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Automating Automation

“Hey, I bet we could automate that!”  Have controls people ever gathered ‘round the kegerator on a Friday afternoon without these words being spoken? Whether it be Christmas lights, banking, or lawn irrigation, there’s nothing we love more than automating things. Heck, we even automate automation.
Back in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, Avanceon’s AutoGen™ ruled the roost: from a single I/O list we generated PLC code, HMI tags, AutoCAD schematics, design documentation and test scripts. What a time to be alive! But eventually, companies like Rockwell and Schneider realized that there were ways to reduce the amount of manual grunt work involved in programming, and we saw the advent of Add-On Instructions and Object Templates.
Over a few short years, the ROI equation changed such that the benefits of a tool like AutoGen™ no longer supported the continual upkeep required stay current with all the possible versions and permutations of the target software platforms.
But there are still significant opportunities for making the tasks of automation more efficient. They just need to be low-overhead and targeted to a specific need. Here are a few examples of Avanceon’s in-house tools:

  • The SLC500 to ControlLogix conversion assist utility helps Rockwell’s conversion utility to convert SLC500 annotation to a format that can be imported by Logix Designer.

  • The automatic I/O list tool creates an Excel I/O list from a SLC500 or Logix5000 program.

  • The message manager generates XML files used to drive a plant floor message board.
    All these tools have several features in common.  They’re based on Microsoft Office, they use VBA programming, and they have a single purpose. This makes them portable, quick to create, and easy to maintain.
    Now, let me get back to plotting my fully-automated home brewery . . . .
    Designed: Freepik

  • Part-time and Professional: Absolutely Perfect!

    If you are looking for part-time professional work with flexible hours, then you’ve come to the right place.  Like you, I didn’t think that it existed, but it does – really!
    Before life as a stay-at-home mom, I had an amazing professional career.  Like many of us, I decided to step away from that career to raise my children.  Fast forward 12 years later, and I got the itch to re-enter the workforce.  Should be a piece of cake, right?  Wrong!  During my quest for part-time employment, I was shocked to find such limited offerings for part-time work in a corporate setting.  Lucky for me, that all changed one day when a job posting from Avanceon flashed across my computer screen.
    Avanceon offers its part-time employees a family-friendly, flexible work schedule.  Frankly, if I didn’t tell my kids that I was working, they would not know.  I am there in the morning to get them on the bus, and I am there when they arrive home from school.  I am able to work from home when my children get sick or when there is a day off from school.  I can adjust my work hours when needed to attend school events.  Does this sound too good to be true, part-timer wannabes?  It’s not!  It’s life at Avanceon.
    So moms (and dads!) keep an eye on Avanceon if part-time employment is in your future.  Not only are the hours great, but you will be able to make a meaningful contribution as a valued employee.  It just doesn’t get any better than that!

    Creating Wonderware Custom Trend Objects

    One of the rolls an SI partner plays with the clients it supports is to enhance the value of technical solutions to provide further business value.
    One such recent enhancement opportunity was on the Wonderware Historian Client Trend.  Our clients asked for more organization in the tag picker to reflect the plant structure, rather than merely listing out tag names by type analog or digital.  In addition, there was a need to easily save trends in an organized structure and not have all files in one directory (i.e. besides ‘My Documents’).  This is especially important when you’re working in an RDP environment.
    Well, if this resonated with you, you’re not unlike some of my clients, who voiced their desire for these, and other features of Historian Client Trend, to be augmented.
    Avanceon listened to clients’ needs and requests and we devised a custom Historian Client Trend which features:
    * Completely customized tag picker based upon System Platform Structure (Container/Contained Members). Your tags are displayed in a more readable and intuitive manner.
    * Tag picker contents are filtered by ‘Device’ based upon the Container Name. In this manner, specific equipment can be displayed, or a group of equipment, as well as an entire area, or the full plant.  Based up how you configure your hierarchical names, the possibilities are endless.
    * Trends are saved as ‘profiles’ and are ‘anchored’ to the device (filter) by which the tags were presented.
    * A default trend profile is defined for each device (filter) such that the trend, when launched, will open the default trend. This allows easy conversion of legacy systems where there were many trend screens.  Now there is only one trend screen and many profiles.
    * Trends may also be saved and anchored specifically to the logged on user. This way, an operator can open his/her favorite trends at any node, any time.
    The trend object is developed with Visual Studio and utilizes Wonderware’s latest Trend (v10.6 found in 2014R2). It is importable as a client control within System Platform.  Easy to use setup scripts allow the object to be configured and used in any type of InTouch application.
    The Custom Trend has proven useful and reliable and is in use several very large System Platform installations.  Clients are happy, operators are happy and best of all, much time and effort was saved in when converting large numbers of trend screens in the migration of legacy systems.
    Let us know if you see the same or different enhancements.  We always love to collaborate!


