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Dangerous Liaisons?

The fact is, in an engineered control system it is dangerous not to have liaisons. Here are the design engineers. There are the programmers. Each working efficiently in parallel. However, leave out the liaison and a project culminates in a flurry of confusion and the end game becomes a race to repair wrong assumptions, unshared modifications, and uncommunicated customer requests.
 
The key only turns in systems that are truly integrated. Design and control efforts are only really integrated with liaisons—conscious, systematic communication that builds an information bridge between two disciplines. This occurs on two levels. Often an individual engineer who is both design and control-savvy plays the part of the liaison. This pivotal person is on the alert for changes and disseminates critical information across the design and control cubicles. But beyond the individual liaison, what if young engineers were cross-trained, exceptionally skilled programmers who are just as savvyin panel or P&ID design? With these valuable players in place, you now have assembled a project team which is inherently self-aware of the prerequisites for success in both design and control.
 

Standards and Projects: Separate but Connected

Has a client ever told you, “We would like to develop our standards while executing this project?” This statement is usually followed by the assertion that the project timeline will not change, and that improved standards will in fact speed the project toward its deadline.
 
Nothing could be further from the truth. Projects have an installation target date, while standards development requires many levels of discussion, agreement and buy-in. The standards development team is then challenged to meet their timeline for definitions and sample code.
 
It’s true that once standards are developed, an efficient path toward a project due date can be developed utilizing these standards. However, when you mix the two, the standards become less defined and more subject to changes while the concentration of development efforts eventually are pulled into the race to complete the project on time.
 
Astute technical managers realize the two worlds are very connected, but at the same time must be managed differently. Standards development should be separated from the project itself; then all parties can decide if the project deadline will be determined upon standards approvals, or if the project can proceed without full standards.
 
Trying to manage standards and projects simultaneously can lead to murky standards and a rushed project. But you’re too sharp to let that happen to you, aren’t you?

5 Reasons Why Workplace Humor is a Necessity

The fact that I, the company accountant, was assigned to write this blog is humorous already. Jokes aside though, why put people and not humor to work? I mean, hard work never killed anyone but why take the chance?
 
What makes you tone down humor at a work place setting? Desire to be taken more seriously? Fear of offending someone? Fear of not being funny? While some of these can at times become real issues, a dry and dull work environment also has its own challenges. Statistically speaking fun and humor at work are proven characteristics of organizations with higher retention, engagement and profitability.
 
Here are five solid reasons why workplace humor is a sheer necessity. No, seriously, humor me!
 
1. It’s a stress buster – Put a rough meeting, unhappy customer or harried commute behind you by sharing a quick laugh with your coworkers. You’ll have a more enjoyable and productive day.
 
2. It puts others at ease – Humor is an icebreaker. Laughing in a difficult situation allows you to remain open minded and consider solutions you may not have if you were otherwise aggravated. Humor can also be used to manage employees with a lighter touch.
 
3. It increases collaboration and creativity – Teams that laugh together undeniably work well together. Want to build a great sense of camaraderie in your workplace? Then why be so serious?
 
4. It’s humanizing and makes people more approachable.
 
5. It increases productivity – A stress free, jovial atmosphere encourages interaction, idea sharing and outside the box thinking.
 
Right atop Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after physiological needs and safety, sit three other things very important to human beings: social needs, esteem and self-actualization. Tasteful humor at the workplace or elsewhere can contribute very heavily to all three.
 
Now clearly we can’t filter out people for humor during the hiring process. Trust me, I tried along with making sure each person could catch a football. A couple of minor HR laws of some kind got in the way. Nonetheless humor shouldn’t be discouraged; it can bring a lot of synergy within the team and increases overall cooperation. Laughter makes the environment less soul-sucking and more soul enhancing.
 
Do your coworkers keep you in stitches? What wacky antics ease tension at your workplace? Share below!

Whatsamatta U: 8 Components of Successful Training Courses

I’ve recently been refreshing some internal training content for our Avanceon University and I wanted to share some items that we have found to be key in developing adult learning courses, whether the intended audience is our own staff or our customers. These eight design points help organize an effective training course and provide a framework for how to train and evaluate individuals.
 
1. Overall Training Objective – What is the training’s singular purpose? As an example, let’s talk about an overall training objective of providing controls engineers with basic System Platform troubleshooting tools.
 
2. Target Audience – Who is the training targeting? What is their background and experience level? For our example, this might be engineers who have not yet or just recently started with Wonderware.
 
3. Pre-requisites – What would attendees need to already know before attending this training? In my case, I would have wanted them to go through the prior training class, which is an Introduction into System Platform class.
 
