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Birth of an Olympic Class Airport

Redefining the cost of doing business through the implementation of a digital strategy

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Redefining the Cost of Doing Business

In an increasingly interconnected world, the demand for air travel remains strong. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, there are more than 87,000 flights on any given day in the United States alone. This means that airports see a tremendous amount of traffic day in and day out – often on a scale that rivals that of a small city. As a result, the scale at which the utility services that keep an airport running can therefore be very challenging to meet, especially considering the fact that these resources are only a small secondary consideration compared to the bigger mission that these facilities strive towards every day. Though the ability to provide reliable power is essential to maintaining a positive customer experience, spending on these utilities is just a cost of doing business. But is this cost fixed? Or, is it possible to redefine these costs without sacrificing the passenger experience, safety, or the timeliness of flights? An increasingly powerful solution to this question is the shift to a digital strategy, an approach that leverages data and automation to more effectively allocate resources and contribute to an organization’s mission. This means taking advantage of the growing availability of information from a growing array of sources to drive decision making about where utility spending contributes to the core value proposition that an airport promises its passengers, and where it does not.

Of course, drawing insights from data is hardly anything new. It’s been the rallying cry of seemingly every competitive organization during the Information Age. What is changing, however, is how these digital strategies can be implemented. Operational intelligence platforms, the infrastructure through which this data flows to key decision makers, are now offering more ways than ever for operators and managers alike to form mental models about the systems they are responsible for. Meanwhile, operational intelligence platforms are being paired with increasingly advanced control systems that provide these insights with the means to be acted upon at a higher fidelity. This gives facilities that ability to redefine their costs of doing business in a way that is more in line with their own business objectives.

To illustrate such a shift to this emerging class of cyber-physical system, this paper presents a project Radix Engineering and Software undertook for a large, international airport in which they performed a complete overhaul of the automated electrical control system and implemented a comprehensive operational intelligence platform – all without interrupting or adversely affecting the airport’s ability to meet the needs of the customers that counted on them.

The Challenge: Overhauling Without Going Offline

Though each individual airport faces its own unique challenges, there are patterns that emerge across the entire industry. Many airports are struggling with power distribution systems that are long past their prime, resulting in electrical power that is neither reliable nor cost effective. This was the case for the airport described in this paper. Having originally been installed several decades ago, the maintenance required to keep the electrical power system excessively added to the cost of “keeping the lights on”, and recurring downtime threatened to hinder the flow of passengers moving through. This is especially problematic to airports, as they can’t simply shut down for a period of time while these systems are upgraded. Air travel as a whole is facilitated by a complex network of flights and the airports they connect. If one of these airports fails to carry its own weight, these delays can propagate across the world to interconnected airports – travelers who don’t even pass through the same country may be negatively affected.

A Fully Managed Overhaul – Radix’s Approach

Tackling an overhaul of the entire power distribution system would not only require expertise in engineering, software, automation, and IT, but would also require a concentrated effort to work alongside the airport’s daily operations without excessively interfering. This took careful coordination with the key stakeholders who worked with the systems that needed to be upgraded. To understand how this was possible, Radix exhaustively interviewed key personnel to gain an understanding of how work was performed day in and day out. Documentation served as another key source of information. Lastly, it was also imperative to physically go out to key locations around the airport and see them in person, a practice that was especially important when documentation was either unavailable or out of date. It was only once Radix had completed this investigation into the needs of its client did it proceed with the task of overhauling the airport’s utility infrastructure and implementing the backbone of the airport’s digital strategy.

  1. Upgrading the Power Distribution System

Providing the higher level of control needed for the airport’s power distribution system required a substantial upgrade to the hardware, itself. Based on feedback from the investigation, new programmable logic controllers (PLC’s) were put in place to govern the operation of all 847 electric panels throughout the airport. These units gave the power distribution system the ability to react to changing conditions automatically without the need for human intervention. These PLC’s, in turn, were connected to a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that allowed for high-level human oversight of these electric panels from a centralized location. In order to avoid the potential fragility of such a centralized network, the infrastructure through which the control system communicated was organized across redundant rings – thereby preventing a branch of the system from being taken offline by a single fault.

This centralization of control yielded several benefits. First, it bolstered the resilience of the power distribution system by eliminating the need for operators to go out and remediate problems in person. This enabled more timely recovery from faults. These time-savings also yielded a financial benefit: because personnel no longer had to visit electrical panels in person, the airport’s electrical power system required fewer man-hours to keep running smoothly. Furthermore, this created a safer work environment for airport employees as they no longer had to interact with high-voltage electrical equipment. By the conclusion of this project, Radix had installed 70 kilometers of electric cable with an additional 9 kilometers of fiber optic cable.

  1. Implementing a Platform for Operational Intelligence

A key consideration for any automated system operating in a complex environment is how humans will interact with it and how both machine and human actors can work together to achieve system goals. This is important because, while automation is able to relieve operators of some of their workload, there are tasks that humans are generally better suited for. These are tasks that require general troubleshooting, predicting events, or making decisions in the context beyond the scope of the system in question. Automated systems can also be prone to being overwhelmed when circumstances push the system outside of its normal operating parameters. With this in mind, operational intelligence systems are generally designed to keep humans in the loop with the information they need by providing a read-only interface that is geared towards their individual roles. This frees them from common-place, routine tasks  and empowers them with the knowledge they need for high-level decision making.

To this end, Radix utilized OSIsoft’s PI System. The PI System is an operational intelligence platform that acts as an infrastructure for real-time data about operations. It was chosen for its ability to collect data from various forms of instrumentation throughout the airport, organize it into a single source of truth, and then represent this information to people through reporting tools and cognitively ergonomic dashboards (as shown below). For instance, an operator may be interested in seeing the status of an individual branch of the distribution system he is responsible for. Knowing what each panel’s status is at any point in time and how it relates to their past status helps this person take a proactive approach to troubleshooting – catching errors before they occur as opposed to after the event. Meanwhile, being able to see more high level information like terminals’ availability and power consumption aided management with useful insight about the value that was being provided for what they were spending.

Summary

The project undertaken by Radix in this case study was an in-depth overhaul of an international airport’s electrical control system paired with the implementation of an operational intelligence platform. The takeaway here is that the act of shifting to a digital strategy for management of essential resources is enabling businesses to renegotiate what have been traditionally viewed as fixed expenses. The result is systems that are not only more cost-efficient, but more responsive and more resilient. In the case of the airport featured in this paper, implementing such a system did not have to come at the cost of interrupting the quality of service that was being provided to its customers, either. Furthermore, management now had the business intelligence systems needed to supplement the decision making needed to maintain this environment.

Radix Engineering and Software can not only provide enhanced controls and operational intelligence solutions for any utility system within a facility, but also possesses the expertise and ability to carry out these projects from start to finish. As an integrated solutions provider that has successfully converged engineering, software, and automation and IT into one package, Radix specializes in managing the entire project lifecycle. Radix is therefore uniquely positioned to assist airport facilities in modernizing their resource management in order to maintain a favorable cash flow.

For further support please contact Radix Engineering and Software:

Houston
820 Gessner Rd, Suite 875
Houston, Texas, USA
Email: radix@radixeng.net

Rio de Janeiro
Av. Nilo Peçanha, 11, Suite 704 & 705 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro – RJ – CEP: 20020-100 – Brazil
Phone: +55 21 3722-0198 / +55 21 3725-1110