Astec achieves ISO 27001:2013 certification

Astec have successfully completed certification to ISO 27001:2013, demonstrating our commitment to best-practice information security processes. As the risk of cyber attacks increase for ourselves and our customers, having an information security management system certified and externally audited to ISO 27001:2013 is paramount to mitigate the threat. As the level of integration between systems and equipment in the IT and OT space accelerates to drive digital transformation, being able to implement best practices in security and information management is extremely important for our customers.

Managing director Andy Tripp commented, “Achieving ISO 27001:2103 certification underlines the robustness of our information security management, adding a level of compliance, process and procedure which demonstrates how seriously we take our responsibilities with our data and systems and those of our customers. I’m extremely proud of the hard work of the team in achieving this accreditation.”

Established by the International Organization for Standardization, ISO 27001:2013 specifies the requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining and continually improving an information security management system within the context of the organisation. More information can be found on the ISO website.

Blowdown of Rugeley Power Station Cooling Towers

On Sunday 6th June 2021, the view from our Rugeley headquarters window changed forever as the 4 cooling towers at Rugeley B Power Station were demolished. A permanent feature of the Rugeley landscape for over 50 years, they were reduced to rubble in a few seconds and will eventually make way for homes, a school, employment space and a country park along the river Trent.


 
You can read more about the development plans for the former Power Station site here.
 

Supercharge Remote Support with FREE AR-Enabled Remote Assistance

As we all come to terms with the unprecedented challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting to a new way of working remotely as effectively as possible can be particularly challenging.

To help our customers stay safe and connected during this challenging time, Astec has partnered with PTC to offer free access to Vuforia Chalk, a collaborative remote assistance tool, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Vuforia Chalk is a remote assistance product that leverages Augmented Reality (AR) to enable off-site and on-site employees to collaborate in the operation, maintenance and repair of all kinds of products and processes. It’s like a video call with Augmented Reality superpowers for industrial settings and is easy to set up and use on existing devices.

Please feel free to share this information with others within your company that may benefit from the use of Vuforia Chalk.

This is a genuine offer of support from Astec in these difficult times. A full version of Chalk is available with free access, not just a trial version and there are no automatic conversions or billing.

Contact us for further information or if you’d just like to get started, click here.

 

Astec IT Solutions relocates to accommodate expanding workforce

Astec IT Solutions relocates to accommodate expanding workforce

In January 2019 Astec IT Solutions relocated from their premises within the Venture Point business centre in Rugeley, Staffordshire, to Edric House on Towers Plaza which offers over 5000 square feet of dedicated office space to support their growth plans over the next few years.

Over the last 12 months, Astec have expanded their workforce, meaning more space was required to accommodate new staff. The new building will comfortably accommodate 50 employees and has been configured to support a dynamic, agile business with open plan meeting space and numerous, dedicated meeting rooms. Directors Andy Tripp and Chris Barlow have further plans to take on even more staff over the next few years, creating vital jobs in the Rugeley area.

As a company that highly values its employees, Astec ensured minimum impact to existing staff by relocating to premises just 200m away from the previous office. Managing Director Andy Tripp said “The new site symbolises the next stage in the development of Astec. We want the new premises to create a dynamic and inspiring working environment for current employees as well as new recruits.”

Founded in 2000, Astec IT Solutions provide software solutions to a wide range of industries from Food & Beverage Manufacturing to Broadcasting and Utilities. Key software partners include GE Digital, Novotek and PTC, and the company regularly works on projects for Molson Coors, Sky and South Staffs Water.

 

Case Study – Huntsman Advanced Materials

Huntsman Advanced Materials is a leading global chemical solutions provider, specialising in epoxy, acrylic and polyurethane-based polymer products. Astec’s initial project for Huntsman took place during 2017, and focused on updating the system infrastructure at their Duxford facility.

The site occupies 150 acres and employs 140 people across the spectrum of production, quality, engineering, warehousing, logistics and technical roles. Its research, testing, manufacturing, filling, warehousing and support functions benefit from automated processes and new technologies.

Existing hardware, systems, software licences and system performance were audited by Astec, and a series of recommendations for improvement were put forward, with future supportability as a key area of focus. Several improvement possibilities regarding the SCADA systems, network topology and replacement of obsolete parts were highlighted. The SCADA system used an in-built iFIX security facility which provided usernames and passwords for the system but did not enforce password complexity rules or expiry periods. System users regularly left themselves logged in to operator terminals when they vacated their work areas, which posed a security threat where unauthorised personnel could effectively control the production equipment.

