More power to the control room

Provide operators with better workstation displays.

By Modesto Lauro, A2A Reti Elettriche

A2A Reti Elettriche is a combination of two Italian companies — the A2A Group and ASM Electricity Distribution. It ensures the service of electricity distribution to more than 1 million customers of high-, medium-, and low-voltage users. A2A Reti Elettriche supplies more of 12,000 GWh/year.

The distribution network is present in the provinces of Milan and Brescia and other 59 municipalities, distributing power to the Milan area and in the areas of Lake Garda and Valsabbia. It operates more than 12,000 km of distribution networks, 58 primary stations, and more than 8,300 substations, and A2A Reti Elettriche’s network is connected to the Terna national electricity transmission grid based in Rome.

The display units are being used alongside a large-scale collaborative display wall to manage various networks and process control applications.
The display units are being used alongside a large-scale collaborative display wall to manage various networks and process control applications.

Our mission is to be a leader in innovation, quality, continuity of service, security, environmental protection, efficiency, and speed of response to all our customers in line with the goals of the Authority for Electricity and Gas. We pay particular attention to technological innovation, through the adoption of decisions with high added value and environmental sustainability, focusing on solutions that optimize the relationship with the land and with the public.

A2A Reti Elettriche, even before the directives of the Authority for Electricity and Gas with Resolution 292/06, was one of the first utilities to begin replacing conventional electricity meters with new electronic counters that can be read remotely and managed.

A2A Reti Elettriche is part of the Italian multi-utility group A2A, which manages the gas, water, and energy distribution for many provinces in northern Italy.

The challenge

As part of the original control room design for its Brescia facility, A2A carefully outlined the floor plan to sufficiently include 19 operator workstations. Despite a straightforward implementation, the multi-utility company quickly ran into unexpected issues that required immediate attention.

First, the large number of workstations significantly increased noise and temperature levels, adversely affecting working conditions and operator comfort. Next, IT staff noticed that the new workstations easily attracted dirt, impacting the system’s performance and reliability, requiring increased maintenance efforts.

After exploring a number of operator-based solutions, including specialized cases that proved too cumbersome for the existing office furniture, A2A concluded that a remote extension technology — one that could manage the above issues, but also provide stable and reliable multi-display image quality from a distance — was its best option. Furthermore, cabling from the extension solution had to be at an absolute minimum to accommodate the current infrastructure of two lateral areas with a single floating floor.

The solution

Nineteen dual- and quad-monitor remote graphics units are being used in the renovated control room.
Nineteen dual- and quad-monitor remote graphics units are being used in the renovated control room.

While attending the BIAS automation tradeshow in Milano, Italy, A2A dropped by the Matrox booth (www.matrox.com) for insight on its split-computing technologies and discovered the Extio, a KVM extension solution that drives multiple monitors and user devices at the operator station while being separated by the computer via fiberoptic cable. The Matrox Extio series is designed for environments requiring data security, low heat emissions, no noise, and more workspace.

After securing and successfully validating the Extio evaluation unit, we found this solution measured up flawlessly with our control room requirements. Installed discretely on small shelves at each operator station, the fanless Extio unit drives up to four DVI displays, keyboard, mouse, and speakers using a single 20 m (65 ft) fiberoptic cable to connect remotely to a Matrox interface card within the PC. With the Microsoft Windows XP Professional workstations committed to a separate temperature-controlled server room, operators benefit from reduced noise and uncompromised workstation performance, at resolutions of 1600x1200 per display, to run the ARC Informatique PcVue, Siemens FactoryLink SCADA, and Selta/Sdi eXpert SCADA applications.

The result

Modesto Lauro is system manager at A2A Reti Elettriche, Italy. Email him at modesto.lauro@a2a.eu.

We selected the Extio series dual- and quad-display KVM extenders to remotely drive 19 multi-display operator stations in the new control room center. After successfully meeting the deployment’s remote extension criteria, we employed the Extio solutions to address system noise, heat, and dirt issues, while leveraging the bus extension technology so operators can run supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system software across multiple monitors without any image quality, latency, or system performance concerns.

The renovated A2A control room now features a total of 17 Extio F1220 dual-monitor and two Extio F1400 quad-monitor remote graphics units, which are being used alongside a large-scale collaborative display wall to manage various networks and process control applications. The Extio units not only facilitate a more suitable work environment for system operators, but also empower A2A with an advanced KVM extension solution to optimally configure their mission-critical environment, both inside and outside the control room.

Our staff immediately appreciated the new silent workroom, while from an IT standpoint, the Extio addressed the operator workstation maintenance issues, reducing the number of interventions required to obtain the highest service continuity. What’s most impressive is that the bus extension provides system performance that is exactly like having the workstation right at your desk. We're clearly pleased with the results.

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