014. Idea: Intelligent Motor Control Centers

Chris: 00:30

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we’re going to be talking about intelligent motor control centers, and to help us with this, we have a subject matter expert. Matt Hussey from Eaton, who is the Low Voltage Motor Control Center Product Manager. So welcome, Matt, how are you doing?

Matt: 00:45

Hey, Chris, how’s things going?

Chris: 00:47

Great, man. Going great. Looking forward to walking through this conversation with you. I know a lot of our listeners are hearing a lot about smart, intelligent motor control centers and, they may not have had an opportunity to explore this topic very deep. So I’m sure you’re going to bring a lot of value. So maybe you can start them off by just explaining what a smart MCC is.

Matt: 01:08

Yeah, sure. When we look at a smart or intelligent MCCs, it’s really, I would say a set of pieces that are all coming together and you’ve got a connectivity of systems between motor control centers and automation systems.

You’ve got intelligent electronic devices that are present in the process, as well as an ability to visualize that information. And the interesting thing, a lot of this has been around for a number of years. And I think it’s really just more recently that it’s all coming together to serve some meaningful benefits for end-users alike.

Chris: 01:46

Very good. Thank you for that recap of what we’re looking at here. So we hear words a lot of time, like interoperability and scalability. So how do they factor into your decision making process when you’re looking to adopt intelligent MCCs?

Matt: 02:01

Yeah, I think it’s an important topic, Chris, because a lot of these facilities have been in existence for a number of years. And so maybe in years past, 20, 30 years ago, there was an effort to try to connect the systems together, to start to get some of that information. And a lot of different systems have been deployed throughout the year or so. Typically, you might go to a facility processing plan and you’ll be presented with an effort to “hey, we want to modernize one piece of the facility or one part of the process,” but do that. You have to interface with those existing systems. It would just be too cost prohibitive to have to retrofit entire facility off of that. So ultimately on a lot of today’s talk around intelligent MCCs, we see a lot of dialogue around how do you provide some of those benefits we talked about of connecting ’em and providing these intelligent devices, but then still being able to link that into legacy systems and being able to, connect into them.

Chris: 03:09

Right. I mean, what are some of the common hurdles you hear or common issues that come up when we’re talking with end users about this and that integration?

Matt: 03:19

I think some of the obstacles are that they might have a particular automation controller or an automation system that is made by one manufacturer and we’re a different manufacturer from that. And so there might be a perception that can’t mix these systems together, but I think a lot of the benefit is that most manufacturers are applying from communications to devices a lot of the same industry standards. We’re adhering to a lot of the same testing and certification criteria. And so it’s really overcoming that hurdle that these different systems, while produced by different manufacturers can connect. And so it’s more of an effort providing a lot of demonstration for that.

I know you guys done a lot to demonstrate that in your power lab, but really just proving out that these things can link up and here’s how you integrate them.

Chris: 04:17

So kind of like building that confidence on the end user standpoint, it’s pretty important. It sounds like for wanting to move forward with an intelligent MCC.

Matt: 04:27

Yeah, for sure. It’s especially if you think of what the role, this may play, there’s an underlining current of a motor control center being procured for a very critical process and a piece of equipment. And somebody that’s looking at that from a connectivity standpoint, they may be using that network connection and these intelligent devices to provide them more monitoring information or more operational capability.

They might be choosing to control it. So there’s a lot of confidence to build up. And when compared against, they might’ve had old reliable there where it was hardwired connected into the process. So there’s a perception, when I’m providing it over a network that my going to have that same sort of consistent connectivity and ability to run my process without any fear that I’m going to lose it at any point.

Chris: 05:21

So can I trust that blue hose?

Matt: 05:23

For sure. one individual, we worked on a project and we had begun to consider this. It was actually for a distillery and it was a master electrician and worked out and he saw a lot of the benefits of just even the installation and labor costs of reducing all that physical hardwire.

