Users Learn to Unify Data with One-Stop Simatic IT XHQ

July 21, 2008
The Benefits and Value of Operations Intelligence Are Only Realized When Users Take Action Based on Better Information

A place for everything and everything in its place. This good advice from Mom hasn’t always made it through to manufacturing operations, and even less so to their many diverse and traditionally disjointed data processing systems.

To combat this confusion and give operators and managers a unified view of their operations and performance, some developers are trying to gather these data sources together and present them in a unified format that’s closer to real time. One of the most significant of these efforts is Siemens Energy & Automation’s Simatic IT XHQ operations intelligence (OI) software.

“The value of operations intelligence is only realized when users take action based on better information.” Siemens’ Ibrahim El-Sayed walked Automation Summit attendees through how the company’s XHQ application can be used to build dashboards and other visualization tools.
To show users how Simatic IT XHQ works and give them some much-needed education about it, Siemens offered a one-day “Operations Intelligence” pre-conference training course a day before the opening of the 2008 Siemens Automation Summit this week at Navy Pier in Chicago. The daylong training session was presented by Ibrahim El-Sayed of Siemens E&A’s pre-sales product consulting and solutions division.

“There are two basic parts to operations intelligence. The first is ‘How is my process doing now relative to my plan?’ and the second is ‘What should I do to maximize my contribution to the company?” said El-Sayed. “However, until now, manufacturing IT data has been in many detached silos because users have hundreds of computer systems, hundreds of thousands of measurements and different tags, and millions of records. As a result, users said they need access to multiple systems at once, which had been difficult and time-consuming for casual users, because information often wasn’t timely or complete. This pushed decisions further up in the structure of many businesses because many decision-makers didn’t know what the others were doing. This is why users want common information and efficient data flow.”

Consequently, Simatic IT XHQ’s most basic function is to connect the data sources in a given application with coordinated user views. These views include live data tailored to user-defined needs and built by the consumers of that data themselves. El-Sayed adds that XHQ provides data in minutes, which is far closer to real time for many users, delivers it in one location and displays it in an easy-to-understand and intuitive way. This consistent access makes the resulting data more user-friendly and actionable for workers, the applications and their overall business.

“The benefits and value of operations intelligence are only realized when users take action based on better information,” explained El-Sayed. “For instance, XHQ allows users to perform new work processes, such as best-practices management, reliability-focused maintenance, and shared services over multiple sites and cross-functional operating teams. These enable faster reactions in response to the real time data, which in turn means improved operating efficiencies and better yields, and also extend benefits across the larger enterprise.”

El-Sayed reported that XHQ was first deployed in 2002 at Chevron’s refinery in El Segundo, Calif. This system now embraces 11 refineries, one upstream field and thousands of users. XHQ gathers data from Chevron’s multiple plants and presents it on one display for “global operations visibility.” Chevron tracks plant utilization, safety, environmental issues and external market conditions. In fact, XHQ helped Chevron improve its plant utilization by more than 10%, and so the firm also is working to share its technical services internally by converting its DCS control graphics into XHQ. 

Second, the software also was rolled out at 26 Exxon Mobil refineries worldwide over a subsequent 18-month period as part of the company’s Data View (DV) project and now forms the backbone of its POIS II system. XHQ is presently used by 13,000 Exxon Mobil operators, and the scope of the implementation is still expanding. At Exxon’s plants, XHQ’s jurisdiction includes process operations, equipment monitoring, scorecards and KPIs, blending, inventory, quality, and operating and energy targets.

Third, XHQ has been installed in nine enterprise monitoring solutions (EMSs) at Saudi Aramco. These include five refineries, two gas operations and three oil facilities. The first phase, a common dashboard rollout, was finished in July 2005, and this was followed by implementing specific site views in April 2006. For example, at the company’s Ras Tanura Refinery, XHQ monitors safety, environmental, inventory, energy use, final gas production, management KPIs and market conditions. Saudi Aramco reports that XHQ gives it one coherent view of real time data, consistent aggregated information, broad access to plant performance data and an improved ability to find key pieces of information. These data sources have helped Saudi Aramco identify both best practices and bad actors in its plants and improve its overall decision-making abilities.

“Siemens has enabled the three largest operations intelligence projects in the world, and XHQ now has 30,000 users worldwide,” said El-Sayed.

Instilling OI Skills

To help new users understand and begin to implement XHQ, El-Sayed demonstrated how the platform runs with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. For instance, tabs on the on-screen display represent actual nodes in XHQ’s information model. To insulate users from back-end source complexity, this information model organizes all its data in a structured, logical, easy-to-navigate way.

The basic process for building an XHQ application consists of creating catalog components, drawing and animating views, and then connecting those views to the original data sources. El-Sayed said this link is established by a subscribe-and-publish mechanism in the software. XHQ’s connections support three main information types: point data, time-series data and time-collection data. 

Consequently, users first identify important data sources and then link them to the reusable software objects on XHQ’s display. El-Sayed explained that tying real time information sources to displayed objects allows users to drill down to get more details, save trends, preserve navigation histories and then send reports and alert notification system (ANS) messages via e-mail. These reusable objects include business objects, connections, metadata, XML input and other functions. This reusability also allows similar applications to be deployed much more rapidly.

El-Sayed added that XHQ’s data aggregation mechanism further assists drilling down and reuse of software objects. To further maintain security, XHQ also uses O/S domain security functions to map an application’s operating system groups to XHQ’s groups to better manage rights and data access.

In addition, El-Sayed said that XHQ also is based on a caching mechanism that makes its implementation highly scalable and usable by numerous users.

He added that XHQ’s start-up kit has a walk-through tutorial for first-time users. For more information about XHQ, visit