The Power of Real Time Intelligence

Real time control is not just for the factory floor. It has begun to appeal to enterprise management wanting to gain competitive advantage. While very few organizations are there yet, the ones who are have the capacity to do things that have never been done before.


Real time control—a concept once limited to the plant floor—has begun to appeal to enterprise management wanting to apply it to business processes as a means to gain competitive advantage. Though the real time enterprise (RTE) isn’t gauged to millisecond response times, it’s still about providing actionable intelligence to accelerate decision making. Most strategically, it’s not simply about responding to the market, but shaping it to your competitive strength.

“The idea of 'real time’ applied to the enterprise is relative, but it still denotes what people need to control processes,” says Darren Riley, market development manager for Rockwell Software . And it’s become increasingly relevant to business processes because “those processes are accelerating,” he says.

No matter that Bob Parker prefers the term “right time” rather than “real time.” “It’s still about precision timing in letting people know when they need to know something to make an effective decision,” says Parker, group vice president of IDC Manufacturing Insight . “It’s about optimizing the entire enterprise, and shaping operations as opposed to simply managing them.”

Very few organizations are there yet, Parker states, “perhaps less than 1%.” Industry observers cluster the vast majority at the bottom of any maturity curve. The curve steepens and the cluster thins rapidly from there, reflective of the need for having viable platform architecture to leverage operational linkages to shape markets. Though no official RTE maturity model exists, according to industry experts, one can be defined in terms of components, capabilities, and behaviors that mark the progression toward current best-in-class operations.

Volatile energy markets

Portland General Electric (PGE), an electric utility in Portland, OR, has clearly risen to such heights. It is both a bellwether for what can be done in harnessing the power of a distributed control system, and a lesson on how to do it. Though a utility, what it’s achieved is applicable to manufacturing plants in other industries.

Multiple levels of historian data support a real time enterprise.

Multiple levels of historian data support a real time enterprise.

PGE is the largest electric utility in Oregon, serving more than 750,000 customers. Supplying a reliable source of power is its top priority. Several years ago, faced with exorbitant price spikes for obtaining additional power from the western grid during peak periods —at times as high as 1,200%—PGE took a very novel approach to building a dispatchable standby generation (DSG) capability.

“PGE wanted to find a low-cost resource so we wouldn’t have to build a big, new plant,” says Mark Osborn, distributed resources manager. Rather than sink costs into plant construction and new transmission lines, it elected to build a 'virtual’ peak power plant. It sought to harness the generation capacity of its larger customers, aggregating the on-premise backup generators the company maintained for mission-critical purposes.

Working in tandem with Factory IQ, a local system integrator, PGE selected Wonderware ’s System Platform and InTouch HMI software as the foundation. Major upgrades to both in 2007 coincided perfectly with PGE’s expanding network of remote customer sites, some as far as 50 miles distant linked by high-speed Ethernet. Wonderware’s new service-oriented architecture (SOA), and its object technology coupled with new industry integration standards like ISA95 and IEC 61850, enabled PGE to rapidly construct a highly distributed control platform for greenfield and retrofitted sites.

“We needed a very scalable system that could manage a mixture of existing equipment,” including disparate switch gears, breakers, and PLCs, says Osborn. To date, PGE has 25 distributed sites in its GenOnSys virtual peak generation system. “The beauty of Wonderware’s object technology is that we can cut and paste to bring new sites under control very quickly,” he says. “Where it used to take three or four weeks, it now takes a day or less.”

Mark Olson says that when PGE set out to build a virtual peak power plant to harness the power-generation capabilities of its largest customers, it needed real time information from disparate switch gear, breakers and PLCs.

Mark Osborn says that when PGE set out to build a virtual peak power plant to harness the power-generation capabilities of its largest customers, it needed real time information from disparate switch gear, breakers and PLCs.

That capability has opened the door for the utility to move downward from a capacity threshold of sites with a minimum of 1 megawatt (MW) of power to those with only 250 kilowatts (kW). “That opens a whole new market for us,” says Osborn. Any site with over 1 MW of capacity has to have a control terminal on site. Using its RTE platform technology, PGE has reduced the cost to customers from $100,000-$200,000 to $20,000-$30,000. Peaking power generation typically costs $500-700 per KW, but PGE pegs its cost at $100-200 per KW.

With one mouse click, PGE can power up its entire virtual GenOnSys system. Response time across the system is consistently 0.5 seconds—among the best in the industry. And the cost of the peaking power it generates is consistently 25%—and sometimes 50%—lower than power available elsewhere.