And he recalled at one point during the replacement of the MCCs, he was cutting into the conduit with a sawzall that had all the physical, hardwired connections and after severing through it and seeing a bundle of hundreds of conductors, he looked across the room and was like, no turning back now.

Chris: 06:00

Yeah, that’s right. At that point, you’re you are officially committed, right?

Matt: 06:04


Chris: 06:05

Yeah, I really appreciate that, man, that helped understand a lot because interoperability is very important and you really helped connect some dots there. And I’ve heard you speak in the past, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for you to talk about the pillars of intelligent MCCs. Can you explain to our listeners what those categories are?

Matt: 06:25

Yeah, I think of elegant MCCs or smart MCCs really providing are coming together at a confluence of a lot of different technology. I’d say for first and foremost, a lot of this is, you know, you gotta have the problem statement of why you are trying to achieve something. Is it I’m currently working on a piece of machinery that over time, might fatigue and fail, and I need to be able to see what happens. Or some of this also goes into, is there another team that might benefit from this added connectivity? I think typically when we think about automation systems where we’re thinking about those that are in the control room and the ability to monitor it there, but there’s so many other teams on the operation side and maintenance that could benefit from this added information.

They might be able to more easily interrogate what’s going on in the process from an operation standpoint or from an electrician that might be responsible for this equipment. It might provide them the ability to more easily identify when a piece of equipment is coming up on a maintenance interval, rather than having to work around an unplanned downtime event.

So I think that’s one key. Part of it is really defining some problems or things that we’re trying to solve. I’d say another pillar of this is connectivity strategy. How are we going to connect these systems? Are we going to use this information to monitor or are we going to use it to actually control or a little bit of both?

I think it’s. An important decision because you may still have a facility that wants in the process of connecting a still an ability to control via traditional means. You may need some local stations for operators so that they can do their thing, or maybe easily transition into a network control.

Additionally, with a lot of the communication and hardware becoming a lot more homogenized. There’s this talk around IT / OT convergence. So it’s also working with those teams to understand how do we integrate this into our system so we can achieve the same goals and visualize this information elsewhere while also not invalidating, any kind of cyber security threats or reliability of the network.

There’s an important part where even the IT professionals need to be engaged. So that things like how many IP addresses are we going to have? How are we going to be able to manage that from a network traffic? That really needs to be considered.

And I think one core piece of this for intelligent MCCs also revolves around the devices that are actually giving this information. You used to have traditional motor protection built around a simple over current, bi-metallic relay that would trip out once it became overloaded, where nowadays you’ve got so much more data available from being able to pull things like phase voltages and power and a lot more other status signals.

And so these intelligent devices have a lot of great deal of capability. And it’s really another key piece of this because it’s a determining factor on, there’s a lot of different offerings in there. And so how do you find the right one. And a lot of facilities, it may be an electrician that is accustomed to simply resetting a device and now has presented with a multifunction, programmable relay. So it’s an important aspect to how do you make that very simple and be useful for even those operators as well? You’re changing the role of somebody that on a day to day basis might have a multimeter in their hand and now has the ability to interrogate something with their phone. So it’s an important topic to even consider how we’re going to use the devices that have this sort of intelligence capability and what sort of problems, can they help solve?

And then, really lastly, when I think of intelligent MCCs, I think of a last pillar around how’s this going to be visualized? This information is traditionally viewed in automation control rooms for the needs of ensuring the process is running, but I think there’s also an ability to consider, especially with some of the streamlining of the connectivity, this data can be presented in a lot more different avenues. So can it be visualized local to the equipment or from an electrical maintenance room where those operators can see maybe sometimes the same data that is important for operating of the process, but maybe it’s presented a little bit differently, so that those operators can interface with it and identify a maintenance interval or maybe putting that visualization in the hands of different personnel that might use this to identify a prevailing condition that leads to, a downtime event.

