We Love Ignition. But Can it REALLY Scale?

42 min video  /  37 minute read


Stephanie Mikelbrencis

Business Unit Manager

Brock Solutions

Stephen Halligan

Facilities Tech Systems & Operations Manager

United Airlines

Can it REALLY scale? This is a question we have received for the last 10 years. Delve into the realm of enterprise Ignition rollouts with industry insights from the lens of an enterprise integrator. Uncover the strategies and best practices that accelerate the implementation and ensure the long-term sustainability of Ignition. Don’t just believe us – hear it firsthand from a guest appearance with one of our enterprise end users.


Kristin Bainbridge: Okay. Hello, I'm Kristin Bainbridge, and I'm a Technical Sales Representative here at Inductive Automation. So welcome to today's session, "We Love Ignition, But Can It Really Scale?" And I will be your moderator today. So to start things off, I'd like to introduce our speakers. We have Stephanie Mikelbrencis who's a Business Unit Manager at Brock Solutions. So as part of their core leadership team, Steph brings 25 years of experience helping customers along their Digital Transformations. Today, you'll hear the lessons she's learned from manufacturers along the way and how their grit and innovation have translated digital solutions into bottom-line business value. We also have Stephen Halligan, a Facilities Tech Systems and Operations Manager at United Airlines, a dedicated veteran of 16 years of United Airlines. Stephen has traversed diverse realms of airline operations, and in the last six years, his unwavering focus has converged on pioneering innovation, intricate design, and steadfast engineering backing for state-of-the-art baggage handling systems. Please help me welcome Stephanie and Stephen.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Thank you very much, and thanks for inviting us to actually speak on this topic and we're looking forward to it. It was a really good keynote and to hear some of the themes that came out about scaling enterprise deployments, how exciting using Ignition across a whole enterprise is for a lot of people in the room here today. So thank you for that. We are gonna, just in terms of, I guess, logistics, the presentation will probably be about 20 minutes or so, and then we'll open it up to questions that you might have, I imagine for United Airlines and the journey that they've been on. And we're looking forward to it. So again, thanks everybody for including us and inviting us, and thanks for letting us tell this story. Probably we'd be remiss not to talk about the companies that we're representing, so bear with us a bit.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: We'll tell you about who we are and where we come from. Again, my name is Steph, part of the leadership team at a company called Brock Solutions. For those that might not be familiar with Brock, we're about 850 engineering professionals that live right smack dab in the middle of the IoT and OT layers. So just like the presentation I saw there with the Venn diagram during the keynote, that is what Brock does. We help companies that are going on a Digital Transformation that need a mix of IT systems, software systems, and automation systems. And we think we're probably one of the largest kind of independent integrators that have this focus on this space. I think something that makes us a little bit unique and why we're talking about this topic today on the enterprise is that's really who we're focused on.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: So we as a company focus on large manufacturers, aviation customers, folks that have multiple sites and are trying to figure out how to go digital, but across their operations. So not just necessarily in one site, in one area, but how do you really do that Digital Transformation, make it impactful across your whole business? So that's what we focus on, and we do it globally, you're gonna hear the story today from United Airlines about how we've deployed, in partnership with United, a digital solution across North America. We do that as well across different sites in the globe too. So just to give you a little bit of context about who Brock Solutions is. Over to you.

