IT/OT/ET Convergence in Action

By Paula Hollywood

ARC Report Abstract


Convergence between IT and OT is commonly acknowledged in the manufacturing industries. But as integrating product and process design becomes increasingly important, we’re also seeing digital models and other engineering technologies being added to the convergence mix.  Designing and testing new products, systems, and even plants in a virtual environment makes a compelling case, particularly from a cost perspective.  Speakers in the IT/OT/ET convergence session at ARC Advisory Group’s 24th Annual Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida shared their convergence stories.   

Crisis Drives Innovation

It doesn’t take a million-dollar budget for data to have an impact on an organization. According to Jason Hamlin, former Process Automation Manager at the City of Lynchburg, Virginia, there’s nothing like a crisis to IT/OT/ET convergence USGS%20Rapid%20Deployment%20Gauge%20in%20Lynchburg.JPGdrive innovation and change.  That’s just what happened in early August 2018 when the Lynchburg region experienced an approximately 150-year rain event (meaning a 1 in 150 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any one year), causing significant damage to public and private property.  The heavy rain caused overtopping of a nearby lake, signaling the potential failure of the dam containing it.  If the dam failed, expectations were the city would see 17 feet of water in seven minutes. 

As a small municipal utility, Lynchburg Water Resources suffers from a condition common in such entities ̶ limited financial resources.  However, city officials made it clear that this was an incident they did not want to experience again.  While it cannot control the weather, the water authority could control how it monitored water level and flow to get more actionable data to people faster.  Lynchburg turned to the US Geological Service (USGS) for help.  In emergency situations, the agency makes available rapid-deployment gauges (RDG) to provide situational awareness and support to emergency managers.  In this case, the gauge was installed two days after the event and began producing precipitation and water level data. 

The challenge for Hamlin was how to get and use that free data effectively.  Using the publicly available USGS API, Hamlin scripted about 10 lines of code to pull the data into Lynchburg’s Ignition SCADA system from Inductive Automation to make it actionable.  Proof of concept took about 20 minutes and administration took the same amount of time to approve its use.  Hamlin’s advice is to leverage the free data available from sources such as USGS and NOAA, since this can be useful in training AI models.

Suncor Energy Relies on Asset Information

At Suncor Energy, Canada’s largest integrated energy company, asset information is the foundation of its Operational Excellence Management System (OEMS) and the platform for digital transformation, according to the company’s Asset Information Management Director, Duane Kichton.  Implemented in 2004, Suncor’s OEMS has changed how work is done.  The goal is to be more effective and efficient in its work and in improving plant reliability, risk management, and environmental sustainability.   

Mr. Kichton shared that Suncor had experienced a few incidents where the inability to identify asset information correctly contributed to significant losses.  For this reason and others, asset information is the cornerstone for operational excellence practices at Suncor.  As such, asset information must be complete, accessible, current, and trustworthy.  At Suncor, good asset information provides the basis for its license to operate by improving risk management; decreasing unplanned shutdowns/slowdowns; increasing productivity; reducing supply chain costs; and reducing the time needed to commission assets and hand them over to operations.   Suncor is also considering implementing a common information platform to control the hodgepodge of asset information created from mergers and acquisitions and standardize information and formats. 

Suncor enlisted the assistance of data management specialists, ReVisionz, to design an asset information system from an enterprise perspective.  The methodology focused on four pillars:  standards & processes, content, people & culture, and technology.  Tools are built according to industry standards and enhanced based on the business case.  A governance structure ensures representation from all business units.  No customization is allowed unless that standard and business case have been approved.  Processes are implemented according to persona, i.e., engineer, operator, maintainer.

At Suncor, operations own the assets, business units are accountable for accurate asset records, and technical engineering is responsible for the technical content.  At this stage of the project, Mr. Kichton believes Suncor spans the 2-4 range on ReVisionz’s asset information maturity curve (see graphic) and strives to get to level 5. 

Mr. Kichton’s recommendations for success are first, to recognize digital transformation is a multi-year journey that must be sustained to be successful.  He also recommends starting your journey now if you have not already.  He stressed the importance of educating and getting buy-in at all organizational levels.  He also believes that the key to success is taming asset information.  For brownfields, he recommends focusing on high-risk areas in high-priority facilities. 

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Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Data Management, Digital Twin, Virtual Reality, ARC Advisory Group.

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