I think those kind of build together as a pillar around intelligent MCCs, but each one of those, if you look at them individually, they’re probably equally progressed throughout time. And it’s really how they’re all coming together that really makes a valuable addition to any facility.

Chris: 11:51

Absolutely. No doubt, Matt. Just from where you started from the problem statement, just understanding what they’re trying to solve, that connectivity strategy that crosses the road right between IT and OT.

We have to have that conversation. We have to have a fundamental understanding how to do that. And then the devices themselves, cause you’re right, man, for the days of a multimeter are shifting to where you could actually do a lot of this with your iPhone and depending on the type of device, a lot of Bluetooth type connectivity type thing.

So all that stuff is integrated in these MCCs. And the last part with the, from a visualization standpoint is one that we get super excited about because we seen the cool things that end users can do with the data. And that takes a safety to a whole nother level as well. We’re where they don’t have to be in front of that piece of equipment for particular types of information. That all can be put together in one central location and utilize it for from a safe plant standpoint.

So thank you for we’re walking through those pillars. And one thing that we’ve talked about EECO Asks Why with a couple of different topics is ethernet, and ethernet keeps popping up, more and more particularly in the United States. We’re seeing the adoption. People are using it more. It’s being specified in the projects. So how has that adoption impacted intelligent motor control centers and people willing to specify those?

Matt: 13:23

Oh, yeah. Communications themselves have been present in motor control centers for going on 30 plus years. So this isn’t really our first foray into connecting systems together. As I mentioned, really, this kind of widespread adoption really came in part back in the early nineties with the Open Device Net Vendors Association, or ODBA, being formed and developing a ruggedized communication media and protocol for installing into things like motor control centers.

One of the value back then is still present today where you can reduce that kind of, installation and labor wire savings, but I think also at the same time, we had some unique hardware that was being deployed off of a lot of serial protocols. Additionally, we’re having to overcome limitations back then. There were certain quantity of devices and messages that can be sent over a given period. So really limited the scalability of that system.

And it was the first foray where you’re really industrializing it, but I think when we look at today with just even the fact that how many devices we have in our homes and vehicles, where nearly everything has an available ethernet port today, you’re dealing with something that has a much more economy of scale. And so a lot of the hardware is becoming a much more cost effective to implement.

Additionally, that hardware is also becoming industrialized. If we think a lot of our ourselves are familiar with ethernet cable in our office or home environment, but that cabling had to become industrialized for our equipment.

In my role, we deal with equipment that has lots of different application voltages and certainly various frequencies and things like that. So the importance of how do you provide that consistent data stream without having any kind of noise or interference there?

Additionally, I think the advent of a lot of this information while given over virtual means, for lack of a better term is also being able to compliment with various status signals. So how do you incorporate some additional IO that can then be visualized over the network in a really simply troubleshoot it?

We’ve gone to various installations where you also have to consider the changing of the workforce. Many of today’s engineers and electricians are those that have come up in this era of the internet. And so the things, the tools, the mechanisms that they’ve accumulated over their childhood and life are built around a ethernet troubleshooting mindset.

So there’s also a recognition that even those legacy communication systems while probably still valid and could still be maintained. You’re also dealing with a changing of the demographic that is also able to work on it as well. I think all of this is fueling in that, Hey, we’ve got a lot of capabilities on industrial ethernet certainly. Many of the systems are now able to interface with each other. So when you talk about visualizations, Chris, the fact that you can provide that information to an operator at an HMI, because that same system that at that HMI is connected to is on the same ethernet plane, that an automation controller speaking ethernet IP has provides a lot of powerful insight. I think it’s really helping provide that right amount of information to the right person at the right time.

Chris: 17:15

Very good, Matt, thank you so much for that. It’s interesting how everything is changing. It’s being adopted and your point to the workforce and how that’s impacting this is great as well. And one thing we’ve heard a few times on a couple of episodes of EECO Asks Why is cyber security, and now if we’re talking intelligence down to the motor control level, that definitely comes up. So how do you address that when that point is brought to you?

