Are you paying attention?

06/04/2010

This blog has been on-line for twelve months now and we have been looking at the stats over that period.

"You pays your money...."

We have two blog presences one on the Blogger platform and this one on the WordPress system. We use the blogger presence for recording press releases as we get them with little editing other then some tidying up. This WordPress blog is used however, for material we write ourselves, or those written by guest authors. Reports on technologies, events, applications, company news and what we think are interesting topics to do with the automation field all find their way here.

Because it is a fairly new venture for us we were not sure what to expect. What sort of reaction we would get. Who, or how many would visit.

The Read-out Instrumentation Signpost is the principal and oldest presence of Read-out, Ireland’s journal of instrumentation, control and automation, on the world wide web. It is visited by between 4000 to 6000 unique visitors during each week. (When we started gathering statistics around ten years ago this figure was around 500!).

So what has happened in the last twelve months on this blog site?

The stats show that almost 4500 visitors visited the blog during the period, the bulk of which occured in the final six months. The first two months showed less that 70 visitors per month but then showed a steady rise up to the current average of 400 per month. Whether that is good or bad is difficult to say and it is also difficult to analyse these figures to decide why certain topics are more popular than others. One thing that is interesting is that visits occur to different pages through the period and not just at the time they go on-line.

There are also those people who are “followers” who visit each time there is a new posting (roughly once or twice a fortnight) and that is reflected in the large percentage (ca 20%) recorded as visiting the “home page.”

Perhaps surprisingly the most visited post visited was a piece about a presentation on Industrial Security which featured at the ISAExpo’09 with about 6%. The report on the actual show itself was way down in the ratings in 16th place. The next most frequented page was the report on a press event hosed by Emerson in the Netherlands in December. This report was narrowly pipped at the post by 4 visits by the Security feature. Other Emerson events also feature in the top ten, the User Group Meeting in October at fifth and Andrew Bond’s article on their CHARM launch also in October at seventh. This probably reflects the open attitude to social networking displayed by Emerson and their customers, when compared with some other automation entities.

A very close number three on our top-ten is the report on the splitting of GE Industrial Platforms and Fanuc (August’09). This was followed by a report on what Walt Boyes has identified as the “coming together” of Invensys in July’09, a report on the re-organisation of this giant in the automation world after a traumatic decade.

At number six is an item on Longwatch’s progress towards the “HMI revolution” with their integrated video into HMI systems (November 2009). We had reported the launch of this one our other blog in September’09.

Our personal favourite!

Number eight is our own particular favourite and was a critique on a book that we came across and which was recommended by Jon DiPietro of Bridge-Soft at ISAExpo’09. The book was called Meatball Sundae by a guy called Seth Godin. This easy to read book made an impression and this posting outlined some of his ideas.

Number nine was a surprise to us as it was the one item that last year attracted the most consistent viewings. Why? Because it talked about AN1H1 or “Swine flu”. It talked about an IR measuring system which could measure body temperature at a distance and thus be used in airports and other ports of entry and identify possible sufferers before they contaminated others. We suspect that this is so high because people googling for AN1H3 or Swine Flu would find this in their search.

Number ten is one that is fast moving up the list. This is John Saysell’sTop Ten Tips for the Industrial Trainer” which was posted in January of this year.

Most referrals not surprisingly came from our own website – read-out.net – but not a few came from Longwatch, MCP Europe and Emerson as well as various twitter and other social-networking referral sites.

Obviously many of our visitor clicked on the various links from the site. These do not we feel have great significence since there are too many variables like how many times they are mentioned in various blogs etc. But top of the list is ControlGlobal’s story of the split-up of GE & Fanuc, followed by Jim Pinto’s pages, Industrial Automation Insider and Jim Cahill’s Emerson Proicess Experts.

Top searches during the period were “GE Fanuc Split”, “AN1H3”, “INVENSYS”, and various Emerson personalities it would be too invidious to mention!

We posted 107 articles and we received 17,337 messages of which 75 were legitimate and 17262 were Spam Messages (protected by Akismet, the stop comment spam used by WordPress – phew!).

A graphical representation of twelve months viewing!


Social networking works! A true story!

