NovaTech interacts and innovates to master the future for users

Futureproof Automation is focus of NovaTech User Conference 2015 on Aug. 30-Sept. 1 in New Orleans

By Jim Montague, executive editor, Control

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Two heads are better than one, but the world and its process industries are getting so complicated that many heads are better still for collaborating on problems and finding solutions.

For instance, NovaTech LLC has long built its D/3® Distributed Control System (DCS) and other automation solutions for the electric power and process industries. However, the foundation of new innovations, such as its D/3 Version 15 (D3v15) and Process Control Module 5 (PCM5) that will be released next year, are a result of a continuous undercurrent of interaction and collaboration within NovaTech itself.

Corporate Cooperation

"We've experienced double-digit growth in the past three years, and so we're expanding our engineering, sales and marketing staff to assure our company's continued growth in the future," said Volker Oakey, Chairman and CEO of NovaTech, who opened NovaTech User Conference 2015 on Aug. 31 at the Loews Hotel in New Orleans. "However, as we've moved forward in our three divisions—Process Solutions, Orion, and Bitronics—they've all faced more complex challenges, but they've also found increasing areas of mutual interest and focus."

As a result, Oakey reported that NovaTech recently established its Development Program, where the leaders of each division meet monthly, update each other on their projects, and jointly tackle issues facing their customers, such as complying with NERC-CIP Cyber Security requirements. In general, the Process Solutions division makes the D/3 and DCS; the Orion division makes substation automation products; and the Bitronics division makes power measurement and event recording products.

"The development program uses an Agile Development philosophy, which leads to products that aren't only user-friendly, but are more intuitive and useful," said Aubrey (Buz) Zey, president of NovaTech. "For example, our Orion technology is using a Linux operating system, which provides the rigorous security required by the government and NERC-CIP rules, and this is going into PCM5 as well, which is a major cross-divisional development for us."

Oakey projected that, "Soon, all intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) will be required to have Cyber Security capabilities, and so we're incorporating it into our new products like PCM5. However, we're also adding a lot more engineers to help us respond to users' requirements, and we like this additional guidance from them. One of our best recruiting and retention tools is knowing where our users' needs will be."

Likewise, Oakey reported that its NovaTech International division also recently opened an office in China, is expanding to projects in Mexico, and strengthened its presence in Europe. "It's having good success, too, generating a significant portion of the company's revenues," he said.

Oakey and Zey added the next stage of NovaTech's agile and interactive efforts is to involve more users in their development program, which began at this week's user conference. "We want to thank everyone for participating with us," said Oakey. "It drives our success by letting us know how we're progressing, and so we rely on all of your guidance."

GE details IoT challenges and rewards

To illustrate how NovaTech's solutions can assist users in today's rapidly changing process and power environments, Bernie Anger, general manager of GE Intelligent Platforms, presented the keynote address, "Shaping the Industrial Internet," at NovaTech User Conference 2015.

"GE Intelligent Platforms is a leading controls supplier focused on serving OEMs with mission-critical needs," said Anger. "Of course, GE is the largest of our more than 5,000 customers, which is why we believe and invest in partnerships, such as the one we have with NovaTech. Overall, our ambition is to connect all people and machines to the Industrial Internet."

GE Intelligent Platforms' controls go into and assist GE's locomotives, aircraft engines, avionics, power generation, power transmission and distribution, marine dynamic positioning, subsea, lighting, downhole oil and gas, and other products. "We cover in the range from 10 microseconds for power electronics to optimizing railroad network traffic at multiple seconds," said Anger.

However, like all older organizations and people, Anger added that GE is a "digital immigrant" that watched the Internet emerge, and then learned how to use it. This is different than young organizations and people, who are "digital natives" born into a world with ubiquitous, broadband Internet access, and are much more comfortable with trusting and using it. "We need to learn to act like digital natives because the Internet of the consumer world is rapidly making its way into industry," said Anger. "Between 2012 and 2014, the Internet of Things (IoT) went mainstream, and most vendors are now promoting the Industrial IoT (IIoT). So, the question isn't if IIoT will happen, but when and how. We don't see many IIoT products yet, but we're right on the edge of it."

More specifically, Anger reported that market trends paralleling IIoT's growth include 40% of skilled manufacturing workers are expected to retire during the next three to five years; 50 billion machines will be connected to the Internet; and the number one priority of most CIOs will be securing more business insight for a new generation of workers that expects answers at their fingertips. "And, we're well on our way," added Anger. "The number of connected devices surpassed the world's population in 2006-07; we now have 7.2 billion people worldwide and 25 billion connected devices, and by 2020, we'll have 7.6 billion people and 50 billion connected devices.

"The new emerging wave of industrial IT includes the Industrial Internet and cloud-assisted automation to provide fleet optimization in a service economy—similar to how Uber dispatches cars and drivers to riders. These new business models apply to everyone, and those that don't get on board are going to be out business. This wave is enabled by the cloud and automation. It takes data out of processes, and shows insights to users, which they can apply back on the plant floor."

Because these trends affect all industries, GE Intelligent Platforms began its own Industrial Internet efforts in 2012. Its program includes:

  • Brilliant Machines that connect devices, machines, facilities, fleets and networks with advanced sensors, controls and software applications;
  • Advanced Analytics that combine the power of physics-based analytics, predictive algorithms, and deep domain expertise; and
  • People at Work that connect staffers at their jobs in any place and any time for intelligent operations.