Matt: 17:44

Yeah, I think it’s an important topic, certainly as we’re talking about how more and more streamlined our connectivity is to systems, the fact that I’m working off of a backbone that has a lot of installed ethernet applications, I think there’s some key functions that are there. Certainly those may be familiar with the Purdue model, but we’re dealing with certain layers of connectivity and most of what motor control centers and our devices are present or below that layer two level. And so what you’re seeing is a lot of the IT systems that we’re interfacing with can introduce different mechanisms that really trying to minimize those threat factors.

So I think one common topic that we see is this cybersecurity should be built upon a defense in depth strategy. Well, there’s a lot of different angles. You might hear it talked about as a various slices of Swiss cheese, stacked upon each other, where you can’t have one entrance.

You’ll see, typically those things can be deployed like mechanisms and the MCCs themselves, where features and the ethernet switches can be enacted to minimize you. You might have an operator coming up to, for lack of a better term, just trying to look at or visualize the what’s going on in the MCC could be innocent, but wants to connect, plug into an ethernet port.

You can do some things like access control there. So that is, that’s not the intended way to get access to that information. Those ports can be turned off. You can also do things like minimizing the type of traffic that is connected between the MCC and the automation systems. So that only the appropriate and essential process messaging exists between those two. You’ll sometimes hear of terms like a demilitarized zone that exists between that system and the upstream network. I think as a whole, as you mentioned, there’s a, from an IT side, there’s a lot of mechanisms that are present there. And certainly as our operations equipment are becoming plugged in, there’s a not a one size fits all tool that covers it all, but certainly a host of different layers that can be enacted to really help minimize any risks due to cyber security.

Chris: 20:13

No doubt, man. No doubt. And I know our users are learning more about cybersecurity. We have several guests that they’re speaking on this topic extensively, and it’s something we don’t take lightly.

So I appreciate you, Matt, you walking us through that. Now let’s get to some fun stuff. When you’re talking about smart, intelligent MCCs, there’s some really cool devices that are now being used inside. What, give our listeners an idea of what some of those new devices would be.

Matt: 20:40

Yeah, for sure. I kind of mentioned a little bit earlier, but your traditional motor overloads have certainly come a long way since being a simple over current device. In that area, you see those devices being able to almost act like miniaturized logic controllers themselves, but also be able to pull a lot more meaningful data. The advent of motor protection has evolved not only to just looking at phase currents for issues, but also how do we even tap into the rest of the power signature that it sees?

So you might be looking at various phase voltages or phase power consumption. And through that, you can actually look at different algorithms to detect things like a dry running pump or overspeeding conveyor and catch that before it creates a more problematic issue. The other really cool thing is that cross the spectrum of these devices while there are certainly some advanced capabilities in some of the more featured devices, even the simplest of protection overloads have that sort of network connectivity.

So for somebody that might just be coming in or off of a workforce that is accustomed to a very simple over current device. And there’s some interest in, you know, getting some protection and being able to visualize that over a network. But even for them, there’s a solution that even those simple devices can be connected.

Really softening that a learning curve for any issues that may occur as they make their progression in this journey on an intelligent path. So it’s really, all levels, some really cool stuff that provides a lot more access for anybody that is considering this.

Chris: 22:40

No doubt, man, thank you for that. And when you have all that new technology, that new type of equipment that gives you access to data, that we haven’t really tapped into a lot in the past. It’s now it’s at the tip of our fingertips. So it’s really exciting time. I’m sure it is inside the plant to see these smart MCCs being built and the types of integration and devices that are going into them.

And in one area I know we’re really big on is the visualization. Not just because visualization is cool, but also from a safety standpoint. So could you give our listeners maybe what should they expect or what could they get out of a visualization strategy with a smart, intelligent motor control center?