Stephen Halligan: Yeah, thank you Steph. So first of all, I'm an end user of Ignition, so I'm not a public speaker. Y'all will figure that out very quickly. And I'm from Texas, so I will be using "y'all" a lot. So good morning everybody. So my name's Stephen Halligan, and I'm a manager with United Airlines Facility Maintenance. I'm gonna make a bold assumption that most of you have heard of United Airlines in one way, shape, or form, but overall we're a global airline. We have one of the most comprehensive route networks among all of the carriers. And a lot of that is thanks to our hubs. So we've got seven hubs in the United States. Here on the west coast, we've got Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Stephen Halligan: We've got Denver, Houston, and Chicago in the central and Midwest. And then we've got Dallas and Newark out on the East Coast. So with United, one of our key mottos is connecting people and uniting the world. My role within that is as we're connecting people, as we're uniting the world, I make sure their luggage goes with them and is there when they're there. So my role specifically is as a Technical Systems and Operations Manager. So I'm part of a team who's responsible for the design, engineering, maintenance, support, and operational support of our hub facilities. A big part of that is the baggage handling systems. So today Steph and I are gonna be taking you along on our journey of bringing the agility and scalability of the Ignition package into our baggage handling system.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Okay. So really the theme of the presentation is this concept that Ignition in the enterprise is having a moment. And what we mean by that is, like if I think back, and a lot of this was reflected in the keynote in the early days of Ignition, where we would see it as kind of an engineering service provider. Didn't matter if it was in a baggage handling system, a manufacturing plant, a water and wastewater treatment center, consumer products, we would see Ignition in a very... I guess... We would see Ignition in a very, almost like a surgical deployment. There was a problem on the plant floor that needed to be solved, didn't want to use some legacy technology. This Ignition thing looked pretty cool. The folks on the plant floor could implement it themselves. It was cheap and it just worked, right?

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: And so we saw that across our customer base and in these little pockets, and we saw the kind of grassroots momentum of those solutions grow, and all of a sudden they were in different parts of the plant. And then lo and behold, they were in two plants and three plants. And we started to get the question of, "Hey, Brock, you're helping us with all these different things. What the heck is Ignition?" So I definitely can relate to the presentation this morning where we had to kind of communicate what the software was and what it did. But now the question is more like, "We love Ignition, how do we scale? So how do we actually scale it across multiple sites?" And these are giant companies just like United Airlines. So that's really what we're gonna talk about today, is just some trends we're seeing there, some practical realities of a rollout of really any piece of software across an enterprise.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: And we did it in a little bit of a different way. So you... We took some artistic liberties with this presentation. We're not good at demos, so I know Travis and the team will do a demo like at the drop of the hat, and it just seems to work every time. We're not up for that. That scares us. And we didn't wanna do a PowerPoint with a whole bunch of texts and bullets and all that. So what you're gonna see here is a little different, just like Ignition in the enterprise is having a moment, superheroes are having a moment. So our presentation kind of reflects the superhero genre, and you're gonna see a little bit of that. So go easy on us. This is a little bit of a different presentation, so.

Stephen Halligan: Yeah. Thank you Steph. So currently today our baggage handling systems are delivering real-time information seamlessly to our team. It's empowering our maintenance personnel with timely solutions for all the daily challenges we see in the baggage handling system. And we didn't break the bank to do that. So there's currently a piece, if you will, in our baggage handling systems across all of our hubs across the United States. But it wasn't always that way. So we're gonna take a journey back into the 2010s, but before we dive too much deeper into this, it's essential to understand the basic functionality of a baggage handling system. To put it simply, a baggage handling system is responsible for accurately and timely transporting luggage from the check-in counter through our system, out to the aircraft, and inevitably into the cargo hold of the aircraft. So if you will, it's like a seamless thread that connects all those points of the journey after you check your bag in, making sure it gets on the aircraft, and then inevitably to baggage claim when you reach your destination.

Stephen Halligan: As we journeyed through the 2010s we were serving hubs across North America, we began to see reoccurring challenges in all of our hubs. These challenges echoed across all of our airports, and it revealed similar themes that demanded our attention. So every opportunity we were finding in our baggage systems revolved around the same goal. And that goal was the seamless and timely transfer of luggage from point A to point B to make sure it made to the destination with the customer, thereby ensuring our customer's satisfaction and a good vacation. So in our previous system, although it was resilient, it was beginning to show its age and its rigidity. And we started to look for a more modern approach of baggage system monitoring. In essence, our legacy system, whenever an alarm was triggered, it established a real-time alarm to a central control room. That central controller would then call via radio or via phone to the maintenance staff in the field. They would show up, they'd look at what the issue is, and they would remedy it.