4. Training Elements – What are the individual skills, tasks or activities that you want participants to learn? Make sure you break down the items as discretely as you can so that you have a more comprehensive offering and evaluation. There may be just a few or there may be a whole bunch. For this training example, I have a number of training elements. For the following questions, we can focus on the element of utilizing Object Viewer for detailed script execution information.
 
5. Objective Statements – Turn each training element into an objective statement. Objective statements are structured as follows: People (A), given (B), will do (C) to a level of (D) proficiency. For our example here, we might say Junior Wonderware Engineer, given an issue with a script, will utilize Object Viewer to ascertain the execution details of the script including, but not limited to, number of times executed, last date/time executed, average execution elapsed time, last execution elapsed time, number of times executed in error and did the last execution result in an error.
 
6. Resources – What item(s) does the attendee need in order to learn and demonstrate a given training element? These are typically things that need to be prepared in advance and given to the attendee during the training of that element. For my example training element, I would need a galaxy setup running a script that had a known error that I could point the engineer to troubleshoot.
 
7. Performance Indicators – How will you evaluate the attendee and know that they have mastered this specific element to the given proficiency? This might be demonstration, a written test or some other method. You should have an answer key, rubric or other scoring method to determine success on a given element. Here I would maybe create an answer key that would have what was wrong with the existing script and at least one acceptable correction to fix the issue.
 
8. References – What information needs to be provided for the attendee to accomplish a given element? This is especially important if you are creating self-paced training, but also if additional references might be helpful in developing a further understanding of an element beyond what is discussed by the instructor. For this example I might refer to specific sections in a training manual, user’s manual and/or deployment guide pertaining specifically to how to call up Object Viewer and what properties exist for scripts.
 
Have you found these to be important factors? What have you found is key to your training? Drop us a note and let us know. And don’t forget to tune in next time for another exciting adventure entitled either “Ar-‘Test’-ed Development” or “Classes with Curly”.

#PlantLife – To Beard, or Not to Beard

There comes a time in every man’s life when he must grow a beard. Within Avanceon I primarily work within the food and beverage business unit, but since Good Manufacturing Processes frown upon exposed body hair, a conflict with the aforementioned call to the wild presents itself.
 
So why beard? To some, facial hair is more than a style; it is a rite of passage. To others it is an act of self-expression. The act of not shaving also saves precious morning minutes. Above all else, though, it keeps my face warm during brutal winters. I’ve been growing an annual winter beard for the 3 years I’ve been at Avanceon (a previous employer disallowed any facial hair, blasphemers). I typically like to grow into a lightly manicured lumberjack beard, just enough insulation to protect from icy gusts of wind while not long enough to be mistaken for any cast member of Duck Dynasty. The perfect balance.
 
So why not beard? Good Manufacturing Practices must be executed while working in food and beverage facilities, which requires proper PPE, hair nets, and for those with facial hair to don a beard net. Beard nets, while protecting the quality of the product, can be irritating. Unlike the hard hat/hairnet/safety glasses, you never forget that you’re wearing a beard net. On more than one occasion I’ve sat down for lunch at a restaurant while wearing my safety glasses and hair net, simply forgetting that they are on. Such is not the case with the beard net. Other cons of the beard include food crumb accumulation, babies pulling on them, and the one month embarrassment period known as the “proto-beard”.
 
In the end, it’s all a matter of preference. Personally, I get more benefit from the warmth giving of the beard during winter months, so I tolerate the beard net. Once the weather warms up I reject the beard net and sport a naked face. How do you beard?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love InBatch

Do you remember the now classic scene in The Lion King where a group of hyenas are saying the name of the king, “Mufasa,” to each other and the mere mention makes them shudder? “Ooooh! Do it again!” In my experience, there is an automation product that has the same effect on engineers and customers alike. What product is that? Wonderware’s  InBatch! No other software product has made my friends and colleagues shiver and shrink.
 
So why does InBatch instill “Mufasa” level dread? Oddly enough, the main reason InBatch is feared is the same reason it’s worthwhile. It’s powerful. InBatch is an incredibly flexible product that can do just about anything imaginable in automation and recipe management. But the only way to make it so powerful is to make it incredibly configurable. And that means that InBatch requires a pretty steep learning curve before that potency is accessible. People just don’t know how to use it. And when they try, their efforts often go poorly. It has taken me years and multiple projects to really get my arms around this software and figure out all the ins and outs and how-tos and what-to-dos. And now I feel like I am there. I am on board. The power is mine!
 
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been working on multiple projects with one of our partners who has had a long history with InBatch and has solid standards regarding how their installations operate. Their standards are highly integrated with System Platform, InTouch, and all the other Wonderware products. Their visualization approach prominently presents what is running and how efficiently without having to use the standard Environment Display tools. And the best of all, it works really well.
 