Matt: 23:23

Yeah, I think you’ll find that there’s a lot of different ways it can be visualized. Traditionally. We think of it in terms of being able to see that and monitor it from a process standpoint. But I think as we look at motor control centers, there’s an effort towards those that are tasked with keeping them running or maintaining it over the lifespan of the equipment.

And if we think about all the tasks that are present for doing that and troubleshooting and things like that, sometimes it’s a matter of do those intelligent devices support a localized HMI that might be mounted on the cubicle to provide that information. And while that may seem non-essential for somebody that, Hey, I see that information in the control room, it provides another access point for that operator or maintenance professional that they’ve had that particular load trip, and they are going to reset it.

But with that localized interface, they can actually see some various parameters and conditions that were present when it trips. So if you think about it from a troubleshooting standpoint, maybe historically that would have just been a reset button and the ability for you to really identify what occurred, you might go through several resets before you pinpoint what the issue is.

Additionally, I think as you mentioned, Chris, there’s a safety piece of this too. Where some instances that troubleshooting might get to a point where that operator or electrician feels that. There’s something that’s been missed wired or something not connected correctly so they have to open the cubicle to get into the equipment to identify it. And that may be in a situation where that equipment’s energize. How do you ensure things from an arc flash standpoint that you’re appropriately suited for that scenario, really increasing that risk from an electrical safety standpoint.

So I think even just thinking about it from a device level, the added benefit of a localized display there really helps offset or minimize that type of risk that they could be exposed to. I think the other cool part, as you mentioned, Chris is the, when you can start to aggregate all these devices worth of information and be able to visualize it from an, an electrical personnel. Now you can start grouping all of that and various process loads together, really providing another key point, which as you mentioned, can be located in an adjacent part of the room. Really not inside that arc flash boundary. Really provides another meaningful entrance point for that data.

Honestly, sometimes the benefit of these little localized workstations is a simple aspect of storing, the equipment drawings. It may sound silly, but obviously as the equipment gets installed, there may be installation manuals and things like that throughout the commissioning may get discarded or misplaced.

And so here you are, three years, five years down the road, and you’re trying to troubleshoot something. Where do you find all that documentation that would be necessary to help you troubleshoot? So sometimes even having a terminal that stores all that localized information can be really beneficial for those that are trying to keep the equipment going.

Chris: 26:55

No doubt, man. They’re all great points you brought up right there. I think our listeners, they got a really good picture of how they could use visualization, from the safety to the drawing. I hadn’t even thought about that one, man. That’s great. And with your experience, we really want to tap into something here.

You see all sorts of things from an intelligent MCC standpoint, what would be some best practices that you have seen, implemented from a design standpoint that you would recommend for our listeners to consider with their specifications in the future enhance their MCC offering?

Matt: 27:34

Yeah, for sure. I think those that are maybe going down this path are starting to consider it, I think a key piece of it is, how do I familiarize around some of this hardware upfront? And certainly there’s a lot of different ways that they can do that. Certain demonstrations can be done with products.

The other thing is like we’re talking about with connectivity, proving out that what I’m going to be intending to utilize as an automation system with these intelligent devices. How can I connect those things up front and plan around an offline, familiarization of that. Show how it integrates, see how that’s going to be done, really to minimize that concern or fear that I might have to do that during the commissioning phase. And I’m not sure I’m comfortable with doing that. I might be comfortable with other devices, but I’m not willing to take on that risk.

So I think just overarching, compassing of trying to familiarize around the hardware up front is a real key step. Certainly, as we talked about electricians and other operations teams that are presented with some more capable devices, how do they see and feel, and touch how these devices work really helps soften that adoption because it’s again, trying to overcome that experience level that they’ll off of a lot of previous devices.

I think another key part of it, and this may be overlooked at times, is as you’re going throughout the project at a facility, oftentimes we spend a lot of time upfront designing, specifying the equipment and considering all aspects of what it will ultimately become once it’s construction installed and it’s a very lengthy timeline in that process. So when you think about the various, build of material buildup, the drawing creation, approvals, and things like that to ultimately constructing the equipment, you may, at a certain point, have a facility that would come to a site to inspect the equipment at the factory.

