Proficy HMI / SCADA, Proficy Historian
Connecting Remote Operators
Canadian utility connects at-home operators to plant operations
The City of Hamilton in Ontario quickly enabled water/wastewater plant operators to work from home within four days of a decision to implement social distancing protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Partnerships with GE representative GrayMatter and GE Digital allowed them to move quickly to use no-cost remote licenses.
Remote Viewing vs Remote Operations
City of Hamilton has been a long-time iFIX HMI/SCADA user, working with GrayMatter and GE’s automation software for 20 years.
While the team had technology in place to view operations remotely through iFIX, they did not have technology in place for remote control.
“We didn’t have a means of working remotely on the system,” explained Geoff Botha, SCADA Superintendent, City of Hamilton. “We had the ability to view remotely through a normal terminal server, but that would just be to see the status of operations but not to do any control. Hamilton’s system is set up so that we have a manned control room 365 days a year, 24 hours a day with personnel in the control room operating the system.”
COVID & Enabling Remote Operations
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Botha reached out to GrayMatter, who partnered with GE Digital to quickly put in place a special COVID-response program for free remote operations licenses – and what started with a need from the City of Hamilton helped other industrial organizations around the world.
According to Botha, it was all hands on-deck to get Hamilton enabled quickly for remote operations. The team built iFIX View nodes, worked with their cloud provider, and delivered the remote operations nodes to operators and supervisors homes, maintaining social distancing.
From the time of the initial inquiry and exploration, to the decision being made, to remote operations in place was only 10 days.
It’s a team, and everybody stepped up to the plate.
Geoff Botha - SCADA Superintendent, City of Hamilton
Telecommuting in an OT Environment
Operators have provided feedback that they like the remote operations solution.
“It’s a morale boost that they can work safely, that they can work [during the pandemic] and work efficiently,” Botha noted.
“It has really proved that telecommuting in an OT environment is possible. For the SCADA staff, it didn’t take them long to come up and be fully operational. We’ve been able to carry on full.
“We’ve just had a 15-day FAT on the system, and it was very achievable, and it also means that the number of people that we would have had to travel was reduced. We were able to accomplish more smoothly a large-scale FAT using the system as we’ve deployed it.”
Beyond the pandemic, Hamilton sees the remote operations ability helping in other ways. For example, remote operations are critical during large storm events, enabling workers to reach out to staff remotely and be able to support the operations during stressful and emergency times.
“Most operations are able to be carried out remotely, with the exception of needing to send an operator or maintenance technician in the field to check a piece of equipment. In the plant, there are still daily checks and sampling to be done, but the system does reduce the amount of staff that you have to have in-person in an operating area,” Botha explains.
Everyone in a control role can work remotely, according to Botha. Also, senior leadership can view the system remotely and have collaborative conversations cross-functionally while remote.
GrayMatter’s goal is to transform operations and empower people. Since 1991, we have been helping some of the biggest industrial organizations in the world harness data so they can work smarter. They lean on us to secure their critical systems and connect their industrial assets to their teams so that every operator is empowered to be the best operator. GrayMatter has been on the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list for six consecutive years and has grown to provide Advanced Industrial Analytics, OT Cybersecurity, Digital Transformation and Automation & Control services to clients in CPG, energy, food & beverage, manufacturing and water/wastewater industries across the U.S. and Canada.