Stephen Halligan: Unfortunately there was a gap there, time gap there that could cause delays that were undue. Because we were relying on that technology of a radio or of a phone to get to that, we had the potential to see delays that could impact that bag's journey. So we started to dig into our technology landscape. We realized that our current system required enhancements to increase that responsiveness, to give the real-time tools to our techs in the field, not relying as much on the radio and the phone communications. And we aimed to achieve this by leveraging the innovations we were seeing in the HMI and the SCADA space in adjacent industries and even in our industry as well. And leveraging that we were looking to increase our agility and get to those issues faster and respond faster. So in summary, to sum it kinda all up, in this period, alarms were exclusive. Alarms and systems monitoring, excuse me, were exclusive to the central control room.

Stephen Halligan: Because of that, we relied on the radios and operators to radio that out to the field, and that could cause delays. We knew that we needed to increase our response time and overall that would boost our customer satisfaction and our performance. So our adversaries in this narrative were obsolescence. So our tech stack, it had limited scalability, it had a deficiency in the essential updates, and it had an absence of the cutting-edge features we were looking for in our HMI system. Moreover, it lacked standardization across all our hubs. So as you looked at our hubs across the network, we had the system out there where we had various versions. Some hubs would run version one, some were on five, 10, whatever it may be. So there was no standardization how we updated that. The benefits we did see in one hub might not necessarily have transitioned to another one. Our second villain was Lo-Viz. There he is. Lo-Viz.

Stephen Halligan: So we had that communication gap between the operators and our technicians in the field. And that was dependent on the radio communication and the alarms coming into a central location. We required bridging that gap and we needed to enhance our visibility for our team. We needed to give them what they needed, when they needed real time in order to efficiently run the systems. And then our third antagonist was Mr. Expensive. So he emerged when we were exploring upgrading that legacy system. The sheer cost of accommodating the desired number of users we wanted, it was astronomical and it definitely made him the most formidable foe in our journey as we were going along it. So kind of summing up our villains here, we had a legacy system that lacked that standardization we needed. Each hub had the potential to be different and was. We had an inability to get that information real time into the hands of our maintenance staff.

Stephen Halligan: The guys out in the field who actually needed it. We had cost concerns, so we couldn't cost-effectively scale what we had. That legacy technology was an exorbitant amount. And then we needed help. This wasn't something we were gonna be able to tackle on our own, and we needed to engage other people to help us find the solutions for these problems we were having. So we aimed to transition from that conventional approach of baggage monitoring systems into a more contemporary and efficient implementation. At the time, we were already collaborating on some innovative initiatives with Brock Solutions in our baggage handling systems, and we recognized that they had the expertise and we decided to engage them in that conversation to gain their perspective on not only our problems, but potential solutions for it. Excuse me. We started to collaborate and started looking at Ignition as that potential fit.

Stephen Halligan: But we needed assurances that it could seamlessly interface with our existing systems, that we were bringing all of the existing architecture and abilities and enhancements with the old system, but also accommodate all that new technology we're seeing, all those new enhancements while also keeping the local flare for each station. So each station had little nuances that were unique to the station, but were required to operate it just because of age of systems. So we engaged Brock in this part of the journey and they provide us with Perspective, if you will, in more ways than one. So they understood, they had a deep expertise in Ignition and Perspective platforms, and they were able to combine that with their deep knowledge of our systems. We had engaged with them and worked with them for many years at that point. So they knew those nuances of our systems. They knew what we needed to do to roll out, and they understood and had experience scaling the solution.