Gauging RTE maturity

The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) has selected RTE as one of its top initiatives, with a dedicated study group engaged in development of a comprehensive guidebook on the topic. Clearly MESA sees MES manufacturing execution software (MES) as a vital component of any RTE platform. Manufacturing operations management (MOM) software has become something of a competing platform construct, although “I see MES and MOM doing pretty much the same thing,” says Julie Fraser, a founding member of MESA and principle industry analyst at Cambashi.

MES/MOM is a natural component of any RTE platform architecture, sitting between the automation control layer and enterprise system layer. Other critical, common elements include data historians for storing and aggregating time-stamped control data, and some form of enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) tool that sits above both MES/MOM and data historians, providing the analytics and portal presentation capabilities. EMI typically supplies role-based contextualized information for “right time” business decisions to individuals throughout the enterprise—and, most ideally, across the supply chain.

To date, PGE has 25 distributed sites in its GenOnSys virtual peak generation system.

To date, PGE has 25 distributed sites in its GenOnSys virtual peak generation system.

“The key is having end-to-end visibility to contextualized information across the plant,” says Fraser. “Having a platform that can provide that enables you to truly differentiate yourself—whether through innovation, achieving profitability faster with new product introductions, or other strategic programs.”

The extent to which companies have such a platform is still an open question. When mapping the road to RTE maturity, Rockwell Software talks in terms of three phases: minimal, partial, and formal coverage. IDC Manufacturing Insights describes the RTE maturity model as a five-step progression for how technology and its users interact (see illustration). At the lowest level is individual machine and operator optimization. When a real time organization is “defined” in an organization, says Parker, common metrics such as OEE are used in a consistent manner across the plant; when “standardized,” documented training and the use of standard scorecards are employed. When an enterprise is “optimized,” metrics are applied consistently throughout the organization.

Behavior in a real time enterprise

Fraser finds a three-phase summary model useful, and speaks of system attributes as well as human behavior characteristics. At the bottom of the curve, “there are clearly gaps in the architecture, with missing applications, stand-alone systems, and disconnected data centers,” she says. “You can see this in that there’s little context for data, a lot of fighting among departments, and long lag times in making decisions.” This is the epitome of siloed departments and decision making.

The next demarcation, says Fraser, is characterized by having some platform elements in place, such as MES/MOM, with some data connectivity restricted to a single plant. Commonly missing are analytics and a graphical presentation portal. Even still, there are the beginnings of some collaborative behavior between departments.

“With analytics at the third level, you gain the ability to bring all the data together and drill down into the detail,” she says. “Only this level will have defined workflows and business process management capabilities in place. This enables smooth, end-to-end visibility. These organizations are beginning to take RTE beyond the four walls of their plants to their suppliers and customers, with the opportunity to create performance metrics that align the entire enterprise. This is where you can begin to see eye-popping ROI.”

No official RTE maturity model exists, but IDC Manufacturing Insights defines attributes that mark a progression toward best-in-class real time operations.

No official RTE maturity model exists, but IDC Manufacturing Insights defines attributes that mark a progression toward best-in-class real time operations.

Mobile devices provide access

Ed Yachimiak is the senior SCADA analyst at a large Midwestern utility. His company operates 35 sites, each with its own PI Historian from OSIsoft that gathers and aggregates control data for enabling better-informed business decisions. This platform architecture was augmented by the addition of mobile device dashboard technology from Transpara that enables anyone anywhere to gain visibility to role-defined information 24/7. “Information on plant status and power generation schedules is available on their Blackberries whenever they request it,” Yachimiak says.

In addition, people have real time pricing information from the market that changes every five minutes, populating Transpara KPI displays. “This greatly augments our plant control systems. It’s a critical part of our infrastructure. We couldn’t live without it,” Yachimiak says.

Likewise, large industrial power users themselves are beginning to take advantage of these basic smart-grid technology components. Ron Kolz, vice president of OSIsoft, says one end user, a large pulp and paper company, constantly monitors the fluctuating price of power on the grid. “They keep track of the spot market price [of electricity] and balance it against the cost of making paper,” he says. “Sometimes for them, the question is: Do we make paper, or is it more profitable to make power and sell it to the grid?” The power of RTE, he states, is “the ability to make a wider enterprise audience understand the true financial impact of their decisions.”

For Mark Osborn, RTE gives PGE a capability that its competitors don’t have yet, which puts PGE in a very enviable market position. “Our system has the capacity to do things that have never been done before.” It has many other power companies looking at PGE and RTE for inspiration—and critical inducement to become more competitive.

Author Information

Frank O Smith is a writer for Control Engineering,

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