    Reconsider the Present to Improve the Future

    Remember the old saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results?” Well, a special version of insane must apply to modernization activities. I was recently reminded of this as we embarked on a SharePoint upgrade project. As I worked through some of the migration planning for the new site (we were also migrating from a 3rd party hosted solution to Microsoft 365), I created a number of mappings to move the old site content to the new, maintaining the hierarchy, custom content types and metadata choices that we had defined initially and refined with our first upgrade. As I neared completion, a colleague suggested looking at what was new in 2013. Yes, I thought to myself, that’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll do that once I get through all of this migration stuff to see what we might want to add on.
    That’s when it hit me.  Shame welled up inside me because I should have known better.  I’d done this same thing from a controls side for so long. I have found it’s always best to re-evaluate the hows and whys when doing any kind of refresh, upgrade, etc. Often, I’ve found that choices that have been made in the past, often 100% correct choices based on the options at the time, are no longer the best decision moving forward. Needs and processes change, technologies evolve and constraints morph or even disappear.  I have found it always prudent to keep that in mind and verify that the plan you’re moving forward with is still the best path given the circumstances.
    In this specific case, we found that our single site collection, a virtual requirement in SharePoint 2007 for us in order to keep consistent content types and columns across sites, is no longer the way to go. Given the content hub and other features in 2013, it’s now quite easy to manage those items across site collections and we found that some of our performance issues were due to us having one large site collection (and therefore one large database) and not spreading it out to maximize resource effectiveness. We also found out the procedure to start turning some of our defined choice data columns into managed metadata, which would enhance our searching capabilities.
    What about you? Have any insane stories about doing things the same old way? Drop me a line and let me know.

    10 Great Places to Eat Around Avanceon’s Office

    Where can a customer or a new employee grab a great meal? Here a few of my favorites:
    1. Victory Brewery (Downingtown) – 15 min away
    This restaurant/bar is known for brewing some of the area’s best beer. The menu follows the traditional bar food format with excellent personal pizzas and sandwiches, but more importantly, their selection of in-house beer is amazing.
    2. PJ’s Pour House – 10 min away
    Another great restaurant/bar with amazing sandwiches and burgers complemented by great appetizers. Regulars recommend the pork fries and oysters as well. They have a very large selection of hard to find craft beers.
    3. The Drafting Room – 5 min away
    This restaurant has a more refined atmosphere, with a menu that seems more like an upscale restaurant with reasonable prices. A ‘snack’ menu features asparagus fries and stuffed dates as well as more common appetizers. Their beverage selection is more about quality than quantity, usually including a couple rare drinks.
    4. Taco Maya – 3 min away
    An appetizing hidden gem. This small Mexican restaurant sits tucked away a bit but is definitely worth finding. They serve food in the typical burrito bar style but provide a much more authentic taste than most others, as well as very friendly customer service. This is a great pick for a quick burrito to go.
    5. Jake’s Wayback Burgers – 3 min away
    My favorite burger joint in the area. With toppings such as chili, jalapenos, fried onion rings, potato chips, horseradish sauce, and much more, you’re guaranteed to find a burger that satisfies. A Starbucks next door can help you fight off a food coma afterwards.
    6. Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop – 10 min away
    One of the area’s best hoagie shops. Known for offering their Thanksgiving hoagie (The Bobbie) year-round, this sub shop won’t disappoint.
    7. Ron’s Original Bar & Grill – 1 min away
    Located across the street from the office (takeout available), we use this local eatery frequently for our catered events. This “Best of the Main Line” pick boasts unique choices like baked ‘ovals,’ piadinis, and a wide gluten free selection. Whether you’re seeking traditional Italian dishes or something more offbeat, you’ll love Ron’s.
    8. Umani Asian Bistro – 5 min away
    A nice place to sit down and have delicious asian food or sushi rolls. This BYOB can get crowded during lunch at times, so go early if possible.
    9. Isaacs – 3 min away
    This southeastern PA chain provides unique deli style sandwiches and soups. Pretzel roll sandwiches and vegetarian options round out the menu. A healthier option with a variety of lighter fare.
    10. Carmine’s Pizza Shop
    Another great pizza shop with an authentic taste. The entire menu is great with reasonable prices, including pizza by the slice for a quick bite. Specialties include cheesesteaks, Italian subs, and of course pizza.
    Did I miss your favorite Exton eatery? Comment below!
    Image Source: Freepik