Ignition Community Live with Brock Solutions
Take the Plunge! Ignition as a Water SCADA33 min video / 27 minute read
At Brock Solutions, we are seeing a trend of water authorities looking to replace obsolete, legacy technology that is vulnerable to intrusion and system disruption. These authorities are also looking for ways to leverage industry 4.0 technologies to better service their customers. In this webinar, we are going to discuss what we are seeing in the industry and how we are working with partners like Inductive Automation to help our Water and Wastewater customers implement modern, sustainable, and highly reliable SCADA systems.
Alexander: First, I'll just quickly introduce myself. My name's Alexander Beverly, I'm a Business Developer at Brock Solutions, and today we're gonna chat a little bit about Ignition as a water SCADA. So today's presentation, “Take the Plunge,” on a couple different things. 'Cause initially we started this conversation as, how are we using Ignition as a water SCADA? And we very quickly realized, well, we're actually doing quite a bit more than SCADA and water, and then particularly with Ignition, so what we figure is maybe we'll take you out of the Ignition world for a bit and we'll pull you into the Brock Solutions world. So again, I'll be your host today, and I'm also gonna be joined by, actually, Brent had to step out of this meeting for another. I'll have Gabriel Lee joining me as a technical lead and an Ignition specialist here at Brock Solutions. So if anyone has any tough stump-the-sales-guy type questions in the Q&A, we've got Gabe here to certainly give you a nice technical answer.
So some of the topics we're gonna touch today is I'll introduce you to Brock Solutions, let you know who we are and what we do, and from there we'll migrate a bit and we'll talk about what our perspective is on the water and wastewater industry and how some of our customers are approaching modernization and digitization and really what successes they're seeing, particularly with the use of Ignition. Talk a bit more broadly about why Ignition is attractive to the water and wastewater industry, and we'll leave you with a couple takeaways for water authorities and anyone else who's looking to kick off that journey or that digital upgrade journey. So just to start off, Brock Solutions has been in the automation and IT industry for over 30 years, and to our knowledge, we're the biggest independent global integrator in the digital real-time space. And over the years, we've established offices all across North America, and we've expanded into Europe, and now you can even find us in Australia. So we have a little bit over 600 employees, mostly located in Kitchener, Ontario and Dallas, Texas, which also happens to be where we operate two panel shops, and in total we've got about 60,000 square feet of fabrication space between the two.
But to take more of a macro lens, and when I reflect on our company, I think the most defining characteristic and what really separates us from others in the system integration world, it's the fact that we're both SCADA and software. So we're experts in marrying the IT side and the OT side. Now, it's not unlike the team at Inductive Automation is doing with Ignition, so no surprise we came to find each other. But Brock is very much a relationship-focused organization. We're not a one-and-done-type shop; we like to get to know our customers, deliver an exceptional solution, and we continue to provide value through ongoing sustainment offerings, which could include operation and maintenance, continuous improvement, all that good stuff. But their goal to support our customers and making sure they're meeting their business goals and we're providing them that real-time technological foundation for which they can build off. We've been working with Inductive Automation for several years now, and we've achieved the top level of partner, so your Premier Integrator. But additionally, we're also the inaugural Enterprise integrative partner, and this is a program that we were essential in defining and creating and building alongside the team over at Inductive Automation.
So we've got lots of experience with Inductive Automation, lots of experience with the Ignition platform, and we're certainly excited to share that with you today. So we'll just quickly jump over and we'll talk a bit about, on more of a broad scale, what we're seeing and hearing in the market. And we're in the fortunate position where we get to speak to a lot of participants in the industry, in the water and wastewater industry. So it's a mixture of end user, so your municipalities or water authorities, equipment vendors, mechanical and process engineering firms, of course, general contractors. So we get all these unique viewpoints and opinions, and we've distilled them down into some of the questions you will see in front of you. So starting from the top left, we often hear that our systems are obsolete. As we tend to ask a couple of questions and we dig a little bit, we also find out that that client hasn't invested in those systems in 15 years and now they're paying the price. So this tends to be, this is that operational catalyst for us and that is really what drives that end user to connect with us and start to take the steps to amending the obsolescence issue.