Traditionally, after that, it’s on its way it’s going to be installed. And really that last phase of constructing the part of the plant that you’re working on, putting all the pieces together is really the critical part where in the commissioning phase, but it can be very chaotic.

This is a construction site. And so there’s a lot of things going on. and so it can be very challenging, especially when you start to layer in, I’m going to have some devices that are connected. Maybe I’m going previously. I might be a wiring, all these signals back. And so there’s a lot of time spent in that commissioning phase.

I’m sure Chris, you’ve probably done a part of it yourselves, but these things can take weeks and certainly all hours a day, trying to troubleshoot that. I think one cool part of this advent of intelligent MCCs is that a lot of that commissioning phase can be incorporated much more early on in the process.

So when we talk about all these devices that may have different IP addresses, those things can be pre-configured. We can look at specific protections and motor parameter information. A lot of that can be inputted up front and really validating that the systems connecting before I have everything onsite installed.

So that really, when I get into that commissioning phase, I’ve taken off a lot of that work, that I might’ve had to done earlier because I’ve incorporated it in the design phase. So I think that’s a critical step that we’ve seen. Some users take advantage of certainly can really help with some of the offline commissioning and trying to do it in an area, in an environment where you have all that information at your fingertips, rather than being onsite, trying to run around and locate that where might not be convenient.

Chris: 31:51

No doubt in that. And thank you for that. I think you brought some very good points from your experience. You hit on so many great areas right there, and that commissioning piece is a big one, so much for like work, like you said, can be done up front and that cannot be overlooked.

So Matt, we call this EECO Asks Why. We always like to wrap these episodes up with the why. You know the purpose. So if you had to answer that, why should industrial end users, why should they consider intelligent motor control centers in the future?

Matt: 32:29

It’s interesting time in this day and age, like thinking of our own, how we’re, reacting into it. I think one of the very cool quotes I’ve seen in the past. This was asked, a number of years ago from, Previous prime minister in the UK. And he was asked, what is most likely to be the cause of what derails his government set his tenure off course. And he quite simply replied, “events, events, dear boy.”

And I think there’s a lot of meaning that can be taken from that is that when our current jobs and our current climate, we’ve got a lot of things going on and we’re always trying to improve and so many of those things we can anticipate, certainly in an industrial facility, there’s an effort every day to look for new ways to identify and improve our processes and make sure that we’re ensuring reliability of our electrical infrastructure. But obviously there’s many more situations that we can’t anticipate.

Given our current climate or current situation with, coronavirus and things like that, there’s certainly a lot of things that we can’t anticipate. So I think when we talk about intelligent MCCs, it’s, maybe not trying to provide, something that is going to substitute what we can already anticipate, but maybe add to it, the things that we can’t. The ability to go back and analyze it because there’s that much more information. And I think that’s really a difference in how we react to these scenarios, like I go back to some of those examples where we are in a situation where certainly we’re solving a lot of problems each and every day, but that may occur over a lengthy period of time. It may be putting an operator at a more increased electrical risk.

If I think about it now, it’s changing the way that somebody interfaces it, that if we could offset that into a much shorter duration or prevent that operator from getting into that more compromising electrical safety, scenario I think that’s really shifting really, what we think is the status quo. And I think we’re a key part of that in how we implement a lot of these intelligent MCCs.

Chris: 34:58

Absolutely. Matt, thank you so much. That was a great summary on the why on the importance. I love how you tied safety back into that.

Matt, you have so much experience in this realm and I know you’ve brought our listeners a ton of value. They’ll definitely start considering their specifications on their motor control centers and, this is a great time and a great opportunity enhance that. And there are a lot of really cool solutions out there. So Matt, thank you for walking through this topic with us, and I really appreciate your time today.

Matt: 35:32

No problem. I’m glad to be on it. Thanks for having me.