Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Alarm Help Follow Up

Just a quick follow up to my post yesterday about the new Alarm Help in Version 11 of DeltaV - I got a couple of questions along the lines of "what if we've got VCAT enabled?  Does it still work?"

I'm happy to report it still works fine.  To be sure, I launched DeltaV Operate from the DeltaV Desktop, called up Alarm History from a module faceplate, clicked on the paper and pencil icon, and changed the Consequence of inaction from Severe to Serious and the Recommended action text.  Nothing special happened until I pressed the save button, at which point the standard VCAT Control - Messages dialog box popped up and indicated a check out and an immediate check in of my module:

This is probably something operators have never seen before, but once they understand, I don't think it'll be an issue.  Pressing Download did its usual thing and my change took effect.

So then I was curious (what, me curious?) what a Show Differences from VCAT would look like.  As you might think, there were no visual differences, but switching to textual differences gave me this:

A couple of things to note - the titles of the three text boxes in the Alarm Help are very generic in the schema (Help Text 1, Help Text 2, Help Text 3).  And while this matches the new function security names, they don't match up with the actual Alarm Help dialog.  I'll report this back and see if a change can be put in before the general release of V11.

The other "oh, by the way" is one and only one instance of Alarm Help can be running at a time.  So if Alarm Help has been launched from the Windows Desktop (alarmhelp.exe), it won't launch from the DeltaV Desktop (the reverse is also true).  Just a safety tip.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Helping Hand for Alarms

You might have seen or heard about the new Alarm Help feature included in DeltaV Version 11. Some have referred to it as an alarm wiki – being able to capture the knowledge and experience of your plant’s operation staff to help resolve upsets more quickly.

Primary access for the Alarm Help is from a module’s faceplate. Well, really it’s from the Alarm ActiveX object embedded in the faceplate. This is important, because this ActiveX object is also used to create the overall Alarm Summary display, so access to the Alarm Help is also available from the summary, as well from the Operate toolbar.

And by access, what’s really happening is you’re launching a new application, alarmhelp.exe. Why is this important? Because you can launch alarmhelp.exe outside DeltaV Operate. Let that cook in your brain for a minute.

When you get an alarm on a module that’s not had Alarm Help information previously entered, the faceplate looks like this (I added the red circle):

That sheet of paper and pencil icon is your clue that this alarm hasn’t been wiki-fied. Click on it, and the alarmhelp.exe application launches (I’ve just include the top portion of the Alarm Help dialog):
And even nothing has been setup for this particular alarm yet, you still get info about how long this alarm has been active (3 days, 20 hours, and some change). Now click on the paper and pencil here (with the proper access privileges, of course) and you can begin filling in your alarm help information:
Both the Time to Respond and Consequence of Inaction come from two new named sets:
You can add to these named sets, but take a close look at the Value column of dv_alm_ttr. Who came up with 10 and 30 for the values? They correspond to the times to respond as suggested by the named set Name. So if you have an alarm that needs to be dealt with in 12 minutes, you’d add a new entry with a value of 12 – neat, huh? And for those of you feverishly doing the math, the maximum response time you can configure is 254 minutes or a little over 4 hours.
Once you start to fill in information on the alarm, the grayed out Save button un-grays and can be selected. Pressing Save commits your changes to the module (a quick check of control studio will show Alarm Help is set to True with the text you’ve entered, both online and offline!). But to get DeltaV Operate to know about your changes, you still need to download and you even get the familiar blue triangle next to the Download button:
You get a confirmation box, letting you know you’re only downloading Alarm help information for the current alarm you’re dealing with:
And you get a somewhat familiar download progress dialog box:
Now the paper and pencil on the faceplate have been replaced with a question mark:
Besides the obvious advantages of the alarm help information, the dynamic timers at the top of pop up give a quick indication of just how long the alarm event has been active. The Time to respond field even changes color from green to red once it counts down to zero:
To faciliate/moderate data entry into the various Alarm Help fields, 6 new security functions have been added, providing a lot of granularity within DeltaV User Manager.  Now how about an Alarm Summary display indicating all critical alarms and their associated durations for Limited Condition of Operation (LCO) applications? I’ve got to go and talk to Drew…

Monday, March 29, 2010

Harder Working CHARMs

I’ve got my beta copy of DeltaV version 11 and so of course, I’m looking for all the cool things that didn’t get mentioned at Emerson Exchange in Orlando. But first, a little disclaimer – I’m working with beta software, so YMMV!

First up is the Signal Characterization tab of a DI CHARM. The tab magically appears when you select a CHARM class of Discrete Input. 