Stephen Halligan: So this was especially important with us, looking at our seven hubs. We were looking at over 30 miles of conveyor, tens of thousands of end-user devices, millions of tags that all had to be engaged with this new platform. And they came to the table with testing in the simulation strategy that was key for implementing the solutions in the mission-critical area. So the big thing is with the exception of two hubs, all of these were live updates. So we had an operational integrity to protect and Brock bringing those testing solutions and that... Emulations, the things that we saw gave us the confidence to be able to do this in live operations without impacting the customers more so, and then also our operational integrity as a whole. And then finally they helped us standardize while being nimble enough to accommodate those local flares. They understood that each station was slightly different and they knew that they had to accommodate that, it wasn't just a turnkey one package for everybody.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: And maybe I'll just spend a minute on that last point of standardizing, but still paying attention to the local requirements of a site. And I think that's probably many of you in this room that are integrators or end users, if you're going on this standardization journey across an enterprise, this is kind of a common conundrum. How do you build an application and a system that could scale and so that you're not customizing it every time along the way, but how do you make sure that it actually gives the people on the plant floor, in this case, the bag room, what they need to make their day-to-day life better. So for us, the methodology we use for deploying these types of solutions, especially across an enterprise, is an agile one.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: So I'm sure many of you are familiar with the primary tenets of Agile deployments. But I think something that is really important, especially at United, but across our customer base, we use a workshop approach. So it's really about getting the right people in the room. And that's a cross-section on people. In the United case, it was people from maintenance, operations, engineering, IT, leadership. Folks who really explain what they need and how they need it, and then give our people the tools to make sure that when they do the system design and the deployment, the actual end users are gonna recognize that their needs have been baked into the solution. And doing that without compromising the goal of standardization is something that I think folks that have been there and done that can kind of bring to the table if you're going down this journey.

Stephen Halligan: Yeah. Thank you.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Keep going.

Stephen Halligan: So now we get to talk about the exciting stuff, the rollout. So our journey went something like this. The initial rollout for Ignition was late 2019, early 2020 in Denver International Airport. So Denver was a ground-up brand new system. Anybody who has knowledge of Denver International Airport's history with baggage systems knows it's very storied.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: And it wasn't us that screwed it.

Stephen Halligan: No, it was not. It was not Brock. This was well before my time as well. There's an engineering disaster, I don't know if you wanna Google it. But anyway, so we had a lot to live up to with that, and there was a lot of expectation to make sure that the system ran well. So we were able to leverage our previous system experience, and best practices and take that to the board, and then to Steph's point, the key was those stakeholder meetings, those round tables. So getting with the end users of this system, we were able to attain, tell them what they're getting. So they knew what to expect. We knew what they needed and then we knew what they wanted and we were able to develop it with them, so they were a part of that journey. So when we initially rolled out Ignition, they were a part of it. They said, "Hey, this is something I did as well," which helped with the sell. Then a little bit later in 2020, so we had the rollout of Ignition into Houston. So Houston was the first rollout of Ignition into a system where we previously had an HMI, a legacy system.

Stephen Halligan: The advantages to that, we were able to take all of the lessons learned from Denver, all of the feedback from Denver and take it for a successful rollout, but one of the other big things we had going for us is we had dual HMIs up. We had the legacy sitting there and we had the Ignition right next to it. The benefits that gave us is the users were able to see real time the benefits and the power of Ignition compared to what we were using prior. They were able to sit there, see how much better it was. We were still engaging with the round table, so they were part of it. And then on the other side of that, some of the things we missed from that local flare aspect, they were able to sit there and go, "Hey, I had this on this HMI, I don't have it here." And we were able to real-time adjust it, make sure it had the usability and details that they needed. So also in 2020 came the Perspective app rollout in Denver and Houston.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Sorry. I went too far.

Stephen Halligan: It's quite alright. We got there eventually. No. So 2020 Perspective app rollout in Denver and Houston. This is when the full realization of the power of Ignition was shown. Our teams now had the entire HMI functionality in the palm of their hand on their mobile devices. Previously we were restricted to certain rooms or certain computers, they would have to go to that radio communication. Now, out in the field, they had the full HMI in front of them, full reactive to this, and it gave them that agility we were looking for, cutting down on the response time and radio delays that we were seeing and what was initially set off a lot of this conversation. So from here, a rollout really took flight. From our first Ignition system in February of 2020, within three years, by 2023, we had fully rolled out Ignition and the Perspective app to all seven of our hubs.