"Our Industrial Internet at Work program reduces unplanned downtime by providing insight into equipment functions that allow companies to take proactive action for proactive support," explained Anger. "It's also optimizing profitability and business models by using analytics for operational efficiencies that can deliver even greater uptime and productivity from industrial machines. And, it transforms business models by leveraging advances in cloud computing technologies to create new profit opportunities."

To help all the mission-critical fleets of its various users, Anger adds that GE also recently established its Industrial Performance and Reliability Center. "Our experienced equipment and software engineers monitor more than 6,000 critical assets and operations, and do it seven days per week at more than 70 sites globally in mining, oil and gas, power generation and aviation," added Anger. "Each month, the center issues 3,000 customer advisories, handles 500 cases, and makes 200 catches. It typically detects probable failures about 20 days before they happen. We've also surveyed the center's clients, and 99.7% report that our recommendations and advisories were correct and helped them."

Likewise, Anger adds that GE Wind's Fleet RM&D Services has saved $30 million on avoided repairs and maintenance costs. "Wind power is all about adjust blade pitches to get the most from the available wind without breaking the blades, and so we've also been able to get 10% more production from our turbines," added Anger. "However, we also learned from our Industrial Internet efforts that we need to be careful about cybersecurity, even as we try to give users better information for them to make closer to real-time decisions."

Consequently, Anger reported that a successful Industrial Internet platform must address:

  • End-to-end security;
  • Consistent and meaningful user experience;
  • Transition to software-defined machines (SDMs) that can easily link to the Internet;
  • Cloud-based, integrated asset management;
  • Predictive insights from big data;
  • Cloud-based tools and services and efficiency and agility; and
  • Enabling users to go mobile with anytime anywhere access.

"To make the IIoT real in your applications and organization, first identify your critical need, such as no unplanned downtime, profitability optimization or business optimization," concludes Anger. "Then, pick a project now, start small, and learn fast. And, choose some good partners because going it alone means doing it too slow."

Futureproofing balances performance and protection

While it's not easy to succeed in today's IIoT era and cope with its shifting challenges, NovaTech's Futureproof Automation initiative gives users the new capabilities they need without sacrificing their existing investments in equipment, software and other assets, according to Jean Bandy, vice president of NovaTech Process Solutions.

"Futureproof Automation is our way of describing the commitment NovaTech has demonstrated to the continual evolution of the D/3, and that commitment to continuing forward compatibility for the D/3, adding new features, and keeping up with changes in technology while minimizing the impact on customer investments in automation. Our goal is to allow D/3 users to operate their systems with the latest technology, while minimizing the cost and disruption of upgrades. We also help evaluate the costs of migration versus costs of replacement, and decide whether to upgrade of existing systems, control software, operating systems, networks, processors, and hardware, and I/O and applications, as well as minimizing total cost of ownership (TCO)."

The forces driving Futureproof Automation are all the well-known, accelerating mainstream technologies that are now pushing onto and disrupting plant floors and other industrial settings. "Expectations are changing because new technologies are permeating everyday life," said Bandy. "Notebook and tablet PCs, smart phones, networking and the Internet, wireless and WiFi, IP-based web browsers and social networking are ever-changing and updating all the time, but process plants need technologies that will operate and be available for 15-20 years."

On the IT and plant side, Bandy reported that timesharing computers have given way to remote servers and virtual machines; processor speeds and memory access have accelerated; remote connections have multiplied and gone wireless; and data storage has increased, diversified forms and entered the cloud. Likewise, HMIs have expanded, added color and complexity, and then adopted simplified graphics for better operator awareness and responsiveness.

"PCM5 is also designed to make users more hardware-independent by providing more capabilities, but still protecting their existing investments," explained Bandy. "Similar to the Orion platform for substations, PCM5 employs a Linux operating system, which depends less on hardware, and can run on more powerful microprocessors or the cloud in the future."

Bandy added that many I/O and other devices have become more interchangeable thanks to communication protocols like Profibus, Foundation fieldbus, HART and their Ethernet-based counterparts, including Modbus TCP/IP, Profinet and EtherNet/IP. "In the near future, some smart devices may not need I/O at all because they'll be able to do analog computing," added Bandy. "Meanwhile, use of 4-20 mA communications is maintained as an enduring a standard because most users continue to rely on I/O devices."

In addition, controllers have evolved from faceplate displays and single-loop devices to more automated sequences in which operators interact with batches or procedures, instead of managing individual loops and devices to execute a sequence. "Moving control onto PCs means more automation, and frees operators to look for abnormal situations," added Bandy. "Futureproof also involves addressing increasing changeovers in personnel, and standards can help because they minimize the impact. Standardized applications and system hardware can be supported by multiple people, not just the guy who wrote the code. Standards also make it easier to train new operators."

Bandy reported that D3v15 is migrating to using many of these new and standardized tools. "To Futureproof our users' automation, the D/3 will continue to adapt to changing technologies and changing customer process automation needs into the future," said Bandy. "We're giving them the confidence that today's investment in automation will continue to provide value into the future, and support changing needs going forward."