Now, of course, obsolescence has all kinds of issues associated with it, like maintainability, reliability, and that's typically associated with lack of parts available or lack of support ... Poor cyber security's a really big piece of that too. Older systems are just easier to exploit. So it's vitally important to keep this in mind when you're considering next steps for your automation system. Another common pain point we get is, "We need more modern functionality and we want some fresh ideas." So many of the systems that we've uplifted and are currently uplifting are, some of them are pushing 30 years old. And as you know, a lot has changed over the past three decades. And in fact, a lot's changed over the last five years. These systems can no longer be static. There has to be some kind of continuous improvement program in place, and this will take numerous forms. It's all, it's a very customer-specific offering, very customer-specific need, and there's no one-size-fits-all. Maintenance, of course, is another area where many municipalities seek to become less reactionary and more proactive, and we're working with numerous partners in space, Inductive Automation included, just to find ways to help municipalities and water authorities get more to that proactive side.
Real-time connectivity and visibility shows up on customer wish lists quite frequently. When it comes to providing value to our customers, this tends to be an area where we cannot only show value to the customer, but they can immediately reap the benefits. And really, I think this tends to be, like I mentioned, is really high on customer wish lists. It was surprising to us when we came into the ... As we've been in this industry, and it's something that not everybody has, and it's for a system, a central service and central utility like a water system, it was very surprising, and it continues to be surprising that we don't see this more often.
Water and wastewater processes, they generate lots of information, much of which is being captured and stored in the form of data, but from there, it's often forgotten about or, in some cases, underused. So, we've really identified this as a major problem area right across the industry, and we're working to help our customers better utilize that data they already have, or in some cases, better collect information and data from their plant floor and help them solve some of their operational challenges. And of course, Ignition's been a fantastic tool in helping us work with our customers to design, develop and deliver these solutions right inside the Ignition platform.
So lastly, with virtually every customer we speak with, the topic of, ‘Are we cyber secure?’ inevitably arises. So for some, this is a critical factor driving modernization. For others, it's maybe found a place in the back of their mind, but either way it's an unavoidable question municipalities have to ask themselves when they're reviewing their critical infrastructure. But to summarize all this, in our opinion, it all rolls up to this need and rightful need for safe, secure and reliable water systems, and whenever we approach an engagement or whenever we're working with a customer, this is that underlying theme that we always keep in mind.
So with all those questions in mind, we'll shift a bit to how we're actually approaching and how we're helping solve some of these problems in the water and wastewater industry. First, we're really helping customers leverage their data and produce better reports and generate more effective analytics that helps them make more informed decisions. So just some examples of this recently, we helped a customer using Ignition to solve a problem like a historical and real-time cost of water. For them, this was a big transformational problem, big transformational question they were trying to get a resolution to, and we were able to work out a solution in Ignition that was able to deliver that data to them.
Similarly, on the wastewater side, we've also provided a predictive capacity planning application, and again, it's a very transformational project that's gonna help our customer redefine operational best practices going forward. Also heavily involved, helping our customers develop and refine engineering standards. Now, this is an area where we have quite a bit of experience spanning multiple industries. But so far, we've got a couple of observations that I think have been true throughout our tenure in the industry is, first, a lot of municipalities just don't have engineering standards and we see that as a major issue for maintenance and support. And for those who do have standards, they're rarely holistic, they're often designed and developed in isolation.
We firmly believe your PLC, your HMI and your electrical standards should all be developed in harmony and they should all play and work together. So we think this, call it an oversight, limits the operational effectiveness of these water and wastewater systems. So we're really coming to market with a holistic standards package that's developed using best practices across water and wastewater and other critical industries.
Security is another highly complex topic, but for the purpose of this at a high level, we're really focused on delivering holistic cyber security solutions, so that's blending your information technology, your operational technology, and that physical security layer and getting them all communicating together, working together, again, on that holistic modern automation solution.