Stephen Halligan: So I began this by saying one of our key opportunities was increasing our agility and responsiveness to system issues and problems, our daily challenges in there, and leveraging the innovations in our SCADA and HMI space. Our ability to roll this out from first to last within three years speaks volumes to that, it speaks to the work we did with Brock and with Ignition themselves on being able to scale it up that fast and that quickly. It was record time and it was phenomenal. Kinda summing it up, they're not just, these dates aren't just markers in a calendar or something that happened in the past. They're a symbol of the dedication to that progress, innovation, and the pursuit of excellence that we were looking for and to drive that customer satisfaction.

Stephen Halligan: Each milestone brought us closer to achieving that efficiency, the reliability, and the customer satisfaction. Each one of these milestones means more customers, all of them got their bags with them on vacation. They had their swimsuits in the Bahamas, which is the end-all goal, right? And it was across the operation, across all of United Airlines, all seven of our hubs. The journey wasn't without its challenges, but it was through that determination, the strategic choices that were systematically made and addressed along the path that we transformed our baggage handling systems and witnessed that success with it. Yeah, so what we learned, successes. Agility with rollout. I'm gonna hit on this again. Agility was the big thing we were looking for.

Stephen Halligan: When I personally came into it, that's what I wanted, to give the techs in the field, what they needed, and being able to successfully roll it out, Ignition and Perspective to all of our hubs within three years of first implementation is huge for that, and it speaks volumes to accomplishing that goal. Standardization. So again, we went from a different system, each system had a different version of an HMI that was somewhat similar, but there was no standardized updates. So now we can update all of our systems together regardless of age. The other good thing about that is because we're standardized, I can pick up one of my operators in Newark, drop them in Los Angeles with no knowledge of that bag system, and because of the consistencies within Ignition, they can react and respond to that system the same they would in Newark with no prior knowledge of how the system is designed, which is huge from a standardization aspect.

Stephen Halligan: And then future. So Ignition is future-friendly. We're continuing to innovate, the bag systems are continuing to grow, there's a lot of technology adjacent that is gonna eventually find a stand and we wanna be driving that. And we know Ignition can follow that with us, and we've already seen it to a certain extent. I've been part of meetings where we're looking at an HMI, talking about improvements we wanna make, by the end of the meeting, they already have it done and ready to push out for testing going, you know, "Is this what you want? Is this how it is?" So the speed at which we can react and innovate is huge. And we know that Ignition can adapt to our future needs as we move forward as bag system, as a company and continue to pursue our global excellence. Thank you.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Thank you.

Kristin Bainbridge: Alright, thank you both for this presentation. I wanna open it up for a Q&A session here. We do have microphones that we would love for you to come down and use, but we can also also run that up to you if you're feeling a little bit more shy. But to start things off, I had a question for you about what kind of advice you might give somebody that's just starting to integrate Ignition into a large enterprise?

Stephen Halligan: Do it. No. So it's an excellent question. So I think if you were looking to scale this into a full enterprise, obviously the way we went about it was integrating it in live systems, we weren't able to build it ground up and then open everything up. It was as it went. So engaging with a good integrator that takes those testing and shows it off and shows what it's capable of and how that transition is gonna go would be huge, 'cause they'll give you the confidence to do it in production rather than having to wait until something fails.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Yeah, I would echo that. I think the other thing that we see as an outsider, and we have this experience across different industries, is if you don't engage the end users in some shape or form along the journey and you just say, "Hey guys, we decided what was best for you, and here it is, and we're doing a standard rollout," something like an ERP system, for instance. That will not fly on the plant floor. And table stakes that it has to be designed right, and you have to test it and it's gonna work in a mission-critical environment, but at the same time, if people don't want to adopt it, it's a real disaster.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: So I think it's a combination of the technical wherewithal and the processes and the methodologies, but the people are probably, in our experience, the most important. Getting them engaged in a meaningful way. And not wish-list engaged like, "Oh, here's my Christmas list of everything I want." You have to manage and facilitate the process. And you can lean on a partner to help you do that and be the bad cop that can explain what they're gonna get, but I think it's technology process, but people too.

