One System, One Look and Feel

An in-house upgrade to an integrated, systemwide control system helps the Niagara Region get better, faster, more reliable access to critical information.
One System, One Look and Feel

The Water and Wastewater Services Division of the Niagara Region Public Works Department manages an annual flow of 17.2 billion gallons of drinking water to nearly half a million people. It also manages the processing of 20 billion gallons of wastewater for the region, comprised of 12 local communities in a neck of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Both water and wastewater treatment require fault-tolerant, real-time access to information from hundreds of remote field instruments and 16 treatment facilities to ensure absolute control over the vast network of plants, wells and pumping stations.

It's a big job that grows bigger as the population and industry expand.

In 2007, the division overhauled its control system infrastructure to create one seamless, integrated network that would enable comprehensive visibility and easy access to information from any point. The solution needed to streamline software maintenance, integrate local plant data repositories with a central corporate historian, provide a common application look and feel to increase productivity, and enable robust remote, fault-tolerant data logging from field instruments.

A longtime user of GE SCADA and human machine interface (HMI) technology, Niagara upgraded to Proficy iFIX software from GE Intelligent Platforms. Features include a Microsoft Windows operating environment, flexible object technology, terminal services to support thin clients, conversion tools, and improved security.

Efficient management

Niagara's new network infrastructure is built around Proficy iFIX HMI/SCADA control system technology, with links to local plant and corporate Proficy Historian data repositories. QuickPanel RTU components serve as remote operator interfaces and data collectors in the field.

"Remaining with GE made sense for a lot of reasons and also made for a much easier conversion, given iFIX's powerful conversion tools," states Mark Presti, manager of technical trades in the division's maintenance section.

iFIX, a GE Proficy software product, is a single intelligent production solution that works with existing multivendor hardware and software to gather and analyze data. Solutions can connect to equipment across the entire physical utility to deliver online monitoring for rapid operational response and collect historical data as the foundation for continuous improvement.

It enables drill-down to view detailed tag information, access and analyze trend variables, and access enterprise data via thin-client, terminal services connectivity to all SCADA nodes. Proficy Historian quickly provides access to stores of normalized process data, including alarms and events, for mission-critical monitoring and control. The software is designed to capture large volumes of process data, store it for long periods, and provide quick retrieval by other applications for trending and analysis.

Overcoming barriers

"We reached a point where there were significant challenges with the existing infrastructure that had been in place for several years," says Presti. Plants had differing SCADA system configurations with a widely variant look and feel. Each plant hosted its own separate SCADA configuration. The six water treatment plants were paired and linked over the organization's fiber-optic wide area network (WAN), but any change in one system had to be separately engineered elsewhere.

If a manager wanted a link into a plant's SCADA system, that configuration had to be loaded on his or her desktop. That effort multiplied across numerous plants made for excessive and time-consuming maintenance, Presti observes.

Also, field instruments at hundreds of remote points in the water and wastewater systems provided readouts on chlorine levels, turbidity, water levels and other factors that were routed through PLCs via leased landlines to various plant SCADA systems, and then to plant historians. But there was no storage capability at remote sites, so when there was an interruption in communications, real-time data logging ceased, creating gaps in information stored in the plant historian.

In-house effort

The division handled the upgrade to integrated, distributed iFIX infrastructure using in-house staff. Taking on the project enabled the technical tradespeople to become intimately grounded in the network architecture, boosting their skills and knowledge to manage maintenance, support, and ongoing extensions and upgrades.

"We had two SCADA and instrument technicians when I started here," says Presti. "We brought in three more." When in need of additional technical expertise, the team called on Gray Matter Systems, a systems integrator in nearby Mississauga, and a local consulting firm.

The network infrastructure involves individual rack-mounted iFIX solutions and Proficy Historian data repositories at each treatment plant. The main services division headquarters also gained a central Historian that provides a single data repository fed by each plant historian for comprehensive, long-term data storage. This, with its own separate iFIX server installation, provides centralized operations management visibility to performance across the entire facilities network.

"We didn't have one central data repository before," Presti says. "This now gives us one location to go to when we want to share data." The central Historian is the foundation for general and ad hoc reporting for widely distributed plant operations. It is also integrated with the Infor Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution for improved asset maintenance and repair across the facilities organization.

Wireless future?

Each plant operates a pair of iFIX SCADA servers (primary and secondary) to provide fault tolerance and to support periodic software maintenance, ensuring that one server remains live while the other is down. Two terminal servers provide links to Proficy iFIX clients — remote thin clients that give operations personnel Web-based access via Citrix enabling technology.

The terminal servers ensure consistent application functionality and a common look and feel, and greatly streamline system maintenance. Changes can be made to the application on the terminal servers and then pushed out to all remote locations.

A perennial network problem was resolved with the addition of QuickPanel RTU collectors at remote stations. The QuickPanel RTU provides a field-based operator interface along with critical data storage. The compact, slim unit communicates with Allen-Bradley (Rockwell Automation) programmable logic controllers (PLCs) via OPC and Modbus industrial network protocols and forwards data over leased Bell Canada landlines.

The QuickPanel's wireless-enabled technology will allow the division to migrate eventually to wireless transmission. In either case, communication interruptions will no longer result in data gaps in plant and central Historians, as the QuickPanel RTU provides store-and-forward functions that ensure continuous data logging fidelity for historical purposes.

The technical trades team spent three years in a plant-by-plant migration to implement the network infrastructure built around the iFIX HMI/SCADA platform. "Conversion was the hardest piece," Presti says. "The advantage of doing it ourselves is we now have a thorough understanding of what we own and how to support and maintain it. We never had that before."

Empowering users

The team is now working with operations, the ultimate end users, to develop standardized applications and graphics for use across all plants. "The initiative was to ensure the systems in each plant were identical in design," Presti says.

The common technology infrastructure will enhance the division's ability to manage maintenance from one central location, gaining economies of scale and efficiencies over decentralized, plant-centric maintenance.

"One of the objectives was to create a common knowledge base across both maintenance and operations," says Presti. "We've given management the tools — now we're working with senior management in both water and wastewater to standardize how they want to see the information. The goal is to give them the means to get the information themselves with Web-based access."

The investment in time to put the infrastructure in place has been well worth the effort. "We've built a very solid infrastructure," states Presti. "And we have full understanding and ownership of how it works. We're confident it's ready to support our growth in operations."


Alan Hinchman is global market director, infrastructure, with GE Intelligent Platforms.


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