloomberg.

Blockchain acts as an open, digital ledger system that tracks purchases across a vast market, helping to ensure fairness.

Aqua Pennsylvania Plans Largest Utility Acquisition in State History


Aqua Pennsylvania is buying the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority system, which serves 165,000 customers in 42 towns, for $276.5 million, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

DELCORA decided to sell after the Philadelphia Water Department notified it that it would “dramatically increase the amount it charges DELCORA” for treating some of its sewage.

The privatization is also another sign of an industry trying to cope with demands for infrastructure upgrades that can comply with unfunded government mandates to reduce stormwater overflows into creeks and streams.

Some utilities, like the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, have tapped into lower-cost, technology-based solutions to reduce overflows at a price point far below that of gray or green infrastructure upgrades.

You can read GrayMatter’s story about Cincinnati here.

Aqua plans to hire all 136 current DELCORA employees. The deal requires approval from the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, which could happen next year.

The decision to explore this option comes as DELCORA faces significant capital costs to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency Consent Order and Agreement in Philadelphia and a Consent Decree in Chester. The consent decree mandates that municipal wastewater authorities take steps to manage combined sewer systems including building new or replacing existing infrastructure. As these mandates are unfunded, municipal authorities typically must increase rates to pay for the new capital costs.

DELCORA Statement of July 16, 2019

As The Inquirer reports, it’s the largest transaction of its kind in Pennsylvania, which passed a law in 2016 that “encourages the consolidation of smaller water and wastewater systems under private ownership” by allowing investors to roll the cost of acquisition into what it charges to ratepayers.

“Public wastewater treatment systems, which are under pressure to invest heavily in decaying infrastructure to comply with clean-water laws, seem to be the most likely to be sold,” The Inquirer wrote.

Aqua Pennsylvania’s parent company is Aqua America, which, pending approval, is buying People’s Natural Gas in Pittsburgh for $4.3 billion.

Staying Competitive in Pulp and Paper with Predictive Analytics

GrayMatter this week hosted a webinar about some of the most talked-about technology solutions on the market today: predictive analytics, machine learning and predictive maintenance tools within Asset Performance Management.

We examined predictive and ML technologies through the lens of the pulp and paper industry, but they apply to any industry.

“It’s about putting this learning technology in place so that it is a force multiplier for your domain experts to make improvement actions in the mill and to do that on a continuous basis,” said TwinThread’s Erik Udstuen, a paper industry veteran.

Udstuen said the standard today is for companies to have an “operations center view” that allows employees to view multiple plants and “apply optimization across many plants all at the same time.”

It begins by creating a Smart Operations Center made up of digital twins of a company’s assets. Digital twins are a digital representation of physical assets. Those twins are connected by digital threads, also known as predictive models — or algorithms — that anticipate how assets will perform and offer methods for optimization.

Udstuen said his team stands out in because it has deployed predictive analytics on more than $400 billion worth of assets in multiple industries over the past 25 years.

“We’ve really learned what are the practical applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning. There’ s a lot of hype in this space about what can be done. We’ve really learned the practical ways of applying it; things that can deliver benefit today and aren’t just a research project.”

He said the key compound question companies should be asking is: Why do the best assets perform the best and why do the worst assets perform the worst?

“When you’re getting that insight, getting that learning, there is a tremendous potential for savings.”

Predictive Maintenance and Reliability

GrayMatter’s Ken Latino focused on the maintenance and reliability side of the equation for companies.

Latino said that pulp and paper companies are constantly being asked to do more with less, reduce energy usage and increase equipment uptime to contend with margins so thin, that many mills don’t turn a profit until the final two days of production in a month.

A series of acquisitions and consolidations in the industry has also meant that mills lack consistent maintenance and reliability standards, and they lack domain expertise because of retirements.

“APM and tools like this allow us to gather that domain knowledge and put it into software so it’s retained as we start to lose our experts,” Latino said.

One of the main advantages of APM is that it allows users to integrate an entire toolset of solutions and to view facilities at the enterprise level, Latino said.

But software goes only so far, he said.

“Software alone is not going to do it. Great software is certainly a key component, but it’s the work processes and the people that make it work. When somebody talks about APM, it’s work processes, it’s the people who are trying to implement those work processes, and on top of that, it’s great technology like APM and predictive analytics,” Latino said.

View the full webinar here.

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think.

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Jeremy Boren

Jeremy is GrayMatter's Brand Manager and the author of TechHub and the emPOWERUP Podcast. He writes about digital solutions, trends and culture in the world of operational technology. Jeremy's background is in daily journalism. He has a passion for storytelling and enjoys highlighting the technologies and professionals taking on complex challenges in manufacturing, energy, cybersecurity and infrastructure.