While the De-Bounce Filter caught my eye, it’s the Output Filter that holds some interesting promise for new, innovative control applications. A quick look at the Help associated with the dropdown reveals:
The Extend sounds like a timed pulse – when the input triggers, the output (what your DI or DC function block would see) latches in for a configured amount of time, regardless of how the input changes.

The Delays sound like they’ll take care of chattering inputs – stay tuned for an explanation of the Delay versus the Delay On/Off. Looks like BOL needs an update.

Edge triggering at the CHARM? I’ve already started dreaming and scheming how to exploit this new feature.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Toys for Acme Biotech

This week has been like Christmas in March! Not only did I get two big boxes of goodies from the DeltaV Store (thanks for adjusting the shipping costs, Lorie), but I also got our v11 install disks and most of our S Series hardware.

So to make you just a little more jealous, I thought I’d share some first photos of the rig we installed all the new hardware on.  That Lutze frame stuff is great.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

FDA sponsored PAT Conference

The FDA and the University of Rhode Island are sponsoring a two day Conference entitled “FDA and PAT for Pharma Manufacturing FDA-Partnering with Industry”. It’s being held on May 11th and 12th at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, MD.  It's part of the FDA's 2010 Conference Series.

Besides my buddy Terry Blevins from Emerson, there are 16 other speakers from both industry and the FDA. You can use this link to get to a PDF with all the important info, including another link to register.

Lobbying will start immediately to secure my attendance.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now you see it; now you don’t

I don’t think I’m dating myself, but I remember when the dongle on a DeltaV system was this big, black thing that plugged in (and screwed down) into a parallel port on your ProPlus. Now everyone saw the writing on the wall – as parallel ports started to disappear, parallel port dongles were going to have to give way to something else.

Enter the USB dongle. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against these guys, but my first thought when I opened that little black box was “that’s really cute – I’m going to lose this”. I must not have been the only one with that thought because each dongle comes with this wire lanyard attached.  See, without being able to secure the dongle in a USB port, that little sucker is going to get lost or sheared off or something else.

And let’s not forget our well-meaning IT dude (you met him in my last post). That dongle looks a whole lot like a USB memory stick, and he will try relentlessly to run an anti-virus program against it.

The other thing that’s happened is the good old PS/2 ports for keyboards and mice have followed the parallel port out of our lives. Now your keyboard and mouse need a USB port also.  Combine this with a trend away from so many USB ports (cyber security and all), and we’ve got ourselves a dongle location gap (you can just imagine George C. Scott in the War Room with Dr. Strangelove, can’t you?)

So guess what’s INSIDE the Dell computers designated for use with DeltaV? An internal USB port. How cool is that? I had no idea until Mark Moore and Russ Wolterman pointed them out to me. Now they’re in slightly different places depending on the computer, so you might have to look around (this picture is from a T3500).
Plug your dongle into one of these, lock the case, and it's not going to walk away or get broken off. Make yourself a label and place it on the outside of the computer so everyone knows what’s inside (well, almost everyone – make it a little cryptic), and you’re good to go.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

IT vs IT

About twice a month, Emerson issues updates to a list of what Microsoft operating system patches and hotfixes have been tested and approved for installation on DeltaV computers. On top of what is or is not approved, there’s extensive information on the Emerson web site regarding cyber security, for protecting the process control network from harm. Emerson’s not the only automation platform supplier that test and approve/disallow patches and hotfixes for their products.

So it really bothers me that twice in the last month, some well-intentioned business IT dude has applied Microsoft patches that have rendered automation systems useless. I guess it’s not really their fault; it’s in their DNA – if there’s a patch or hotfix to apply, by golly they’re going to install it. All those precautions we take with firewalls, virus protection software and built for purpose, lockdown-able port switches just can’t protect us from our well-meaning IT buddies.

Here are some suggestions to help avoid these situations in the future:

  • Don’t tell IT where your servers are. They can’t patch what they can’t find.  

  • Create a Props server rack. You’ve seen them anytime you’ve gone furniture shopping – sitting on the entertainment center shelves are these components manufactured by Props. Now they look a little “off” and don’t weigh a thing, but that’s OK – your IT friend will try relentlessly to stick the patching CD in a disc drive.

The real answer?  Frequent "meeting of the minds" between business and automation IT professionals. There’s a fundamental difference between the IT requirements on business networks and those of a real-time automation or control platform. There are plenty of articles on the web discussing this. But all the articles are worthless if there’s no communication between these two critical team members. Now you don’t have to hug him, but maybe you could take him a basket of muffins?