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Making it easier to work with plant data - Intelligent Plant

Friday, January 15, 2016

Intelligent Plant of Aberdeen aims to help engineers get a much better understanding of how their plant is operating - by helping them view existing data in a clearer way.

Intelligent Plant, a start-up software company in Aberdeen, helps oil and gas engineers get a much better understanding of how their plant is operating - by being able to view existing data in a much clearer way.

Steve Aitken, consultant director for Intelligent Plant, believes there is much room for improvement in the way plant data is presented.

The company focusses on three areas - alarms and alarm management, process schematics, and spotting trends.

When it comes to alarms, it is no secret that most sites are failing to maintain a properly functioning alarm system, compromising safety and contributing to excessive numbers of unintentional trips.

With process schematics many operators are still using obsolete software packages that are slow, cumbersome and thick client. Consequently not everyone in the organisation has a full picture of what is happening on site.

With data stored in many different places and in different formats, spotting critical trends can be extremely difficult.

Intelligent Plant does not take ownership of any data, or even run critical company data through its own servers. It simply provides a software tool which oil and gas companies can install on their networks.

All of the information is displayed in HTML5 format so it can work on PCs, tablets and smart phones.

The software can be installed in the cloud allowing users pay to use the software by the hour.

The information displayed is geared towards presenting data in a way which is much easier to work with, making it easier to share, and avoiding the need for manual calculations.

The company provides a mixture of service and product, although it started off just providing a service. A lot of the work Intelligent Plant does is bespoke for clients.

Most of the bespoke work 'has some aspect of engineering or real time data or alarm and event data, because that's where our expertise lies, making software for engineers,' Mr Aitken says.


The alarm management tool aims to provide a simple display, where you can see the operating parameters over a past period (for example a day or a week) and which alarms went off.

This can be used by the instrumentation technical authority to check that the alarms were set correctly. Did an alarm go off when operating parameters were at a level where staff needed to be warned? Did an alarm go off when operating parameters were within safe working limits, so the alarm was unnecessary?

'The alarm data has been much ignored in the past and only used negatively to say you've got too many alarms, and while this is important, the rich reservoir of operating information has been neglected' Mr Aitken says.

The software can make alarm data available to OSISOFT's 'PI' data historian, allowing it to be seen and manipulated alongside traditional historical operating data.

Typically in oil and gas companies, many people can access PI data, but hardly anyone has access to alarms data, Mr Nicolson says.

The software also generates high level reports, which should be made available to the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM), so he can check everything is running properly.

The software can also automatically present data in accordance with the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association (EEMUA) standard 191 'Alarm systems - a guide to design, management and procurement.'

It can generate reports in the required standard which UK offshore operators are required to give to the UK Health and Safety executive (HSE).


The company makes tools to display KPIs and real-time plant data either in schematic or dashboard forms.

Entering the diagrams into a new system can be a huge amount of effort with thousands of man hours.

Intelligent Plant has written software tools which can take the schematic files in old software formats and upgrade them. Making a data translator is a very tricky software task, which is why many companies don't bother,' Mr Nicolson says.

The processing is done using software, not by rekeying data in a data outsource centre. This means makes it consistent with much higher accuracy levels, reducing retesting requirements and increasing confidence.

This tool could be used by anyone who needs to work with process schematics, to understand what the plant is doing.


Intelligent Plant has built an analysis and trending package, so you can see how data is changing over time.

Intelligent Plant believes that its tool is more interactive, and makes it easier to understand problems causing changes to the data, than other tools on the market.

The tool will also spot correlations in the data - which trends might be related.

'We said, let's put some intelligence in these trends,' Mr Aitken says.

The data is sourced from historian systems such as OSI Soft.

This trend data could be used by engineers - including process engineers and control engineers.

Any process plant

The software can be used with any process plant, although for the Aberdeen oil and gas industry, that means offshore platforms. The oil and gas industry is the company's main client base.

It can also be used in chemical plants, power plants, and wind farms, anywhere which uses plant.

It is used for both new and old plant. Many companies installing new plant assume that they will have adequate IT systems to monitor trends and alarms, but this is not the case, Mr Nicolson says. 'The systems which come with new plant tend not to be so comprehensive.'

Typically with new plant, there is a 'tick box' attitude to documentation, Mr. Nicolson says. Companies say they want a system for tracking trends and managing alarms, and they receive one, but there hasn't been much consideration to how well it works.

One potential customer with a new offshore development project initially scoffed when first speaking to Intelligent Plant, because he thought he already had all the tools he needed, but revised his view after having a better understanding of what the company can offer, Mr. Nicolson said.

Old software

Much of the software oil companies use to manage plant data is very old, Mr Aitken says.

When the software is upgraded, typically companies make add-ons to their existing software, rather than create software from scratch, so the old software is still there, he says. 'New things are often old things re-badged.'

'Process technology tends to have roots in the past,' says Bruce Nicolson, Senior Control Systems Engineer with Intelligent Plant. 'It is all built on something which is built on something.

Software installation

The software can be installed on local computer systems or on cloud computer systems.

For example some oil and gas companies use Microsoft's Azure cloud service to handle operations data. They can install Intelligent Plant on their Azure cloud.

This means that company data is completely confidential once the system is running.

Intelligent Plant was in the first 25 companies globally which had a solution available on the Microsoft Azure Market place. This means that Microsoft Azure customers can install it on their own cloud hosting with a few clicks.

Many companies are still keen to keep all of the data hosted only on their own premises, but 'that is tending to change,' Mr Aitken says. The economics of cloud hosting are becoming much more compelling.

Intelligent Plant also has its own cloud hosting subscription with Azure, which it uses to provide demonstrations of the software.

Associated Companies
» Intelligent Plant
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