Stephen Halligan: Gotcha, yeah, so that was one of the challenges. Every station is different. So we've got stations that are legacy, we're still running from 90s infrastructure to systems like Denver and Houston, which are just coming up with the newest technology. So it's gonna vary by each station. I can speak to Houston confidently, 'cause that's where I'm at. So we're using SEW drives with Allen-Bradley processors. And then end users, we've got photo eyes, encoders, motors, all the fun stuff out there. ATRs and diverters as you said. But each station can be different. We still have some running clutch brakes and Baldors out there and some running the brand new stuff. Yeah, I saw your face.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: I think that's another observation for enterprise deployments. Every plant that we go into, or baggage-handling area, we see one of everything. So especially at the automation layer, which I'm sure all of you can relate to. Everybody has different vintages, different technologies. They can't just rip and replace everything, especially think of an airport that's running 24/7 and it only has a specific amount of downtime to implement a new system, why we really believe simulation and testing is important to this type of deployment. So, yeah, I think the realities of an enterprise rollout are that everything is different under the hood.

Kristin Bainbridge: Yeah, let's get a mic. I know some people are better at projecting, but we just wanna make sure everybody can hear in the recording as well. It helps if it's...

Audience Member 1: Hello. Is the Ignition just dealing with the control system itself, does it track each piece of baggage that goes through the systems? And then is there any interface to other systems as the baggage... We're talking about the hubs. I'm just curious if you could speak to maybe the volume and the type of information and the level of information in the system.

Stephen Halligan: Yeah, so Ignition is looking at the controls and operations. So all the volume and information is coming through with our integrator, with Brock Solutions. And then some of them that comes to Ignition. Bag volumes, time and system, stuff like that we can pull through the United... I'm sorry. The Ignition app. So, yeah. It just kind of sits on top, all the information comes from Brock. And I know there's a much more technical way of saying that, unfortunately I'm not the great one, but I could put you to the right person to say it.

Audience Member 2: Hi, could you speak about getting started with mobile device rollout on an enterprise scale, like a mobile device management hardware?

Stephen Halligan: Yeah. So we were actually... I was very fortunate in that, as there was already a project in flight for our technicians to get mobile devices. We were actually using iPads, we were using iOS, and it was for their PM logging and how we track all that. So our management system for asset management system. So they had rolled that out right about the same time that we started talking Perspective and started testing it in Denver. So we did test on multiple devices, we found that the iPad was definitely the most versed. I've had it on my phone before though, my iPhone. So it could go with anything. So we were very fortunate that that was already in flight and the management type was already set where the users were getting the devices before Perspective was ready. So from my aspect, that was a huge advantage where I didn't have to manage the devices or figure out how we're gonna roll that out. It was already in flight, and I can just say, "Hey, add this app. They're gonna love it."

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: In our experience, and if you think of the United Airline's application, it's less about high-level data analytics, they actually have a bunch of different systems that do that kind of KPI reporting and things like that, and it's more... And maybe to the other gentleman's question, it's more sitting on the automation layer and actually doing the mission-critical operation that the system does. It does feed up dashboards and things like that, so people who can have real-time information from an enterprise layer, but also from the actual hub layer that they can assess and look at the data. So I think in other applications, that's really the question that everybody asks. "Can we leverage?"

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Let's say we have an MES system that does track and trace and does some of our analytics, or we use Tableau for our data mining. And at the automation layer we have this mishmash of all these different systems. So we need some help integrating it all together. For us, the technology that's serving those different systems can be what it is, and our role is to architect it in a way where the end user doesn't really care what's under the hood. They're just getting something that's upgradeable that they can look at that has the right information at the right time. We could certainly share examples, and there's a bunch of Brock people here and United people here that would love to break out their laptops and show you number drawings. So if that's something that you're interested in, we can go through and look at some sanitized versions of that.

Audience Member 3: Yeah. Hi, I was just wondering, what sort of tools did you use for the I/O simulation where you're getting from legacy systems to newer systems with a lot of variety in the field?

