Artistic Background

Winner of the November, 2005 iPod Contest for Best Customer Success Story Using AutoMate

TransAlta Corp. TransAlta Corp.
Marco Martinez, Plant Engineer


TransAlta Corp. is a multinational power generation and wholesale marketing company with yearly revenue of about $2.5 billion. Based in Canada, Transalta manages power plants, systems and other assets located in Canada, the United States, Mexico and Australia. TransAlta's operates a range of coal-fired, gas-fired, hydro and renewable energy facilities.

The Challenge

TransAlta manages the production and delivery of energy resources over a wide geographical expanse. This requires a sophisticated mesh of control systems for thousands of pumps, valves, gas turbines, high voltage breakers, and more. In one plant alone where Marco Martinez works in Ontario, there are over 1,500 measurements monitored in real-time and around the clock. These measurements include various temperatures, pressures, and other readings on the critical control systems which support the production and delivery of energy.

All measurements are recorded on about a dozen computers which process and log all information received over TCP/IP from control equipment throughout the network. While this may sound impressive, the real work begins whenever a gauge malfunctions or a reading surges past a safety threshold. That's when Marco and his team jump into action to detect the root cause of the problem and fix it before a seemingly small incident can snowball into a massive power outage like the one witnessed in August, 2003 when much of northeastern United States went black.

The first thing Marco does when there is a problem is to look at the computer's event logs for clues pointing to a source. But in the past, this was a lot easier said than done.

In the past, all the event logs were written to tape for storage, but this presented a problem with retrieving the information. It took hours to retrieve the data - time Marco just didn't have during an emergency. An initial attempt to solve this problem relied on a home-grown application to retrieve the data, but this application kept crashing because of the sheer volume of data. Worse yet, the data were often lost for good, and worst of all, Marco and his team wouldn't find out there was no data until a crisis occurred and they needed it most. In the words of Marco, "Our managers were going crazy!"

Compounding Marco's problem is the fact he is a Plant Engineer, not a computer whiz or programming guru. But his colleagues at the power plant don't see it that way. For them, he's the go-to guy on all things computer-related, just because he has an engineering degree. So the responsibility of fixing this monumental problem was all Marco's.

The Solution

Finally, Marco uses AutoMate to back up information that can only be backed up by a highly experienced operator interacting with the GUI. Marco has developed automated tasks that mimic what the user would do. This saves him precious time and provides TransAlta with piece of mind that all their data is safe and secure.

The Benefits

For Marco, the benefit of using AutoMate is crystal clear. As Marco says,

"AutoMate helped us reduce data loss by 100%. We haven't lost any data since implementing AutoMate."