West Texas is home to tumbleweeds, horses, desolate highways and Chevron North America oil and gas fields. This venerable oil producer’s drive for efficiency led to a successful pilot project that employs thin client software from Automation Controls Products (ACP, www.thinmanager.com). With the ThinManager Platform, Chevron is reducing hardware and maintenance costs by utilizing “thin” PC clients instead of traditional, more expensive PC hardware.
The ThinManager software platform monitors a Chevron oil and gas operation, where CO2 is stripped from subsurface rock that contains oil deposits. The complex process monitors valves, pumps and flow meters in a rugged, hot environment, and where equipment life spans are short. Chevron North America saw an opportunity to reduce maintenance and equipment purchases with thin client technology.
Thin client technology includes terminal services, virtualization, virtual desktop interface (VDI) and thin client PCs, which have no hard drives, no storage space and no programs to upload or update. Also, the thin client PC by default is using five-to-six year old PC boards, and usually does not have an operating system. Applications are delivered from one central location—in this case, with the ThinManager 6.0 XLi software—which makes installation and configuration very efficient.
“There’s a certain number of hardware pieces that have to be installed, but the HMI installation takes place in the terminal services environment—the central location—and everything else is deployed to the client,” explains Tom Jordan, vice president of marketing for ACP.
B.K. Wallace, infrastructure server analyst for Chevron North America, designed the pilot project so the company could see if this upgrade in technology would be suitable for five similar CO2 plants. The pilot project included two thin client terminal servers and three, “gutted” BoxPCs from Arista Corporation (www.goarista.com). The gutted BoxPCs, also known as bricks, don’t have a hard drive and operating system, and have limited processing power that can only perform screen drawings and mouse clicks. The ThinManager 6.0 platform performs all the processing for all the applications on centralized servers.
“What drove the pilot project were two main things: the reliability of having terminals with non-moving parts, and the elimination of five workstations,” says Wallace. “We figured an internal cost savings of $5,000 per workstation and we also reused some Wonderware (www.wonderware.com) licenses, which drove down licensing costs for this pilot project.”
The Arista BoxPC 240a, which allows Chevron to connect five monitors in the control room, combined with the ThinManager’s MultiMonitor feature is a huge benefit. “Essentially, with the proper hardware, you can have your application span across multiple screens or you can use the multiple screens to display separate applications or separate instances of other things running in the environment,” Wallace says.
To utilize the multi-monitor technology from ACP in the control room, Chevron had to reprogram its one-way, HMI apps that allow for only one screen. “If we wanted more than one screen in our original setup, it would just duplicate the HMI screens. We went in and revamped the HMI app and converted to a true multi-monitor screen,” Wallace says.
“So, now, at the top of the monitor, there’s a little box that has four monitors and you can pick the first monitor and tell it to open that screen. Then, go to the second and tell it what to open and the third and fourth, etc.,” Wallace adds. The screen setup allows for four different views on each control station and, if you wanted to go further, ThinManager allows you to break up a monitor into quadrants. So, hypothetically speaking, eight quadrants could go on one monitor and then you could add quandrants on all five monitors, so you could have a total of 40 different views.
At the time of installation, Arista was the only supplier to provide five video ports with a sound card to enable the multimonitor functionality, according to Wallace. The West Texas control room has three BoxPCs with four monitors set up to each box, plus a connection to 56- and 46-in. plasma screens. With the reduction in PC hardware, the control room is still able to monitor all the same applications as it had before and this was the major selling point for the installation, adds Wallace.
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With the success of the West Texas pilot project, Chevron plans to roll out the ThinClient software platform in five other CO2 gas plants. The pilot project installation took approximately 75 days, and Wallace led a series of post-mortem meetings called “lessons learned” to reduce implementation time for future installations.
Wallace says, “We felt we needed some standards going forward [from the meetings]. And when I say standards, we needed standards for user names, passwords, tag names in Wonderware and for equipment and structure. We want to make the next installations as cookie-cutter as possible.”
For the upcoming installations, Chevron will just apply the original instances from the West Texas project onto the Artista BoxPCs and generic servers. This reduction in programming reduces IT setup costs.
Speaking of passwords, the ThinManager 6.0 XLi platform allows for individual logins for operations and maintenance workers via its TermSecure function, which allows an administrator the ability to add users to the management tree directly at the server. Personnel can receive a RFID card or proximity card, and will be given or denied access to thin clients, server applications, virtual desktops and sessions with a permissions group.
Remote monitoring is also part of the offering from ACP. ThinManager’s Screentronix web site (thinmanager.screentronix.com) provides a secure Internet connection—a pseudo Virtual Private Network. This allows administrators to connect back to the control room and manage a thin client or server from a remote location. Currently, Chevron is incorporating iPads and iPhones into the system, and this feature will be up and running in the near future, says Wallace.
>> Grant Gerke, firstname.lastname@example.org, is Digital Managing Editor for Automation World.