04/02/2010

So what good is all this social media stuff anyway? It’s a waste of time! All these nerds hunched up over their laptops or iPhones – cometh the iPad?

Everybody can talk to everybody else! (Pic: google code)


Andrew Bond in Industrial Automation Insider comments (February Issue):
Can automation vendors afford to ignore the marketing potential of the ever burgeoning range of social networking tools now available? Almost certainly not, as  Readout editor Eoin Ó Riain’s recent experience demonstrates. He, along with INSIDER, was recently contacted by a mutual acquaintance – he’d better remain anonymous, at least for the time being – who had been asked to develop a small SCADA package for a wind turbine and wanted to pick our respective brains for
suggestions. We responded in the normal way with a few pointers but Eoin put out a call to the Automation Linked In Group as well as flagging up the request on Twitter and on his own blog.

The result, in less than a week, was approaching a dozen replies suggesting a range of potential solutions. Impressive in itself but what is perhaps most significant is that very few were either from or suggested any of the major vendors, despite the fact that Eoin had mentioned that our
enquirer was minded to use one of them.

You can’t help feeling that people are missing out here or, as Eoin put it when we mentioned it, “Maybe they are not social media aware!”

OK fair enough! I’ve been using twitter for around 8 months, and the same with Facebook. LinkedIn also for a while but we can’t say we have warmed to that as much as to the other two. (Though it is becoming more sensitive to user requirements as this development, “Reorder the Sections on Your LinkedIn Profile”  just announced shows!) And then we’re in a few NING sites.

We’ve given one or two thoughts on how we are finding things and progressing during that time. Social Media in July,  and then in November comes “Six months on”  as a sort of “how are we doing” report.

We have also published a few articles which although not specifically on social networking showed how it could, and was used in our business. Reports like Social media writes articles! or the reports on various user group meetings (especially memorable was the 2009 Emerson one partly because it was the first time we  really felt a participant in an event staged in Atlantic lapped Florida while still sitting and looking west thousands of miles across the same Atlantic lapping at the mouth of Galway Bay!) Finally we discovered a guy called Seth Godin whose little book gives a good idea as to what is happening here in Is your marketing out of synch?.

Today we give a small example of what this new thing can do.

In the last week of January an acquaintance asked us for some help. He also asked Andrew Bond of Industrial Automation Insider who commented in the February issue! (See box). We wrote about it on the blog as SCADA help requested! . And tweeted and “facebooked” this blog.

The same request was placed as a discussion on the LinkedIn group called Automation Engineers (5,510 members) with the title “SCADA for wind turbines!”

Within a few days we had eight (8) responses on the LinkedIn Site. We also had two private responses in the and there were four responses to the blog. In all there were fourteen responses, most of which were from people we had not heard of and would not have heard of but for using these platforms.

The quality of responses varied of course form straightforward plugging of a product (though surprisingly little) to the sharing of genuine user experience.

As said at the outset we have been extolling the virtues of social networking but had not used it in this way before and the thing that surprised us was the speed in which these responses came in. Hopefully some of them were helpful to our friend, they certainly gave much food for thought.

What would we have done before? Probably pawned off a general and unhelpful response wrapped in sympathetic language. But now we know, from experience, that if somebody come with a problem we have a whole world out there with people listening out for the call.

What is your social networking experience?


European automation award

28/01/2010

Emerging Company Award in the Automation and Control System Services in the EMEA market.

The 2009 Frost and Sullivan Emerging Company Award has been presented to Adroit Technologies for its distinct competence in catering to exact customer requirements in the EMEA (European, Middle East Africa) automation and control system services (ACSS) market. Having created a unique identity in the Southern African market, the company is now emerging as a strong participant in the European ACSS market. Adroit develops SCADA and HMI software for major process and discrete industries and has a diverse product offering specific to end-user requirements. The company’s aim to focus varied market segments and expand its customer base globally has forced it to take a leap, which has started yielding profitable results.

Joint Venture a Way to New Market Penetration

Being a small participant in the EMEA market has given Adroit the advantage and
opportunity of working closely with its customers. Started as a software producer for the SCADA/HMI and Reporting products the company is now focused on offering its VIZNET Information Portal product. Recognised by Microsoft, VIZNET is a software platform that answers the age old challenge of collaboration and content delivery of data, information and knowledge through a single Smart Client User Interface. The real-time mine operations management portal built by partner Polysphere was also based on the VIZNET product.