Compliance, of course, it's a heavily regulated industry so this is a major bucket, and it often crosses over with the analytics and reporting piece, but most of our focus is on automating that capture of information from the plant or from the floor, capture that into data and then present that data in a way that's easily consumable with minimal interaction required by the operator. So, the bottom line of this is, it's really how do we save you time in your reporting process?
And as I discussed a bit earlier, obsolescence tends to be that catalyst that initiates our conversations, but what we tend to find is we'll start the conversation around obsolescence and then we'll very quickly realize, perhaps, standardization's a big piece of the puzzle, or maybe cyber security, and we tend to start to pull from these other buckets and other areas, in our process of developing and helping the customer get that holistic final solution.
Now, smart utilities, this is a really fun, interesting topic, and it's totally pervasive right across our business, and with Ignition, what we've found is you can really go beyond SCADA and you can cross into that world of Internet of Things, IoT, and so that could be analytics, machine learning and all that fun stuff. But I'll talk about this a little bit more, 'cause this is a particularly important topic, so I'll circle back later in the presentation.
Lastly, O&M, of course, it's a big focus for this industry and for us personally and for our company. It's a big strategy piece, 'cause we're very focused again on those big long-term relationships, and frankly, a modern automation system, like I mentioned before, is dynamic, it needs to always have that, some degree of updating and maintenance.
Just to wrap this slide up, really, Ignition's touching and Ignition is helping us solve all these problems in all kinds of different unique ways. In the next two slides, I'll show you an example of how we're doing that in the wastewater industry, and I'll show you a water one as well.
So this particular customer, they operate two massive wastewater treatment plants with a combined capacity of 612 cubic meters. And I'll let our American friends handle the imperial conversion on that one, but over the years, this customer has collected all these disparate vendor-installed systems throughout the two plants. And so we were engaged to redesign the controls environment and start to consolidate the number of controllers out in the field, and of course make all of the associated documentation updates as well. But most importantly, this project involved bringing both facilities up to the clients' pre-existing engineering standards, so again, that very important piece of having those standards in place. There's also significant scope of work surrounding a physical security upgrade at the two plants, and a couple of other wastewater sites throughout their network. The goal of these upgrades is to bring the same level of standardization to the security system as to what's gonna be done in the automation system. So Ignition comes into play as the enterprise SCADA, of which the consolidation scope is gonna be integrated. And due to the pure size and complexity of the project, and along with the physical security piece as well, it was important for the customer to select a partner with experience deploying an enterprise version of Ignition.
So a really big value-add that we brought to the table is that intimate knowledge of both best practices in the automation space and in Ignition deployment, especially at that enterprise level. So jumping over to the water side, this is just a brief example of a water system we're currently uplifting, and this is a particularly interesting one for us. But we got started with the customer several months ago after they were looking for some help in solving some obsolescence issues across their environment. And they also, they had some cyber security concerns, so they had brought in a cyber security consultant who actually alerted them to some security gaps that were quite critical and needed to be addressed. So we were pulled in and asked to assist in redesigning the SCADA system and really focusing on that forward-looking perspective. So we began with a consultative master planning exercise. We evaluated the current landscape and identified some of the areas that needed attention. And as part of the master plan, our team went out and met with stakeholders right across the organization. So we had a great understanding of what that holistic future state meant to them. From there we started to compile a list of needs, wants, and we even incorporated a lot of their future strategic considerations that were five, six, seven, eight years down the pipeline.
So through that consultative master planning exercise, the customer, we delivered a go-forward plan and a roadmap of how to execute that plan, so they actually got a tangible "this is how you do it" output from the exercise, and now we're moving on to the next phase of that project where we're actually gonna do that uplift for them. So you can see some of the services we'll be providing here on the screen, but just mind you, keep in mind this is a full turnkey implementation, soup to nuts. This is just a small subset of some of the items in the entire scope. So the future state for this customer includes an Ignition SCADA system, an enterprise SCADA system, as well as numerous PLC, there's some drive upgrades and some sensing hardware as well. And we'll also be heavily involved in the ongoing support of the system and some continuous improvements as well. With continuous improvements, we'll look, it'll be both on the SCADA side, and a lot of that on the IoT side where we're starting to solve some of those unique problems facing the municipality.
