Automation Software Finds A Home In Pipelines

May 2013, Vol. 240, No. 5

Jeff Share, Editor

It isn’t hard to find companies that traditionally would not be involved in pipelines taking an active role in the industry. When an executive who is arms-deep in software technologies finds a special liking for the energy business, and is located about as far away from pipelines as one can be in the United States, he, too, must be a special individual.

Tony Paine is president and CEO of Kepware Technologies, a company that specializes in communications and interoperability software products for the automation industry. Paine joined Maine-based Kepware in 1996 as an engineer and is responsible for all operations and planning. His credentials stretch beyond the architectural development of the company’s products, including its flagship communications platform, KEPServerEX.

His attention to detail and passion for the engineering process, which began at an early age, set the tone for what was to come. Today, Paine is known for his uncanny ability to work with industry partners and individual end users.

Among his many activities associated with his work is his involvement with the University of Maine, where he is helping to educate the next generation of automation engineers. He has a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maine at Orono.

Paine has represented Kepware in various open standards committees and is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the OPC Foundation, where he helps to drive the technical direction for the automation industry. He can be reached at tony.paine@kepware.com.

P&GJ: Where did you grow up, and what were some of your interests when you were younger?

Paine: I grew up in Lewiston, ME about 45 minutes north of Portland (where Kepware Technologies is located). Very early on, I had a fascination with computers – how they were built and what their capabilities were. This quickly led to an interest in the software that could be developed to run on these machines – specifically software that could control the hardware.

By the time I was 13, I had acquired an old TRS80 Model 4 microcomputer and a Panasonic dot matrix printer. The computer I purchased from a relative with some money I had been saving from mowing lawns and was originally intending for a new bicycle. The printer was going to be tossed out, and I was lucky enough to grab on to it before it made its way to the dump. No software existed (at least that I had access to) that allowed me to utilize these components for generating reports for schoolwork, and, therefore, I took it up myself to create a solution. (My friends had computers, and I was envious; peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing.)

The result was that I used a primitive text editor and came up with my own styling commands to control how the text would be sent to the printer (for example, text that should be bolded or italicized). Today we call this a markup language. The resulting file was then fed into a program that I developed which processed the file and sent the appropriate escape command sequences and data to the printer.

After much wasted paper (should have invented print preview), I finally created a primitive word processor for my needs, which I would use throughout the rest of elementary school. Though I had written other basic programs before, this project was a turning point for me in terms of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I went from thinking I wanted to be a lawyer to realizing that I wanted to become an engineer and work with a mix of computer hardware and software.

In addition to the technical stuff, I had an interest in sports, specifically baseball and ice hockey.

P&GJ: How did you first get involved with the energy industry?

Paine: Kepware’s first communications-based software products targeted a wide range of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) that were heavily used in discrete manufacturing environments. Over time, the manufacturers of some of these PLC platforms were successful in gaining traction in process control environments such as refineries.

This allowed Kepware to be pulled into the energy space – where these customers had the same need to control and monitor these devices – as these were services that our products provided. This opened the door for a new market that introduced us (based on market need) to energy-specific protocols and the broadening of our offering in this space.

P&GJ: How did you happen to join Kepware Technologies?

Paine: I was living outside of Boston and looking for the right opportunity to return to Maine. After consulting with some recruitment firms, I was introduced to Kepware Technologies, which had been in business for about 18 months. Being a software provider in the industrial automation space, it had the mix of software and hardware that I was passionate about and was a perfect fit.

P&GJ: What are some of Kepware’s leading products and services, particularly in regard to the oil and gas pipeline industry?

Paine: It starts with Kepware’s flagship product, KEPServerEX. This platform allows for the connectivity to a wide variety of PLCs, RTUs, flow computers, rod pump controllers and other pieces of equipment you would find in upstream, midstream and downstream oil and gas operations. In addition to providing client applications such as HMI/SCADA and Alarm Management Systems real-time data access to these devices, we have the ability to collect EFM data and present it to applications used in the custody transfer of product, such as FlowCal or PGAS.

P&GJ: You reported a quite successful 2012. What do you attribute this to?

Paine: End-user companies’ continual investment in the automation of their environments and our expansion into new markets and territories.

P&GJ: How do you distribute your products, where are your best markets, and what plans do you have to grow the business?

Paine:
We sell our products direct, through relationships with the system integrator community, distributors/resellers across the globe, and OEM relationships with other automation vendors.

Our best market has historically been manufacturing in North America, but this is changing as we invest into broadening our connectivity to systems found in other sectors (like oil and gas, power, building automation), as well as ensuring that we support access to dominant technologies that differ based on geography. We are doing this while continually investing in the areas that have made us successful in the first place.

P&GJ: When you meet with clients, what do they say are their biggest concerns or needs?

Paine: Secure and reliable access to data that will allow them to run, maintain and improve their operations.

P&GJ: As you are a member of several open standards committees, is there a movement under way to standardize certain communications technologies, and why is this important?

Paine: Yes, and I would not say this is a new movement. For years the market has driven vendors to develop systems that can easily interoperate with one another. Very seldom is a system put together that is entirely made up of many components from a single vendor, and as such, vendors need to cooperate to ensure that third-party integration is a reality.

This requires the vendor community to come together to agree on and document open methodologies for exchanging information. As information becomes richer, security requirements change, more devices are Internet-enabled, and other changes occur in the market, the standards need to continue to evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow, while preserving historical behaviors.

P&GJ: What are some of the biggest challenges or risks facing energy companies such as pipelines?

Paine: The ability to remotely monitor sites and obtain access to accurate data for the purposes of regulatory, leak detection and custody transfer requirements.

P&GJ: Is it possible to speculate what the next generation of automation technologies might offer energy companies, such as pipelines?

Paine: Continual improvements in the use of automated technologies that will allow for the automation of the drilling process. This will allow experts to be centrally located and remotely control manual tasks when necessary, without having to staff an expert at each remote site.

P&GJ: Much is being made of cybersecurity issues. How does this affect automation for energy companies?

Paine: Energy companies can be considered high-level targets for those who intend to do harm to an organization through cyber warfare, since exploiting the systems utilized by these companies could cause extreme financial loss and/or damage to the environment or humans. This is due to the value and volatile nature of the products they produce. As such, remote access (typical in this market) needs to employ secure practices to ensure someone from the outside cannot do intentional, sometimes unintentional, harm.

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