Product Features and Benefits

Distinctive advantage of VIZNET Information Portal introduced by Adroit in 2008 helps in retrieving the real-time data and combines it with the MIS, MES and ERP information. It presents these data in the reporting structure through a single-user interface. The wizard driven and visual configuration makes development and maintenance of any application quite simple. The security model, built on Microsoft’s active directory offers clients peace of mind when using the smart client connectivity over the internet.

Chart 1.1

Chart 1.1 provides EMEA Automation and Control System Services Market: Key Factors Contributing to Adroit’s Growth (EMEA), 2009

Diversified Focus

Award Description

The Frost & Sullivan Award for Emerging Company is presented each year to the company that has emerged as a significant participant within its industry. This company is perceived to have exhibited outstanding management, superior market growth, exceptional customer service and the ability to combine technology and successful strategic initiatives. This company has the exceptional know-how to take advantage of market changes through the execution of innovative strategies within the existing competitive landscape.

Research Methodology

In order to select the Award recipient, analysts quantify several market factors for each market participant according to predetermined criteria, paying close attention to their combined operations efforts. This process includes interviews with market
participants, customers, and suppliers, along with extensive secondary and technology research. The companies’ efforts are then analyzed based on the number of new customers, new segments, and commitment to business expansion coupled with market growth.

Measurement Criteria

In addition to the methodology described above, there are specific criteria used to determine final competitor rankings in this industry. The recipient of this Award has excelled based on one or more of the following criteria:

• Proof of success executing a restructuring strategy
• New market penetration (geographic, product, etc.)
• Marketing, promotion, and visibility of the company
• Degree of strategy innovation
• Technological innovation and leadership
• Increased name recognition
• Revenue and market share growth

The company is introducing the advanced alarm management product and a version 3 of VIZNET in May 2009. Knowing the fact that innovation is the key factor to compete in the dynamic market, Adroit invests close to 30 percent of its revenues in the research and development (R&D) activity annually. This has helped the company to survive even in the toughest period of economic slow down to have 30 percent growth in 2008 compared to the previous year. Adroit achieved this with a strategic approach where it focused on end users who were working on single-vendor approach. Adroit catered to these companies with its maximum benefits and at reduced cost.

Utilities and Energy Management – Need of the Hour
Adroit is a clear market leader in Southern African delivery in the latter half of 2008, Adroit added additional features to its maximum demand agent product which assists large companies in energy management. This product calculates the predicted maximum demand in any one metered period allowing demand side management to be carried out. This has helped the customers to limit the usage of power and electricity which had been the need of the hour. As reduced energy and fuel consumption can bring significant cost saving in the industry environment, Adroit is taking relentless efforts towards achieving this.

Their major end-user segments   are the water and the mining industries, some of the energy efficiency projects in which they participated in recent years were DBS Mines, PPC cements and Johannesburg Water plants.

Customer Testimony: “Girlock currently has an international SCADA product running at our other plants, but we are so impressed with the Adroit system, that we are considering switching all our SCADA software to Adroit,” says Andre Ziemski, Senior Project and Development Manager for Girlock

Wider Market Reach
With global expansion plans and clear focus on the target customers Adroit emanates its products with utmost efficacy. Participation in various industrial tradeshows, conferences and road shows has provided more visibility to the company. Some of the recent trade shows in which Adroit participated are CEBIT in March 2009, The Durban Control Road Show in March 2009 and SCADA & INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION CONFERENCE in March 2009. In the process of educating its customers, they  frequent training programmes to the new, existing and advanced users of Adroit’s products. These courses last for 4-5 days on regular basis and customers can gain maximum knowledge out of these programmes, which would equip them to have a thorough understanding of Adroit’s products.

Adroit’s Corporate Social Responsibility
Having understood the need for expertise in the automation field, the company has started training the engineering students for a competitive future. Adroit’s corporate governance policy equips the students to gain expertise in the automation field and also provides qualified workforce to the company. Various other activities such as providing sponsorship for sports persons are also a part of the activity, which Adroit carries out for the public welfare.