So for a year and a half, I’ve been living and breathing InBatch. I’ve been leveraging what we’ve done in the past. I’ve been learning from what our partner is doing. I’ve been adapting what I know for new project challenges. The thought of the next InBatch project no longer fills me with terror. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to use this powerful software.
 
So do you fear InBatch? Tell us about your experience!

 

Reduce & Manage Unscheduled Downtime

Throughout my years working in systems integration – technician, engineering, management and owner since 1976, I have experienced the many downfalls of downtime and the snowball effect it causes for everybody involved. I have worked extensively in the Life Sciences industry providing validated designs and installations, unscheduled downtime no matter what industry can be frustrating and expensive.
 
Unscheduled is the key here…as most production systems experience some form of downtime (both scheduled and unscheduled).  The big killer in the unscheduled downtime is the reaction time to notice the issue, diagnose the problem and solution and then to mobilize to correct the problem.  In scheduled downtime the solution is usually defined and the mobilization is planned before the system goes down, thus the unproductive time is minimized (= less lost revenue).
 
Whether a downtime tracking program or a manual means of listing the typical downtimes is used, the goal is the same:  predict the types and occurrences of unproductive machine time, allowing for the preparation of shorter and less chaotic machine interruptions.  This all equates to higher productivity from the same resources and a more consistent quality product.
 
Here are some other ways to eliminate unscheduled downtime, link .
 
By: Duane Grob

Just How Important is Cyber Security in Control Systems?

NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) held its second grid security exercise, or GridEx, over a two day span. During this exercise, nearly 10,000 electrical engineers, cybersecurity specialists, utility executives and F.B.I. agents wrestled with an unseen, virtual “enemy” trying to disrupt the electrical infrastructure in the U.S. It included simulated computer viruses, line and equipment damage and even first-responder deaths in an effort to understand and evaluate participants abilities to understand, communicate and neutralize a multitude of simultaneous threats.
 
This type of exercise is important for those people and organizations involved in securing our cyber infrastructure to help gain a real-world(ish) and real-time analysis of the structure and procedures in place guarding these assets. As shown in a recent Control Engineering feature article, the ability of cyber intruders to gain access to networked control systems might be easier than previously anticipated. Their cyber security experiment revealed that the lesser skilled and inexperienced hackers did not realize that this was a “honey net” or fake asset used to lure them, were able to find, access and manipulate these fake municipal water utility network control systems.
 
As a result of technological and geo-political changes, some industries have made changes in the form of regulations to put specific requirements in place around critical infrastructure security. Many of these industries, such as power generation, nuclear, chemical and water, are maybe obvious institutions where such focus on security is warranted. Regardless of your opinion of the likelihood of cyber and infrastructure attacks, most will agree those groups represent the likeliest of targets. With the goal of such attacks being to strike fear, disrupt everyday life and cause physical and economic damage. Especially when weighing all of those potential repercussions to the population at large, one can understand the reasoning behind these regulations. But where does that leave other industries that have similar infrastructure, technologies, and presumably, security gaps?
 
What are the security risks and potential consequences associated with a pudding or ibuprofen manufacturing line? Unless the process consists of superheating a vessel or something similar, the chances are probably very low that any significant physical damage or destruction might result. That leaves the most likely consequences revolving around a bad batch or amount of product based on changes that were made to things like set points and other quality-influencing parameters. The chances that such bad quality would actually leave the plant and make it’s way to the consumer is fairly low with the quality procedures most companies implement. Therefore it’s left mostly to a corporate sabotage-type motivator to cause them to create and scrap a lot of waste product (or unnecessarily consume raw materials, etc.). While the loss of a batch or materials might have some real cost significance, because that threat is solely based on strictly wanting to financially impact their target, the likelihood that someone would be skilled and motivated enough to pull off such an act, is perhaps relatively quite low.
 
So do those industries then not concern themselves with cyber security? Is the low potential for motivation and the ‘havok’ that can be caused reason to say that the costs of securing systems outweighs the risk they are protecting against? Or does the fact that people out there can access these systems and ‘do bad things’, justify the costs associated with keeping these assets secure?
 
By: Brian Fenn

Fielding a Winning Team with Home Grown Talent

Writer: Nic Imfled
 
 
I love baseball. There is nothing quite like cheering your team toward postseason success. But success isn’t easy. Teams have to be built. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of a world title you need a healthy blend of veteran players and home grown talent. The same is true with successful companies. Over Avanceon’s 30 years in business, we’ve sought to build and maintain a team with the proper blend of seasoned veterans and developing all stars.
 
