SCADA upgrade without downtime: Golden project results

Courtesy: George T. Hall

Learning Objectives

  • System Integrator of the Year for 2023, George T. Hall, discusses gold mine SCADA modernization and COVID-19 vaccination process controls.
  • Engineering mentoring resulted in more successful projects.
  • Customer satisfaction is strong and communications help.

System Integrator of the Year, George T. Hall, integration insights

  • Recent system integration project success at George T. Hall included SCADA project at a gold mine and process automation for a COVID-19 vaccination manufacturer.
  • Mentoring engineers and customer satisfaction are two areas of progress for George T. Hall, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering (CFE Media and Technology) System Integrator of the Year for 2023.

Upgrade of a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system at a Nevada gold mine produced golden results as the system integration team at George T. Hall (GTH) tested the new system offline, ran it in parallel, then switched over without unplanned downtime. In addition, a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer sought to quickly develop the process controls for automating its production system. Along with pressure to meet expedited deadlines (as with most pharmaceutical operations), the sequencing and dosing accuracy of the required ingredients for the vaccine recipe was critical. GTH developed a precision control system with programmable logic controller (PLC), human machine interface (HMI), and SCADA, along with panel design and fabrication. These are among successes achieved at GTH leading to its selection at 2023 System Integrator of the Year in the under $5 million in system integration revenue category.

Michael Howard, vice president of system integration, George T. Hall, answered questions from Control Engineering and Plant Engineering (CFE Media and Technology) about these and other topics.

Mike Howard, George T. Hall vice president of system integration, stands in front of GTH panels built in its Nevada UL certified panel shop. He is head of Nevada operations and mentors GTH business development engineers, project managers, technical team/engineers, and production team. Courtesy: George T. Hall

Mike Howard, George T. Hall vice president of system integration, stands in front of GTH panels built in its Nevada UL certified panel shop. He is head of Nevada operations and mentors GTH business development engineers, project managers, technical team/engineers, and production team. Courtesy: George T. Hall

Recent GTH system integration achievements, history

Question: Congratulations on receiving the 2023 System Integrator of the Year award: Talk about what this recognition means for GTH.

We are proud to accept the award as System Integrator of the Year for 2023. This recognition is evidence of collective efforts across the organization to excel as system integrators. GTH was founded on core values that continue to drive us forward. For 90 years, we have taken pride in our culture and our people, and consistently strive to provide the best possible solutions to valued customers. We have been extremely focused in the last 5 years on continuous improvements, with investments in new software and training programs for technical teams. We have held CSIA certified status since 2017 and are currently working towards ISO 9001 certification. These initiatives have strengthened our company’s established mission to develop successful partnerships throughout the lifecycle of projects and develop a culture that benefits employees and customers.

Question: Describe recent projects that you’re most proud of. What has made them a success for your company, in your opinion?

GTH has successfully completed some exciting projects over the last couple of years. Development of younger engineers through mentoring from senior engineers has been inspiring. These mentoring partnerships have proved to produce innovative solutions throughout the lifecycle of each project and we’re proud of the work accomplished, specifically with two recently completed projects that required unique timelines and strategic execution.

SCADA system modernization developed remotely

We were approached by those involved with a Nevada gold mine about SCADA modernization. The system had reached end of life in an application that could not afford to risk unplanned down time. The existing software application was not available to analyze offline, so GTH developed a plan to view the application via secure remote access from our facility 250 miles away, where we developed the new application in human-machine interface (HMI) visualization software from a different software supplier. Numerous challenges along the way included bridging a Modbus Plus network over to an Ethernet network topology. Systems were run in parallel for a short period until the new software was proven, and the old system was unplugged from the network. The client and GTH teams deemed the project a success, especially in bridging old technologies with the new. GTH provides more about benefits of SCADA system modernization.

Pharmaceutical manufacturing: COVID-19 vaccine process controls

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic GTH was invited to join “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS), a US federally-funded program for vaccine development, manufacturing, and distribution through a public-private partnership. As part of OWS, we partnered with a vaccine manufacturer to quickly develop the process controls for automating the vaccine production system. Along with immense pressure to meet expedited deadlines (common with most pharmaceutical operations), the sequencing and dosing accuracy of the required ingredients for this vaccine recipe was critical. GTH developed a precision control system with PLC, HMI, and SCADA development in addition to panel design and fabrication as part of the scope. The automation offered a repeatable production process while ensuring safety, quality and rapid production. The project, deemed a success by meeting the deadline to get the system operational, helped company and project team members feel part of the U.S. COVID-19 fight. See more about that GTH COVID-19 vaccine pharma project.