Market Expansion
Adroit has installed close to 13,000 SCADA/HMI systems within EMEA and in the international market across different end-user segments such mining and water and wastewater after having understood the customer requirement completely. Adroit is concentrating more towards intelligent devices which aims at distributed process control and multifunctional communication protocols, providing customer friendly environment in the plants.

Geographic Penetration
The company works with reliable distributors who are also value-added resellers and systems integrators. This has provided Adroit more scope to clearly penetrate geographies such as Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Canada, Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea and Malaysia with its capable partners in these geographies respectively. Adroit’s wider customer base extends to the following end users such as pulp and paper, food and beverages, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, cement and many others. Its serves more than 5000 clients and holds a strong presence in the South African market and is emerging as an efficient participant in the European automation market, handling most of the state-owned water and utilities projects. Apart from the process industries, the company is increasing its customer base in the telecommunication and the building management segments. It is also planning for global expansion by 2010 by partnering with the major automation companies.

Conclusion:
Adroit’s key strength lies in understanding the exact customer demand and catering to it without any deviation. Being an emerging participant in the EMEA market, the company has created clear visibility for its products. In the dynamic automation market, Adroit is witnessing a stable growth as a result of multiple partnerships and value-enhanced offering. The strategic focus towards market expansion and diversified end-user segments is making Adroit an emerging participant in the automation and control system services market. These factors make Adroit Technologies the deserving recipient for the 2009 Frost & Sullivan Emerging Company Award in the Automation and Control System Services in the EMEA market.


SCADA help requested!

27/01/2010

A client has asked to pick our brains!

He has been asked to develop a small SCADA package for a wind turbine (5KW to 50KW). A fully featured version will be for the engineering test bed. The production version will be a web client.

He is strongly considering using CiTect. Has anybody any insights or suggestions to offer?

He is strongly attracted to CiTect because they are owned by Schneider with whom he
worked for for a couple of years.


The next HMI Revolution

16/11/2009

“….it all started 25 years ago, in a tiny booth under the escalator at the 1984 ISA Show.”

25 Years of PC-Based Control

At the 1984 ISA Show, 25 years ago, Intellution introduced The Fix, the first configurable PC-based HMI/SCADA software program. Process control and automation changed forever. Here Rich Merritt describes the next HMI revolution!

longwatchlogo
About Longwatch
Longwatch, Inc. was founded by industrial automation and software veterans with the goal of simplifying video delivery over existing SCADA, HMI and distributed control networks. The result is the Longwatch Surveillance System™, a portfolio of products that enables SCADA system users to view events and easily verify alarms at local and remote sites using both legacy and new networking infrastructures. The system integrates video and system alarms on the same display for fast, reliable operation and decision-making.

In a 10 x 10 ft booth under the escalator at the 1984 ISA Show in Houston, Texas—25 years ago this past October—Steve Rubin, president of Intellution, Inc., and two of his engineers, Al Chisholm and Jim Welch, introduced The FIX: The Fully Integrated Control System, the world’s first configurable PC-based HMI/SCADA software program. They revolutionised automation and process control.

The crew had an IBM-PC with 640K of memory and two floppy disk drives, running a “multitasking shell” that Chisholm had developed for MS-DOS, and communicating with local I/O. It was the first user-configurable, “all in one” human-machine-interface (HMI) and control software package for the IBM PC platform. Across the aisle from the fledgling company was a booth running an electric railroad using an Apple 2e. Elsewhere in the show hall were two other PC-based suppliers, OnSpec and Centec, and a handful of proprietary HMI/SCADA systems including US Data and Modicon.

Dave Nelson and Paul Vanslette were back at “the fish house” in Westwood, Massachusetts, in the shadow of Analog Devices’ headquarters, holding down the fort for the small, self-funded startup. Development of an I/O driver toolkit was underway (the precursor of OPC) as were interfaces to BASIC, the C language (C++ wasn’t available then) and, yes, FORTRAN.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,”
Al said to his wife after the ISA show closed. With the introduction of The FIX, Intellution quickly broke to the front of the pack of a small handful of industrial software suppliers. The 96 sales leads captured at the first ISA show turned into a worldwide distribution channel, hundreds of thousands of copies of the robust software helping 75% of the Fortune 500 companies become more efficient in their manufacturing operations.