Project 1: Active Directory

Following recommendations from Astec and an internal security audit, Huntsman initiated the Active Directory project. Active Directory is a Microsoft product that consists of several services that run on Windows to manage permissions and access to networked resources. The main objective was to improve the level of control over operator access to vessels.

The initial phase was to configure a staging system. This was carried out off-site at the Astec offices, and provided an accurate representation of the real system so general operation and ‘look & feel’ could be observed.

In addition to rigorous unit and system testing, Astec conducted acceptance test campaigns at the start and end of system delivery to ensure Huntsman’s parameters were met. The new physical servers and the completed Active Directory were then installed. The domain controllers were configured as VMware guest machines, hosted by two new VMware host hypervisors. This introduced a virtual architecture and provided a foundation for future virtualisation of the software infrastructure. It also provided a level of abstraction between the hardware and software layers, mitigating future risk of operating system obsolescence and significantly reducing the time required to replace server hardware.

Once the two domain controllers (for redundancy) had been introduced, an Active Directory Domain was implemented in two of the production areas. Astec investigated the existing network architecture in detail, and then designed the Active Directory Domain architecture. The system design included the security model; security groups, group membership, password complexity rules and SCADA integration.

By implementing a Windows Active Directory domain for the control system network, the old in-built security model was discontinued and changed to a domain security model. Operators must now log in to the system with a Windows username and password that is subject to password complexity, expiry and retention rules. This overcame previous concerns for system security, and provided a foundation for more formal procedures. The new IT-centric system architecture is now capable of meeting Huntsman’s current and future needs.

Support

The Engineering team at Huntsman already had an existing support service in place with another provider, but were looking for more flexibility. Astec were able to design a tailored support package to meet their needs, and provided a guaranteed cost of support. The 3 year SLA agreement includes access to the Astec support helpdesk during standard operating hours and out of hours, with query acknowledgement within a 2-hour timeframe and investigation within 4 hours.

Project 2: Historian & Alarm Management

Work began for the second, most recent project in June 2018. An existing physical server would be reprovisioned to house a Historian and a guest server would be configured as a new Microsoft SQL instance, for the new Alarm Management solution. The Historian archives process data from the existing SCADA, and provides additional data for the Alarm Management reports. Astec virtualised the existing physical server using VMware ESXi as the hypervisor, with the new guest server hosted on the physical server. Huntsman provided their KPI data so it could be used to produce useful visual representations for a ‘helicopter view’ of their operations.

Astec’s Alarm Management Reports consolidate data from alarms and events captured in the SQL database. The standard reports with configurable filters for date/time, type, operator, area, etc. include: –
• Top 10 alarms by frequency
• Top 10 alarms by duration
• Alarm Summary by area
• System Audit Trail

A new report was created to provide a key alarm information from the production system, and conform to the EEMUA 191 guidelines. KPIs for this report included: –
• Average alarm rate
• Peak alarm rate
• Number of standing alarms
• % of alarms of each priority
• Priority distribution

The new report’s drill down structure with additional hyperlinks provided users with access to more insights, such as alarm priority counts, tag descriptions and top 10 most common alarms. On completion of the report design work, the existing Webspace and Reporting Server was configured to enable access to reports from outside the Huntsman Production LAN.

The SQL Server databases that held the alarm and event information were configured to automatically purge old data. This limits the indefinite expansion of the database tables so the database is kept from growing to an unmanageable size. The SQL Server makes automatic daily backups of each of the databases used for capturing alarms and events. A rolling 7-day backup ensures that the database can be fully restored in the event of system failure or data loss.

Installation of the Historian was completed over a 3-month period including design, development, testing, installation and commissioning. The commissioning was completed following the installation within a 4-day period. The new servers can house existing and future servers and clients in virtual machines, cutting down on storage space and hardware maintenance costs. The Historian now logs a comprehensive number of signals so the client is able to carry out targeted investigations into incidents and quality issues, using accurate and reliable data. The Alarm Management Dashboard enables more effective interpretation of KPI data, and a range of automated reports deliver multiple benefits around efficiency of operations.

The project was delivered within budget and agreed timescales, with only minor teething problems with the reverse proxy. Astec provided regular weekly updates to the client during the project via email reports and was delighted to receive positive feedback from Huntsman’s lead Electrical & Automation Engineer on the project, Carlos Cardoso.

“We were very satisfied with the outcome of our information technology project with Astec. Their team responded well to the challenges we were facing, particularly those involving licensing delays. Overall, documentation of the project was of a very high standard and we would not hesitate to recommend Astec as a software partner for future projects.”