KeySpan Finds The Easy Road In Taking Data To Mobile Workers

New York utility KeySpan finds that the easy way to get analytics to engineers is to choose products built to run on top of its infrastructure.
Getting vital information to mobile workers is no easy task, but the job is a whole lot easier when all the technology fits together.

That was behind the decision of KeySpan Corp., the largest electric generator in New York State, to use the latest version of Transpara Corp.'s Visual KPI to distribute performance metrics from generators, turbines and other equipment to engineers via advanced cellular phones.

Visual KPI, which stands for key performance indicators, was a natural fit because of its certified support for the OSIsoft PI system, which provides performance data for KeySpan's generators, turbines and other equipment spread across six plants. PI constantly monitors equipment vibrations, fluid pressure and temperatures, and other events that could indicate a problem.

If, for example, oil in a turbine overheated, the hot fluid could damage bearings and take the machinery offline. This would force the utility to buy energy elsewhere to keep the lights on in New York City, which gets a quarter of its power from KeySpan.

Engineers can access PI anytime through plant PCs. The problem, however, is when they're off checking or repairing equipment. In those cases, KeySpan wants them to be able to use smart phones running Windows Mobile to view the vital data through a Web browser.

That's where Visual KPI 2.0 comes in. The software sits alongside the PI system and extracts data to distribute performance indicators and scorecards in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. The information is customized to the recipients, depending on the data they're authorized to see. For the user, the process requires little more than pointing the phone's browser to the page's URL.

Because the Transpara software has good connectors to PI, the deployment took only a day, John Ragone, automation manager for KeySpan's Office of Electric Generation, said.

"It's about as simple as you can get," Ragone said. "It took us longer to get the purchasing in place than to launch the actual project."

Ragone declined to give a specific cost for licensing and deploying the software, which he said was less than $30,000. The return on investment was obvious when you consider that taking a turbine offline for repair could cost KeySpan hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, Ragone said.

“This is insurance, essentially,” he said of Visual KPI.

KeySpan plans to move the project from pilot to production in about six months, rolling it out to a dozen engineers. Currently, Ragone and two other engineers are using the system. In time, KeySpan plans to expand beyond the maintenance staff to energy traders who can use status reports on power generation in buying and selling electricity.

The Transpara server is drawing information from 14 steam units, 64 gas turbines and a recovery boiler. At the Ravenswood, N.Y., plant the server is also drawing data from a modeling engine called EPI Center from SmartSignal. The software takes the PI data over the last year and determines acceptable ranges for events. Current measurements are compared against the model, and potential problems are marked for the viewer. The system can also send alerts when problems occur.

The EPI Center test has been going on for a couple weeks, and could be expanded further, Ragone said. The advantage of the system is the better analysis it provides of events than the PI system alone.

KeySpan's success so far with the Tranpara product is very much tied to the tight integration out of the box with the OSIsoft PI system. In addition, the company is sticking with the Windows platform on mobile devices for easier access to KeySpan software, all of which runs primarily on Windows Server 2003. For KeySpan, extending what it already has makes more sense then introducing different technology.