The success of The Fix spawned dozens of similar programs, including Wonderware, Citect and InduSoft, and changed the face of process control and automation forever. No longer were control engineers tied to the ultra-expensive workstations and proprietary software of the major distributed control system (DCS) vendors. The Fix and similar software made it possible to use standard PC hardware, the Microsoft operating system, and friendly, easy-to-use HMI development software.

Over the course of 25 years, the Intellution team brought many other innovations to the industrial software market: FIX ACE, a co-processor card that segmented the real-time data operations into a protected environment; FIX DMACS, the first truly distributed system that enabled personal computers to take on a major role in industrial data acquisition and control applications; and ultimately, iFIX – an automation application platform.

Today, proprietary workstations and operating systems have virtually disappeared from the process control and automation world. All the major DCS and automation vendors use PC-based workstations and HMI/SCADA software. In fact, DCS vendors gobbled up most of the software companies: Steve Rubin’s Intellution was acquired by Emerson in 1995, Wonderware was acquired by Invensys, and Citect was acquired by Schneider Electric. Now a part of General Electric, Intellution continues to deliver robust, highly-functional industrial software for a broad variety of applications.

“Our biggest problem was convincing skeptical engineers that MS-DOS was reliable enough to use in a plant,” recalls Rubin. “Our engineers had devised a way to partition MS-DOS so that normal Microsoft programs ran in one partition in the computer, while the HMI/SCADA software ran in the other partition under its own real-time operating system, and the two were completely separate. A crash of MS-DOS did not affect The FIX.”

Although it took several years, the reliability of Intellution’s approach proved itself. Today, similar PC-based software runs under much more reliable Microsoft operating systems, such as Windows CE, NT and XP, and few engineers question the idea of using Windows for control.

The core team of Intellution continued to grow and deliver value to the industry. Jim Welch headed a large development and consulting group for IBM, and recently became CEO of Marathon Software, a provider of fault-tolerant platforms for mission-critical applications. Dave Nelson continues in business development at IBM.

The Next HMI Revolution Beckons
Not content with launching PC-based control, Rubin, Chisholm and Vanslette are at Longwatch developing the next revolution in HMI/SCADA: that is, integrating real video with automation applications. “HMI screens are avatars of what’s really going on in the field,” says Rubin, now CEO of Longwatch. “Video can provide so much more information, not just data, and do so quickly and unambiguously. This helps customers make better and faster decisions, which are critical if you want to save time and money,” he added.

“The concept is simple,” he explains. “Most operators sit at HMI displays and stare at trends, flashing icons, and graphic representations of a process or assembly line, but they really can’t see what’s happening in the plant. By putting video directly onto the HMI screen, operators can correlate what is actually happening with the various data that’s being collected. They can also command the camera in real time, effectively transporting themselves electronically onto the plant floor.”

But the Longwatch system is much more than just live video. It also lets operators “look into the past” to see what caused an incident. “We archive the plant video feeds, so an operator or engineer can call up video from ten minutes to ten months before an event,” says Rubin. “We can also record what the operator was watching on the HMI. So, to reconstruct an incident, we can show archived plant video, images from the HMI at the time of the incidents, and plant data from a process historian. In other words, they can see video of what actually happened in the plant, what the operator saw on the HMI at the time, and what he or she did about it. The implications for training, productivity improvement, troubleshooting, security, and proving conformance with various regulations are astounding.”

Operator Console Recorder headline in Read-out

Operator Console Recorder headline in Read-out

The concept of integrating live and archived video is in its infancy. Longwatch has installed several dozen video systems into water & wastewater, power generation, natural gas processing and other applications. “We expect video to be as big a revolution in HMI technology as PC-based control was 25 years ago,” says Rubin.

The details on their website give concrete examples and a very full overview and explanation of the system.

The announcement of the Operator Console Recorder was made on the signpost in early September and was headlined in Read-out in the September October Issue.
The unit was shown at both the Invensys OpsManage and Rockwell’s Automation Fair in October.