And while I'm on this slide, I'll just quickly emphasize, if you're listening to this and you're thinking, how do I even get started with Ignition or how do I do this, we worked with this customer from basically that stage, from wasn't sure where to get started, wasn't sure where to go, and we walked with them right through the process of planning and eventually delivering a plan for a forward-looking SCADA strategy. So if you have questions like that, feel free to reach out to myself or anyone at Brock or, of course, Inductive Automation. They're well-suited to help with that question. So just to summarize what makes Brock different and how we're approaching this industry, over the years we've really noticed that water and wastewater is ... It's somewhat like a small town, so everybody knows each other, they know who's good at what, in some cases who's not so good at what, and it's really very relationship-based, and the status quo is very much ingrained in the industry. And now, that's not a fault, it's just the nature of the industry. But we're really looking to change that. So through all this experience, we've noticed that investments in technology and infrastructure haven't really gotten the same attention as some other municipal services.
But again, this is changing. We're seeing a lot of municipalities investing really big to replace these legacy systems and to leverage Industry 4.0 technologies. So with their size and our breadth of service offerings, we can stay involved from early stage consultation through to commissioning and of course ongoing with sustainment and maintenance. We're really focused on what's your big picture, where do you wanna go, and what do you need beyond the confines of SCADA, and we really focus on delivering that holistic turnkey solution. And of course, Ignition's been an excellent tool in bridging the IT and the OT or the SCADA/IoT gap, and it really lets us deploy a variety of unique solutions that are perfectly suited to our customers' needs. So going on that, our company really has a unique methodology that we've been developing over the last 3 years of working in critical industries, with particularly water and wastewater.
We have a unique project management approach that handles large, complex, multi-million-dollar projects very much with a value-first approach, and we realize that municipalities, they tend to be in, especially right now, in a tough financial position with typical revenue streams drying up, so we're very much dedicated to finding a way to drive value, reduce costs, and get in early on, help plan that out right from the ground floor. IO simulation also is a very essential part of our project management. We use it not only for testing, but to reduce risk during commissioning. And we've been using IO simulation for decades, it's a quarter of our company.
We actually … as we've done more and more work in the industry, we've found that it's ... in a lot of cases, it's totally foreign to a lot of our customers. And even now, we've started to advance that, we're starting to use Ignition for our simulation. So if you take a look on the screen, you can see a ... this is just a demo or a video of some of our guys doing some testing. And you'll see close to the end of the video, we've got all the PLCs set up in the racks as they would be out in the field, and our teams there with the customer walking through the ... All the various testing procedures. And you'll also see a nice quote from one of our customers, James ... He likened that ... Our testing environment to the real deal. And this is what we strive for in that process. So to wrap up, what we're ... Makes us different is we're just looking for fresh, modern, new ideas to bring to our clients and bring to the industries where we're active in. And frankly, Ignition was one of these, you know, we identified them years ago as a fantastic tool, and we saw the value proposition early on. And you know we've been working with them ever since. And now we're doing really big stuff with them in water and wastewater, and beyond.
So we'll switch gears a little bit over to the technology now, and why it matters, and why it's relevant in the water and wastewater industry. So right off of the bat, there are some clear benefits, in particular, the licensing model. You purchase Ignition by the server rather than by the seat, you benefit hugely from unlimited tags, clients, connections. And when you put that in the perspective of a municipality, especially one that likely has a lot of cookie-cutter sites, you know a pump site as a pump site, this generally expedites your deployment. So right from ground zero, you've got that ability and that freedom to scale to your needs without racking up big subscription fees. And we'll touch on the cost savings later on but they are significant, especially again, in the context of a municipality where there's a lot of people who may need to access that system.