George T. Hall manufactures custom control panels in two UL panel shops in California and Nevada. The UL508A and 698A certified panels shown meet regulatory and hazardous environment requirements. Courtesy: George T. Hall

George T. Hall manufactures custom control panels in two UL panel shops in California and Nevada. The UL508A and 698A certified panels shown meet regulatory and hazardous environment requirements. Courtesy: George T. Hall

System integration project management 

Question: What are some methodologies and philosophies applied to projects? How have they evolved over the years, particularly considering COVID-19?

GTH is very focused on project management and we have been seeking to improve development and adherence to standards. A recently established department, the project management office (PMO), assists the project team with continuous improvement in communication and with streamlining best practices. Software tools to help manage customer communications, version control and scheduling have been vital. COVID-19 put additional pressure on processes and personnel but using tools and technologies we’ve improved as a result.

System integration customer relations: Pandemic projects, supply chain

Question: How have customer expectations for projects changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the supply chain. As a result, managing customer expectations has become more of a challenge. However, GTH’s investment in improved technologies and the development of the PMO department has helped navigate supply chain challenges and customer expectations. We’ve seen very little dissatisfaction in our projects. Prior to the pandemic we greatly relied on in-person meetings to build rapport, but virtual meetings have increased in acceptance due to the pandemic. With this acceptance it has become standard practice to have virtual meetings with multiple parties across the country or even internationally, which has improved opportunities and options to build rapport.

Question: How important is it to develop long-term relationships with customers during projects and why?

Building long-term relationships with our customers is essential to how we, at GTH, do business. We pride ourselves in developing these relationships by building trust with our customers through consistency and the quality of the work that we perform. Our most successful projects are when our customers partner with us and take an interest and encourage involvement from their team to be present for project execution. Whether they’re reviewing software applications or assisting with an installation, it’s important to the long-term relationship and trust between our teams. Pairing their expertise in the particular product they produce, and our expertise as system integrators is key to a project’s success. And over time, these relationships result in new opportunities that are mutually beneficial.

Question: Have the supply chain issues affected current and future projects in a significant way? If so, how?

The supply chain disruption has put tremendous pressure on contractors that rely on sub-contractors and system integrators. Managing multiple delays across disciplines is becoming more difficult and often as the system integrator we’re last on site, so we feel this added pressure. What has improved is our ability to identify who our trusted partners are in these difficult times. We expect communication regarding delays and alternate solutions from manufacturers, those that can deliver are becoming more important to our project execution. With the development of our PMO department we have seen great success in maintaining customer satisfaction despite supply chain issues on our projects.

System integration mentoring, future investments

Question: What do you do to help guide younger engineers along in projects so they gain valuable experience?

We try to partner our younger engineers with senior personnel on projects to not only learn the industry but also our processes and tools. Our ongoing education may include ISA training, manufacturer web based or in person training for software applications. We’ve also started using a learning management system (LMS) to organize and develop training opportunities for all GTH positions. This provides the ability to assign specific training milestones to further develop our team.

Question: If there is one long-term goal you have for the company, what is it?

GTH has been in control solutions for nearly a century, and it’s our history to invest in our people and in solutions that will better the control system integration industry and lead to global improvements. Our most important long-term goal is to make the world a better place through automation. We have been concentrating on research and development and providing opportunities for training in renewable energy and cybersecurity for our technical teams, which we believe will help achieve the goal of a better world for everyone. GTH has a lot of exciting initiatives in the pipeline, and we look forward to the future.

Michael Howard is vice president of system integration, George T. Hall. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com. Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, collaborated on questions. Amanda McLeman, director of research and awards programs, administers the System Integrator of the Year program. www.controleng.com/SIY

KEYWORDS: System Integrator of the Year, SCADA, process controls

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Learn more about George T. Hall in the Control Engineering and Plant Engineering Global System Integrator Database.

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3 system integration metrics that matter

Each System Integrator of the Year firm for 2023 was asked to quantify progress over the past year using a few metrics. According to George T. Hall:

  1. Engineering and production utilization 2021: 64% vs. 2022: 69%. “With a renewed focus on our engineering and production team and the tools needed for them to be successful, we’ve identified a noticeable increase in our team’s utilization.”

  2. Innovation allocation 2021: 4% vs. 2022: 6%. “With an ever-increasing project work load, we recognize the importance to make time for our team to work on new ideas, which in turn has increased time spent on research and development (R&D) in the past year.”

  3. Customer satisfaction: 100 Net Promoter Score: “In 2022 all surveyed customers from completed projects would recommend GTH should they have the opportunity to do so.”

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