The following article appeared in the internal employee newsletter of Interprovincial Pipe Line. It describes a control system development project in which tesserNet played a support role, providing RTAP design and development expertise and software products. The resulting pipline control system, PCS, is now being marketed by IPL Technology and Consulting Services Inc.

Copyright © September 1993, Interprovincial Pipe Line Inc.

Team approach produces new Pipeline Control System

Making the transition from keystrokes to mouse-clicks is not an adjustment that's being made these days only by office staff learning the basics of Windows on their PCs.

Control centre operators -- the people who run the pump-control computers they like to call the `cash registers' of the company -- are also learning the basics of a new mouse-driven computer that will soon replace the existing pipeline control system (PCS). And, like employees who are clicking their way through Windows, control centre operators are learning that a few mouse-clicks can be worth a hundred keystrokes.

Plans to replace the old Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA), which was originally implemented in 1968, began about two years ago. The old system, once considered 20 years ahead of its time, was simply losing the race against the advances being made by newer computer technology.

After investigating available technology in early 1991, Information Systems formed the PCS Redevelopment Project Team to build a new PCS from the ground up on Hewlett-Packard computers. Under the leadership of Project Management Specialist Dave Milton, and with the assistance of Control Centre Operator Paul Bagnall (who consolidated input from operators across the pipeline system) the 13-member IS team created a new system that puts IPL and Lakehead back on the cutting edge of SCADA technology.

"There aren't too many pipeline companies that can say they built their own PCS," Dave says.

"We went from investigating the feasibility of the project to developing and installing the system all within a relatively short period of time -- which says a lot about the expertise and co-operation we've had among the various departments and team members working on the project."

A significant milepost in the project was reached this June when the first PCS computers were installed in Edmonton to run parallel to the old system.

Comparable to the way office staff are currently able to work on Windows or MS-DOS, operators can now issue many of the common control commands through the new computers, while still being able to issue commands through the old system. The temporary parallel configuration gives operators a chance to familiarize themselves with the new system before the old system is shut down.

Sarnia and Superior have since been installed with the parallel system, and Norman Wells is expected to be up and running within the next month. By early 1994, final system upgrades will be completed, operators will be trained and the old system will be dismantled.

Among the advantages the new system has over the old one are its much-improved information storage, retrieval and display capabilities; the ability it gives operators to `customize' the way information is display on-screen; its `expandability' for future software upgrades; and the ease and speed by which control commands can be issued.

As Paul Bagnall explains, the user-friendliness of the new system can be demonstrated simply by comparing the number of keystrokes it saves operators on frequently used commands.

"I counted how many buttons I had to punch on the old system to slow down the flow of oil between Edmonton Terminal and Milden Take-Off from 1,700 to 1,200 cubic meters per hour", he recalls.

"It took about 20 minutes and 516 keystrokes. But with the mouse, the same task would take only 20 clicks, and you're done in a fraction of the time. Plus, the flow change is made much smoother."

Paul adds that the information storage and retrieval features of the PCS -- such as elevation geography and landmark profiles -- provide operators with a clearer picture of the actual terrain in which the pipeline is located. These features also reduce the number of times operators have to get up and leave the computer system to get more information.

"The system makes our lives a little easier because it puts more information at our fingertips", Paul adds. "It allows us to make quicker, better decisions when problems occur on the line -- the times when minutes and seconds really count."