In late 2020, project managers in fields as diverse as oil and gas, chemical processing, food and beverage, and more, received news that OSIsoft would be retiring its ProcessBook software package, PI’s venerable data visualization tool kit that debuted in 1994. Because of its tight integration with PI’s industry-leading historian, ProcessBook was widely adopted by process engineers to build trends, dashboards, and process graphics from their PI Server time-series data.
Over the years, competitors have come up with newer, more powerful analytics tools, but many engineers have stuck with ProcessBook simply because of their familiarity with the tool kit, or because of the difficulty of migrating critical graphics and displays to a new platform. For those users who were comfortable with ProcessBook, OSIsoft’s announcement will challenge all users with finding a replacement.
While current users could continue to use ProcessBook indefinitely, by discontinuing support, OSIsoft is clearly encouraging customers to make plans to transition to alternative platforms. Security updates for ProcessBook ceased in 2022, and support for the platform will end entirely in December of 2024.
If you’ve been uncertain about replacing ProcessBook at your facility, now’s the time to begin looking into alternative solutions. However, if you’ve been a devoted ProcessBook user, it may have been decades since your facility has shopped for an alternative industrial analytics tool. Below, we’ll outline some of the key considerations as you start shopping for a replacement.
EVALUATING PI SERVER ANALYTICS TOOLS
Since ProcessBook’s introduction, the industrial analytics marketplace has become quite crowded. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of companies out there making analytics products for everything from broad industrial applications to niche manufacturing processes. So where does one start in a search for an alternative to ProcessBook? What factors should be considered to determine which of these solutions is the best fit?
At a high level, you should be thinking about the following:
1. Ease of Integration
Chances are, if you’re using ProcessBook, you’re also using PI Server as a data historian. If you’re looking to replace ProcessBook, the most critical question you’ll have to answer is, “How well does this alternative integrate with PI server?” The answer to this question means the difference between a quick, ten-minute connection to PI Server, or a costly and time-intensive investment in custom development and new OT infrastructure.
Migration is also a key consideration. Your organization has invested time and money into building the ProcessBook displays essential to efficient operations. Certain ProcessBook alternatives provide tools to simply migrate existing ProcessBook displays to your new platform. Others do not.
2. Diagnostic Analytics Capabilities
Diagnostic or “exploratory” analytics tools are used for root cause investigation and troubleshooting of downtime events or product quality issues. Trends and trending capabilities are at the core of diagnostic analytics. Effective root cause analysis depends on rapid ad-hoc analysis and the ability to quickly overlay historical data from various process areas to determine correlation and causation.
Trending is likely to be one of the top two capabilities ProcessBook users are looking to address with a replacement system. In addition to trends, diagnostic analytics are often supported by other visualization tools, such as histograms, X/Y charts, and Pareto charts. When presented with difficult process questions, the more ways you can slice and dice your data the easier it will be to arrive at the correct answer.
3. Operations Management Capabilities
“Operations management” is broadly defined here as the capabilities that allow for:
- Production tracking
- Process monitoring
- OEE tracking
- Quality management
- Process alarms and notifications
- Manual data entry
That’s a lot of functionality, and most of it comes from dashboarding and process graphics-building tools that leverage process data for real-time monitoring. Basic analytics solutions typically only allow for monitoring at the site level, but more sophisticated offerings allow enterprise-wide tracking of production KPIs across multiple sites.
ProcessBook users have gotten the most use mileage out of the platform’s dynamic, interactive graphics, and it’s not uncommon for displays built with ProcessBook to see a decade or more of continued use. When looking to replace ProcessBook’s operations management capabilities, you have a few options. You could look for point solutions designed specifically for that capability, like SSRS for reporting. You could find a highly customizable product that has coding capabilities like ProcessBook. Or you could find a broad a solution that has the building blocks necessary to solve multiple business needs.
4. Advanced Analytics Capabilities
Advanced analytics is another loaded term that we’ll define here for the purpose of this post. Often used in relation to leading-edge manufacturing concepts, like machine learning and industrial AI, advanced analytics in ProcessBook replacement tools will typically take two forms: predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics.
Predictive analytics tools promise to prevent downtime and improve OEE by building models from recorded data to anticipate and alert users to potential productivity loss. Prescriptive analytics take the next logical step and tell you which actions need to be taken to address predicted production issues.
Together, and in conjunction with process automation tools, predictive and prescriptive analytics form a sort of elementary artificial intelligence used to maximize plant performance.
Although it’d certainly be nice if it weren’t the case, cost will likely be a consideration as you consider ProcessBook alternatives. Pricing for these solutions is usually determined by features and the scope of implementation, and most providers don’t publicly list their pricing so providing even ballpark figures will be difficult. However, there’s one key factor you should be aware of when evaluating pricing, the pricing model.
Pricing models vary between process manufacturing analytics providers, to include everything from flat rate pricing, usage-based pricing, tiered pricing, and user-based pricing. These days, many manufacturing analytics solutions use “per-user” pricing, with the licensing cost going up according to the number of individuals using the tools at a facility. The upside with per-user pricing is that for small facilities, or for organizations with few people monitoring and analyzing process data, it can make for a relatively-cost effective solution. The flipside, obviously, is that for data-driven companies who believe in giving every operator, engineer, and SME the ability to contribute to improving plant performance, per-user pricing can get very expensive very fast.
A LOOK AHEAD
Next month, we’ll wrap up this overview with point-by-point comparisons of different ProcessBook alternatives already on the market: dataPARC’s own PARCview; OSIsoft’s ProcessBook successor, PI Vision; GE’s Proficy CSense; Canary’s Axiom software; TrendMiner; Seeq; and Inductive Automation’s popular SCADA platform, Ignition.
Any of the above applications could be the right choice for your needs, but identifying which aspects of industrial analysis these different tools emphasize will determine which specific choice is right for you. Asking the right question for your facility will determine the right answer.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Kevin Jones serves as the director of sales and marketing for Capstone Technology’s dataPARC division. Founded in 1997, dataPARC is a leading provider of industrial analytics and data visualization tools for process optimization and decision support. With a focus on serving the process industry, dataPARC offers historian and real-time analytics software for vertical markets such as oil and gas, pulp and paper, mining and minerals, food, chemicals and refining, and power and utilities around the globe. For more information, visit www.dataparc.com.
MODERN PUMPING TODAY, September 2023
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