TransAlta Corporation is a multinational power generation and wholesale marketing company with yearly revenue of about $2.5 billion. Based in Canada, TransAlta manages the production and delivery of energy resources over a wide geographical expanse. This requires a sophisticated network of control systems for thousands of pumps, valves, gas turbines, high voltage breakers, and more. In the Ontario plant where Marco Martinez works as a Plant Engineer, there are over 1,500 measurements monitored in real-time and around the clock.
Improving Disaster Response Time
The TransAlta plant needs to measure and monitor various temperatures, pressures, and other readings on the critical control systems which support the production and delivery of energy. All measurements are recorded on about a dozen computers which process and log all information received over TCP/IP from control equipment throughout the network. While this may sound impressive, the real work begins whenever a gauge malfunctions or a reading surges past a safety threshold. That's when Marco and his team jump into action.
If the root cause of the problem can’t be detected and fixed quickly, a seemingly small incident can snowball into a massive power outage like the one witnessed in August 2003 when much of northeastern United States went black. The first thing Marco does when there is a problem is to look at the computer's event logs for clues pointing to a source. But in the past, this was a lot easier said than done. All the event logs were written to tape for storage, but this presented a problem with retrieving the information. It took hours to retrieve the data—time Marco just didn't have during an emergency.
An initial attempt to solve this problem relied on a home-grown application to retrieve the data, but the application kept crashing because of the sheer volume of data. Worse yet, the data was often lost for good, and worst of all, Marco and his team wouldn't find out there was no data until a crisis occurred and they needed it most. In the words of Marco, "Our managers were going crazy!"
Compounding Marco's problem was the fact he’s a Plant Engineer, not a computer whiz or programming guru, but his colleagues at the power plant don't see it that way. For them, he's the go-to guy on all things computer-related, just because he has an engineering degree. So the responsibility of fixing this monumental problem was all Marco's.
Fortunately, Marco turned to a solution that can automatically manage almost any business process without requiring advanced programming skills, using GUI Automation with Automate.
RPA Becomes a Critical Member of the Team
Marco found Automate to be incredibly intuitive, powerful, and easy to use. He quickly realized that it was easy to use Automate’s drag-and-drop interface to configure software robots that would solve his data loss problem once and for all.
After only a couple of days of development, Marco had created a robotic process to sort, compress, archive, and delete massive event log files on a daily basis. Now, data from each machine is always readily available in the event it’s needed in an emergency. Since installing Automate, Marco’s plant has never had another glitch in recovering the critical data. But Marco didn’t stop there. Marco is now using Automate robots for critical data backup in two other areas. First, robots were configured to back up the massive amounts of data generated during the control of gas turbines. The control systems with gas turbines are extremely sophisticated, and approximately 250 megabytes of data is created every day. Now the process of compressing the information and archiving it on storage servers is completely in the hands of the RPA software. Marco has even embedded intelligence within the Automate workflows to send an alert when the gas turbines are not operating.
The Automate robots also back up information that could previously only be backed up by a highly-experienced operator interacting with the GUI. The automated robotic tasks mimic what the user would do, saving Marco and his team precious time and providing TransAlta with peace of mind that all their data is safe and secure.
The Benefits of Software Robots
For Marco, the benefit of using Automate robotic process automation is crystal clear. As Marco says, “Automate helped us reduce data loss by 100 percent. We haven’t lost any data since implementing Automate.”