The other big benefit is Ignition is an open platform, using open standards and technologies like SQL, Python, MQTT. It makes it simple to work with, and it's familiar for the next generation of engineers who are starting to enter the municipal space and have grown up, went to University and done all of this, and have worked on these technologies before. So combine that with Ignition's ability to connect to everything, this creates an invaluable pairing for the water and wastewater industries, where there's this vast array of technologies out in the field and many of which have limited or no ongoing support. And of course, mobile-ready. I figured this one is a no-brainer, it doesn't need too much explanation. But if you can have an operator who's remote, out in the field, driving around and have virtually the same level of data and control as somebody sitting in the head office, it's got the potential to save an immense amount of time and consequently a lot of money.
Now, smart water, so this is such a fun area for us, and really there's two, we have two perspectives on smart water, so you can call it, say, a micro perspective. And that would be, say, a water authority upgrading their SCADA system and starting to integrate various IoT technologies, you know, integrating advanced analytics, predictive trending, all that good stuff. But you could also look on the macro view, and that's when it'd be integration of city-wide systems. So a recent example of this I was given was a city that's trying to integrate their wastewater system with their traffic and their transit systems, so they can, they know where people are traveling in the city, and they can adjust the wastewater system accordingly to make sure it's not overrun. Lastly, using several communications mediums, it's extremely common in the industry. It's not uncommon for sites to be hardwired, some sites to be hardwired and other sites to be remote enough where it's a radio or a cellular. You know, and even in some cases, and we've seen a couple of times, it's even unreachable by electrical utilities, so you're relying on a solar-based system.
Being able to support all these mediums flawlessly is just vitally important, and we've had great success doing this with Ignition. Actually, and while I'm here, I'll just quickly, I'll throw in a comment just from a customer, we're in early stages with. It's a very large East Coast US city that's beginning to look at options to uplift their SCADA. And the city SCADA group, so they actually are boots-on-the-ground guys, they're totally on board with Ignition, they know the value proposition. They understand that the value of (it) ... And one of the lead engineers told me that what he really loves about the platform, is if somebody comes to him and asks for a new feature, he's gonna be able to create it. He knows there's one way or another, he's gonna be able to do it, with Ignition, but that's not so much the case with the current legacy system, which has been causing a couple of issues. So it's just a comment, it's been on my mind. I figure if there's anywhere to share it, this was probably it.
I'll just quickly run through these. These are just an example of a couple of screens that we've developed for one of our customers. What I wanna highlight is, there's lots of data being presented and updated all in real time, right across the water system. And here we have the ability to integrate maps and layer in data, and all this can be done in real time, and it's unhindered. Like, you're able to do the same thing on the mobile screens as well, which I'll show you in the next slide. And lastly, 3D graphics, I mean these just really modern, visually pleasing interfaces that operators are demanding now. Here's an example of some mobile support, it's very similar, you get everything in real time, right to your pocket or right to your tablet. And you have almost the same level of control you would from an actual centralized control system or ... Sorry, control site. So with that in mind, we'll shift gears one more time, and over to some of the numbers and really the business case and that value proposition, and why a lot of these municipalities are starting to make the switch to Ignition.
We'll actually look at a customer that we performed a large implementation for. And after we completed the project, we went back and did a benefits capture and we recorded some pretty interesting data points. So first, and I don't think this will be of any, for anyone on the line, who's familiar with Ignition already, this won't be any surprise to you. But generally when we introduce Ignition, the cost delta we record is somewhere around that 70% less than the old legacy system. And we've seen this across industries, water and wastewater is certainly no different. Second, this was an interesting finding, so when the customer was rolling out global or enterprise-wide template changes, it used to be a really labor-intensive process, but after switching over to Ignition, it was reduced to a matter of minutes. And it was done simply by clicking a button. So weeks to the minutes, it was an incredible change. Prior to implementing Ignition, the customer had a team of three engineers and they would go around, they'd spent a whole day making sure that their system came back up online, and was working correctly after maintenance.