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: So I missed the first part. Were you asking what tools we used for I/O simulation?

Audience Member 3: Yes.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Okay. So just a bit of a history of Brock. So our roots are in really heavy industry, things like steel were... Of a blast furnace, and you can't take a blast furnace down because it takes six months to get it back up. So back in the day when we were automating those types of processes, we actually needed to build an I/O simulator to test the I/O from the actual PLC to make sure it was behaving in the way we expected, so that when we went to commission on-site, it worked as expected and the commissioning time was short. So our strategy at Brock has always been to rely on simulation. We built the simulator, so we built something that was called Pics, but now at Brock over the 25 years that I've been there, there have been other simulation tools that come out of different industries that we continue to leverage.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: So there's tools that are specific for conveyors, which we use but that have the I/O part of the simulation. It's not just process simulation, it's actually exercising the I/O to make sure it works. So we actually built one in Ignition as well. So we have an I/O simulator in Ignition that we use in certain applications. So it's kind of a one-stop shop and has all the kind of I/O libraries that you would expect in a simulation package. So that's core to Brock's... Any time we do a project, we are going to simulate it and we're gonna use that, actually connect to the PLCs, connects to the HMIs and then all the other systems to make sure the data flow is working effectively. But that is part of our lifeblood of Brock, is we're gonna test that thing before we ever show up on site. Did that answer your question?

Audience Member 3: Yes. Yes, thank you.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Thank you.

Kristin Bainbridge: Got one right over here.

Audience Member 4: So to piggyback off of Roger's question a little bit, without asking for topology, you said that Ignition was a key part of upgrading your tech stack, what else did you improve in your overall tech stack to facilitate this enterprise deployment?

Stephen Halligan: That's a good question. So within it, a lot of the end-user devices. So I said before with our previous iteration, it was dedicated to a single workstation or a licensed workstation, and in the central control room. So with Ignition coming out, we improved a lot on the amount of devices, so not just the iPads, but we actually put in the computers and end-user devices at strategic areas around the field, and because we didn't have to pay license by license and customize each one, we were able to set them up as a standard profile. So now when a user is out there and they might need to actually have a keyboard, if it's something they can't do from their iPad or it's a little bit more efficient to do with multiple screens, we can roll that out and while they're doing that, still have full visibility into the system. So that was a big one we did, and that we've been bringing up newer control rooms. So a little bit better monitoring systems, more screens on the wall for real-time visibility as people are walking past, like myself, who's not out there in the field, not with an iPad, I could get an instant instantaneous view of the system.

Kristin Bainbridge: Got someone?

Audience Member 5: So, for applying the local flare, do you have a unique view for each individual one or do you apply a configuration to a standardized view?

Stephen Halligan: No, so for the local flares, it's rarely view specifics, more operational integrity and things that the system is gonna react to. So from a visibility standpoint, they're all pretty standardized on how the user interface is. So the click and the zoom out, we're very big on the right click to zoom out, stuff like that, and then the user flare is based on how the system runs and the different things they're gonna be looking. One of the ones... So Newark airport is a good example though, is all the other background screens are grey, their legacy system was a blue background and they really wanted it to stay blue, so we were able to integrate that into it, and it's just a blue background instead of the grey. So when we say the user flare and stuff like that, we're talking about that and then from a control standpoint, not to get too technical, but how our diverters work when they work the automation that's behind that on divert percentages. So each station has little nuances in how they prefer that to happen.

Mic Runner: I have another one over here real quick.

Audience Member 6: I have a question regarding technical support at the different hubs. So without knowing what the technical support looks like for the seven different hubs at United, maybe it's more for Steph in Brock, if you standardize, how do you maintain that standardization when an engineer in plant X is maybe innovating or trying to get something to work better, but still staying within those guide rails, if you will?

