Consolidating software on a single platform
In these complex times, simplicity can often save the day. For Kinetrex Energy, simplifying its software applications—combining several tools onto one platform—has led to greater efficiency, better access to data, and improved customer service.
Kinetrex is the leading supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the Midwest. LNG can be transported by truck where pipelines don’t exist. Kinetrex has two LNG facilities in Indianapolis, converting up to 200,000 gallons of liquefied gas per day and storing more than 24 million gallons at its plants. Trucks deliver product to customers all over the Midwest. Four truck-loading stations are open 24 hours a day.
Kinetrex continues to push itself toward more innovation and better ways of doing things. Kinetrex brought in system integrator Miller-Eads Company of Indianapolis to work with it on several projects beginning in March 2016. The two companies have more projects planned for the future.
"With Kinetrex, we were able to replace several existing software solutions, as well as make most of their process paperless," said Charlie Hendrixson, director of automation services at Miller-Eads. The company worked with Kinetrex to identify, develop, test, and deploy the solutions.
Variety of applications
The platform includes solutions for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), high-performance human-machine interface (HMI), accounting, timesheets, truck scheduling, reporting, data historian, document management, and maintenance. Dashboards allow managers to get a quick overview of operations whenever they need it.
Kinetrex had numerous disparate software packages that didn’t work together. It also had a relatively new SCADA system that prevented the company from reaching some of its goals. With a desire to expand its capabilities, Kinetrex engaged Miller-Eads to find a solution.
For this solution, Miller-Eads brought in Ignition, an industrial application platform from Inductive Automation with tools for building solutions in HMI, SCADA, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The platform brought plenty of improvements, and made data available across divisions. "That’s the unique thing about this project," said Hendrixson. "We are doing so many different things on one software platform—from accounting, to the truck drivers, to SCADA, to timesheets and historian. It just goes on and on at Kinetrex. It’s truly an integrated solution for their entire business."
Operators have seen numerous benefits from the increased access to data, but Kinetrex isn’t stopping there. "We’re bringing other departments within the company into the program, providing them the same visibility, and that ability to transfer information across business divisions," said Anthony Hopwood, director of operations for Kinetrex.
The software makes it easier and faster to schedule the daily flow of trucks into the facility to fill up with liquefied gas. To better organize the scheduling of trucks, Miller-Eads built screens that are similar to departure/arrival tables seen at airports.
The software provides more data for operators and managers than they ever had before. The additional information leads to better decision-making. The CapEx/OpEx tool helps Kinetrex do budget planning and financial tracking for numerous projects.
Once Kinetrex saw what the software platform could do, the company had numerous ideas for more projects that could capitalize on the solution’s flexibility. One example is reporting. "We created an automatic report that’s generated every day," said Hopwood. "It’s printed out at the local printer for the operators. It takes all the manual input, and the potential for errors, and gets rid of them."
Integrating numerous software packages has simplified many daily activities. "The visibility and flexibility are the two things I like best about this software," said Hopwood. "When I’m in the program, I appreciate the fact that I don’t have 20 Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft Access databases, etc., to all do the same function. This program does it for me."
Day-to-day logistics are now handled more quickly. "I use it for scheduling, invoicing, and reports," said Michele Thompson, logistics coordinator for Kinetrex. "It’s made my life so much easier. I can access it through my cellphone, tablet, laptop—and the customer doesn’t have to wait."
Cutting down on paper has also led to faster work. "Kinetrex is required to keep a lot of forms and a lot of data for a long time," said Hendrixson. "That would be a nightmare to manage in the paper form. With this software platform, we were able to create a user interface via computer and tablet to replace the forms. At the same time, we improved their process."
Now, operators doing hourly inspections can walk around the facility while recording data on a tablet. The reporting module is used to produce the required documentation. The software makes compliance with regulatory agencies much more streamlined than it had been before. And there are numerous advantages to the electronic process. "We’ve replaced a lot of paper by capturing the information on a tablet," said Jim Coleman, automation engineer at Miller-Eads. "That way it’s stored in a database, it’s secure, and it can be retrieved at any time."
Kinetrex’s previous maintenance software wasn’t fulfilling the company’s needs. Kinetrex wanted more control and flexibility. Miller-Eads used the new software platform to develop a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) designed specifically for Kinetrex. The solution provided tools for managing assets, parts, projects, tasks, and contacts. Operators can use the tools to review their tasks and subtasks for the day. Assets and parts can be associated with tasks, which can be assigned to operators. And the system makes sure regular maintenance isn’t forgotten when unexpected maintenance issues arise.
Better, smarter, faster
By leveraging the Ignition software, Miller-Eads helped Kinetrex consolidate its existing software solutions—both software-as-a-service and on premises—to gain efficiency and functionality. Numerous software packages have been combined into a comprehensive, flexible system that was custom-made for Kinetrex. Now maintenance, expansion, and information-sharing are all much easier than they had been in the past.
Coleman said both Miller-Eads and Kinetrex can get things done quicker. "You have all this information at your fingertips," he said. "And with all the tools the software provides, it’s just very responsive. When you receive a request from a customer, you have the tools right there and the ability to do so many different things all in one place. Whether I get a request from operations or accounting, I go to the same platform, open up the same project or sister project, and I can address the issues. It helps give us a short response time, and the customer appreciates that."
Miller-Eads and Kinetrex look forward to doing more projects on the platform. "It has sped up the process for all of us," said Thompson. "It’s by far the best thing Kinetrex could have done."
Hopwood agrees. "It’s been fantastic," he said. "It’s exceeded all expectations."
Kinetrex also appreciates the opportunity to work with a solid integration firm. "Miller-Eads has done a fantastic job of taking what I’ve written on a whiteboard and building these projects and making them functional for us," Hopwood said.
Jim Meyers is success manager at Inductive Automation, creator of the Ignition industrial application platform for SCADA, HMI, IIoT, and more.