As I’ve thought about this recently, I’ve looked at our team and realized something. We’ve got a lot of great seasoned, veteran engineers and we’ve got a great crop of young talent. But what caught my attention is that a lot of our veterans are home grown. We’ve had great success hiring young engineers as interns still in college or into entry level positions fresh out of college. Most of these young engineers stay with Avanceon for years and grow to be some very valuable and experienced members of our team.
 
I was one of those young engineers who was hired and grown. I was brought on board back in 2000 as an intern through Drexel University’s co-op program. I continued at Avanceon through subsequent internships and worked part time through the school year. In 2004, I came on as a full time entry level engineer. Over the following nine years, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in my knowledge of the automation industry, how to meet our customer’s needs, how to execute projects, how to work on a team, etc. I’ve risen through the ranks and am now a level IV (of IV) engineer in our Pharma/MES group. I’m not the only engineer like me at Avanceon. Perhaps up to 50% of our engineers are home grown.
 
Why have we had success in raising up young engineerings? I think there are two reasons:
 
First, and most importantly, with a young engineer we have an opportunity to train them into our culture and values. For example, our culture is built on creative out of the box thinking that looks for ways to optimize our work tasks for efficiency. Our culture is also built on standardization and teamwork. Taking the time to sculpt and mold young engineers from the beginning of their careers is priceless.
 
Second, evolving expectations: While we mold our young engineers our expectations grow over time. When they are at the beginning of their career we don’t expect them to have all of the answers, we just want them to learn and grow. As time goes by we increase the expectations of knowledge but continue to hold their hand making sure that they succeed. During this process the engineer feels nurtured while at the same time the company is gaining value by shaping the young engineer into a future seasoned veteran. Mutual goals equal mutual success.
 
We’ve seen this success with young engineers over many years and we are looking to continue it for many years to come. Does that mean we no longer look for veteran talent? Absolutely not. In fact, we’ve recently brought on a few veterans that we are really excited about. And we are even looking for a few more. But it does mean that we are taking advantage of multiple avenues available to us to prepare, grow, and field the best possible team we can for our customers, just like a championship baseball team.
 
Next time we come out to work on one of your systems, ask your engineer about his experience. You might find that he is one of our home grown all stars.

Upgrading PLC5 Automation Platforms to Logix5000 Pt 2

This is the second in a 2 part series highlighting the key decision points and recommendations for a successful upgrade from PLC5 Automation Platforms to Logix 5000. In Part 1 we discussed the need for planning prior to the project start. In Part 2, we will discuss the software and interface concerns as well as the necessary training.
 

Hardware Approach

 
There are several aspects of the hardware platform to consider when beginning an upgrade program. If there are multiple systems to be upgraded over time, a uniform approach resulting in minimized spare parts inventory is best.
 
Determine whether field wiring is run directly to the I/O modules, or to terminal blocks in the panel. If the field wiring goes directly to the I/O module, it may be more efficient to use Allen-Bradley’s conversion kit for wiring arms. This allows use of the existing 1771 wiring arms, mated to a special adapter, which then connects to the new 1756 hardware underneath.
 
While simpler and quicker in the short term, this method results in a panel that’s harder to maintain in the long run, as the wiring is harder to trace, and some of the hardware is more difficult to access, as it is hidden by the adapters.
 
If a slightly longer downtime window is available, and if the I/O is wired to terminals in the panel, a good option is complete replacement of the old PLC5 hardware with new ControlLogix equipment, using pre-wired harnesses that snap onto the I/O module and run as a single cable to the termination points.
 

Interfaces

 
It is easy to focus on the PLC itself as the target of the upgrade, but all PLCs have interfaces of some sort, whether HMIs, historians, other PLCs, drives, etc. These interfaces need to be modified to be compatible with the new PLC as well. First, consider whether any outdated networks, such as Data Highway Plus or Remote I/O, are being used. If so, now is probably the best time to replace them with Ethernet.
 
For HMI or SCADA interfaces, there will likely be a tag database that needs to be updated. PLC5 addresses are of the format “N7:1/0”, while the new ControlLogix arrays will look like “N7[1].0”. Depending on the HMI package, it may be possible to export the tag database to a text file which can be manipulated with search and replace, then re-imported. If not, it may be necessary to change every single animation point within the HMI package.
 
Any messaging in other PLCs will need to be modified to communicate to the new ControlLogix. Especially note that some older PLC5s are not able to communicate via Ethernet to ControlLogix PLCs at all, and will require a firmware upgrade to communicate.
 

Training

 
If the site maintenance staff is unfamiliar with the ControlLogix platform, some form of training should be considered. In addition to formal instruction, it is useful to set up a PLC as a ‘sandbox’ that can be used for self-directed study and familiarization.
 

Summary

 
Upgrading PLC5 to ControlLogix is usually a straightforward effort, but it is tempting to over simplify by not considering the ancillary work required to make the project successful.