Build it better next time

Ensure that you wind up with an automation system that delivers the functionality you want – and that you achieve needed buy-in for using it from the plant floor.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Ensuring that your existing automation systems are operating optimally is one thing. For plants eyeing investments in new digital platforms and automation technologies, Richard Gaines and Alan Ettinger of the New York Power Authority have advice on what you can do now to help ensure that you wind up with a system that delivers the functionality you want – and that you achieve needed buy-in for using it from the plant floor.

First, consider not just how new automation technologies could help you make better use of the data you have or the data you know you could easily obtain; consider also the kinds of data you’d like to have and the correlations you’d like to make. At iSOC, the NYPA’s digital monitoring and diagnostics center, “We’re looking not only for the data that’s available in our process control system today; we’re looking for the data that will be available tomorrow,” says Ettinger, NYPA’s director of research, development, technology and innovation. “We look at a fault, and if we didn’t detect that fault before it occurred, we say, ‘What data could we have had; what data potentially could we have had that would have that would have told us that the cracks are aligning that are going to cause this fault to occur?’ ”

That kind of analysis is the responsibility of NYPA’s engineering SMEs and the utility’s R&D department, who then work with vendors to design automation and analytics solutions that will provide the kind of data they seek. “We play back…if we had had this pressure or we had this temperature available to us, we would have been able to spot that this fault signature was starting to develop and intervene before the fault occurred. That’s the relationship that we desire with vendors, that innovation,” Ettinger says.

And while plant-floor personnel might not be the ones interfacing with vendors, their input is regularly solicited and highly valued, Ettinger notes. “As far as we’re concerned, when we develop these new systems, one of the first things we do is we sit down with our plant personnel who are actually doing the monitoring at the sites to make sure we get their input (and) make sure that the visualization is what they want to see.”

Asking for suggestions, says Gaines, is foundational to the utility’s effort to work with all asset management stakeholders “so they’re fully on board and part of the development of the product.” Adds Ettinger: “We say, ‘What problems are you trying to solve? What keeps you up at night?’ ”

The response from plant-floor team members? “Overwhelming,” Gaines says jokingly.

“They’re getting it,” he adds. “When it comes to the asset owners, the proof is in the pudding. When they see a report that benefits them, (showing) that (this) improves their availability, improves their reliability, then they’re all in.”

To learn more, check out:
Don't "set it and forget it" when it comes to your automation systems 
and Q&A: New York Power Authority CEO Gil Quiniones

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