And now we've shifted that, so they have a dashboard that displays a system-wide status in five minutes. So again, huge, huge, huge amount of time being saved. As we kept digging, we also found that the time expenditure to upgrade legacy technology, it used to take weeks and weeks of testing, but with Ignition, we observed that time expense falling by upwards of 90%. So, it was just immense. Of course, again, if you're familiar with Ignition, this won't be a surprise to you. Annual maintenance fell considerably and actually their licensing outflow, so what they're spending on licenses fell by 80,000. So it's a huge, huge number. And lastly, overall, we've noticed that development time for new functionality tends to be reduced by about 25% when you switch over to Ignition. So again, everybody, like my friend I was just telling you about from that big US city, like he knows this first hand, and this is what he's pushing for.
Now this is another customer where we performed another sizable Ignition deployment, and they actually saw $225,000 a year in savings just on their software maintenance fees. And they actually realized a further $100,000 cost avoidance in year one, and that was just from leveraging Ignition for some new functionality. And again, I'm a broken record, but if you're familiar with Ignition, this is probably no surprise to you, but the bottomline is financial benefits from making the switch can be very substantial. So just to kind of close out on where Brock and Ignition fit in this environment, hopefully by now, it's become apparent that we're approaching this industry from a different angle. We're really focused on providing turnkey enterprise level solutions and leveraging our experience both in water and wastewater and beyond in other industries. Our company has, like I showed you, we have over 600 engineers and software developers on staff. So our company's purpose-built to deliver these large, multi-million dollar, large-scale, multi-site turnkey automation programs. And we like to get involved early on. We very much value that early consultative process and guiding our customers through the entire process right to the end. And of course after that, we like to stick around and continue to support you through O&M and other continuous improvement measures.
Obviously, we're bringing innovation to the table. We're always vetting new technology. We're always developing innovative new methods to tackle complex problems, and quite often with the support of Inductive Automation and the Ignition platform. So hopefully you can see, and hopefully now you see we're innovating water and wastewater together and winning big. I think lastly, it's important to highlight, we've got a fantastic partnership with Inductive Automation. We've been helping each other grow, we're helping each other find better solutions, just to everyday problems in the water and wastewater industry and of course beyond. Just to wrap up, I wanna leave you with a couple of guiding principles, and particularly for anyone who's coming from a water or wastewater authority who's just trying to find a way to jump-start or kick-start their own automation uplift. So first is obsolescence is a real problem in water and wastewater that typically stems from underinvestment. So don't let this get in the way of your smart water journey. There's no shortage of people who have ventured down this path. With the right help, it doesn't have to be a painful experience. Always keep in mind the technology landscape and integration approach, it's really changed when it comes to water.
So if you do decide to use Ignition, it's far from the first time it's been used in this industry. There's so many examples of municipalities, both big and small, who are realizing immense benefits. And just to elaborate on this a little bit, Brock, as a company, we're a vendor-neutral integrator. We work with all kinds of different partners right throughout our business. But in water, we genuinely believe there's a huge value to using Ignition. We've just seen it so many times firsthand, that's something we're very, very passionate about. And lastly, take the plunge. If I haven't made it clear enough, you've got the technology, look at the benefits, look at the price, it's definitely worth your while. So, that wraps up everything today. I hope you guys found it interesting, I hope it answered some questions or inspired you to start your own journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me, my contact information's there. You can always reach us at our website, brocksolutions.com, and contact us through there. And of course, special thanks to the guys at Inductive Automation for the invite and allowing us to come and share our story and what we're doing.
And we're certainly looking forward to doing more of this in the future. And for everybody watching or everybody listening, we've got some great content coming up in the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the Inductive Automation website, and you'll certainly be hearing some more of us. It looks like we're all set. Thanks again to everybody for listening and participating, and certainly keep an eye out for us on the next one. Thanks.