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Yeah, that's a really good question. So I maybe I'll answer that one. Okay. And I'm just cognizant of the time here. We have about five more minutes. So because of our strategy focused on big enterprises, part of our job is to become kind of embedded with our customers. So we don't have a thousand customers, we have 50 that we can serve and that we wanna grow with forever and ever. That's really our approach, our strategy. So what we've had to evolve our business into is not just delivering a project and then going, but actually offering, we call it high-tech operations. It's a service independent of projects. So we got projects. We're rolling things out. There's a whole other arm of our company that delivers these high-tech operations or think of them like support and enhancements. They all kinda roll up into a program manager. So someone that wakes up for United Airlines, salutes the flag and says, "I am going to do what I can to make United Airlines business better."

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: And that doesn't... That means the projects all have to go well, but it also means we have a methodology and a structure and an infrastructure for supporting changes and enhancements. So we use a whole bunch of different tools. We use Affinity, I'm not sure if folks know that tool from Microsoft. That's how we manage our service support enhancements. We use Jira. We use all sorts of different tracking tools to make sure that we're recording changes, requests, they go into certain releases, so it's really quite an advanced service offering that we've evolved into. In the early days, we would do a project, we would high-five and then a guy would carry a pager and if things went bump in the night, they call him and he'd fix it. Well, those days have been over for a long time, as the solutions get rolled out across multiple sites, you need to have the processes and the people that like to do that too, to kind of support those changes, so you don't just get a bunch of custom stuff that's untenable in terms of supporting and paying for it.

Stephen Halligan: And I could tell you from United standpoint, the team I'm part of, we consider ourselves the enterprise BHS team. So anything that's coming into the site for facilities we're involved in to make sure that's sustainable. But one of the big things, especially with the HMIs is we work that change management. So we make sure that it's standardized across, that all of them have the same functionality on the baseline, minus station-specific nuances. And then if it is a big change for the system, we're the ones that are there to explain to them what it is, how it works, and kind of prevent those calls to the next levels up.

Audience Member 7: Hi. You mentioned that there's seven or eight sites, but our luggage goes everywhere in the US across the world, so did you have to interface with other systems from other airline companies or anything like that?

Stephen Halligan: No, not at this time. It's that simple. So the way it works, because it's the hubs, especially like a Houston, it's a strong hold for us. We're really the biggest airline in Houston, you've got some smaller ones, but we already have that communication with our Star Alliance partners. So like a Lufthansa or an Air Canada. So we were already transmitting the messaging and Brock was able to take that and gather it in to make sure it went in implementation. But me personally, no, not really.

Kristin Bainbridge: We probably have time... We've got two minutes left, so probably time for, depending on how detailed, one more question.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: And we're... Everyone's around from Brock and United for a couple days. So, just try to find us if you have a question.

Audience Member 8: You keep mentioning that we upgrade multiple sites when you have a change, how do you handle that, do you usually roll it out at one site and then continue? What's your strategy for that?

Stephen Halligan: So for any rollout, bigger rollouts, it's a lot of testing in a non-production environment to validate it. And then when we do roll it out, we validate that we roll it out on a day where there's the lesser amount of impact. So flight schedules fluctuate throughout the entire week. So we get with our airport operations partners who are actually the one handling the bags and loading the planes. They know that the change is coming, and then we have a push out, usually we'll do it late in the production day 'cause we wanna see bags through the system. So we don't do it during our maintenance window. We'll do it when it's a little bit lighter of a schedule. And if there is any negative impact, we know that evening and could either roll back or adjust to it instead of waiting for the next morning when it's a little bit more impactful to have bags take delays or flights.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Alright. Thank you.

Kristin Bainbridge: One last question.

Audience Member 9: Any quick highlights with an architectural layout, let's say edge devices from on-prem gateways to cloud?

Stephen Halligan: Not for me.

Stephanie Mikelbrencis: Yeah.

Stephen Halligan: It would be another one I'd have to get you with somebody that knows a lot more than me, which is just about all you all.

Kristin Bainbridge: Alright, well, thank you both so much. Join me in thanking Steph and Stephen. Thank you all

Posted on November 20, 2023