Replacing seven SCADA systems with one

Toronto Pearson International Airport starts fast on major baggage program with new, streamlined SCADA system that serves as the heart of the ambitious project

By Jim Meyers December 17, 2020

When we’re travelling, we all want to move through airports as quickly as possible. We want that for our bags too. That’s why the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) launched its ambitious, $1.5 billion Baggage 2025 program. GTAA operates Toronto Pearson International Airport, and it had a strong vision for improving Toronto Pearson’s baggage handling system.

The first step was replacing existing systems with a single upper level/supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that would serve as the new heart of Toronto Pearson’s baggage operation. GTAA enlisted the help of system integrator Brock Solutions of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Brock Solutions is an engineering and professional services company specializing in design, build and implementation of real-time systems for various industries worldwide.

Toronto Pearson served more than 50 million passengers in 2019, making it the busiest airport in Canada. GTAA wanted to modernize its baggage handling systems in an effort to provide better services for passengers. The new upper level/SCADA system replaced seven old SCADA systems.

The installed system went live in March 2020. It’s a combination of SmartSort (Brock’s software for baggage sortation and reporting) and Ignition by Inductive Automation — an industrial application platform with tools for building solutions in SCADA, human-machine interface (HMI) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The combination of software packages gives Toronto Pearson a solid foundation for the future.

One brain, one journey

“With Baggage 2025, GTAA is reimagining its baggage handling systems,” said Mark Holbrook, SmartSuite business manager for Brock Solutions. “The previous upper level/SCADA systems were provided by a variety of vendors over 15 years. These systems were programmed by various individuals using different design principles. This made the system very difficult to support, upgrade and maintain. The new system is much better, because it has one look and feel and is the perfect platform for future expansion and growth.”

“The vision was to take the seven separate baggage systems and integrate them under one software umbrella,” said Jose Salamo, associate director of baggage system capacity and infrastructure at GTAA. “So, a single application, single control room, one brain, one baggage journey for all bags at Toronto Pearson.”

Over the last 30 years, the airport saw continuous development and numerous construction projects that expanded the number of buildings and piers, while adding new baggage systems. The rising number of SCADA systems rose because of these expansions.

“It’s been a long road, but we’re finally here, working in one large control room with the suite of software applications delivered by Brock,” Salamo said. “It’s been a massive step forward in efficiency for baggage services here. So far, it’s been a complete success. During the factory acceptance testing in early 2020, we had our staff asking if we could please turn the software on the very next day.”

Zero downtime

The new system will help the airport achieve its baggage handling goals for years to come. “We’re looking to enable the airport to be able to process north of 65 million bags by the year 2025,” said Zeljko Cakic, director of the information technology (IT) airport development program for GTAA. “Prerequisite for achieving such a demanding goal was the creation of a single unified and integrated sort allocation controller (SAC) and SCADA upper level control system that would allow us to gradually eliminate legacy and obsolete technologies while allowing for zero downtime throughout the entire process.”

The previous SCADA systems were replaced by the new one through a careful process of testing and phasing onsite over a period of 12 months. The old systems were systematically replaced by the new SCADA one at a time. Each new portion was brought online in parallel with the existing one so the system could be tested without affecting live airport operations.

Cakic said there were numerous problems with the mix of previous systems. Aging software of various generations, along with an incoherent IT infrastructure, caused plenty of issues. Obsolescence issues amplified difficulties caused by proprietary industrial control systems (ICSs) and technologies. “Integrational levels were not present and data and information coming from all these systems were not integrated and were not made available to the consumers,” Cakic said. “We inherited all these systems with troubling reliability issues, without proper data consistency and data integration.”

The new system has brought simplified, more efficient technology management and operations. Predictive management and maintenance are now possible, where they weren’t before. “We have experienced improvement in resiliency and availability of the baggage systems and services,” Cakic said. “Our partners and our internal stakeholders greatly benefit from information sharing and data consistency being shared across multiple business units and multiple business partners. We have seen overall improvements of the baggage efficiency and baggage processing.”

First of its kind

Beneficiaries of more data include airport operations teams, baggage service teams, Air Canada and other carriers operating at the airport.

“We chose the Ignition software because it solved a variety of problems with the existing SCADA,” Holbrook said. “It was used because of its performance, innovation and scalability. The old system suffered from performance issues that were causing delays in situational awareness for the operators. This new software is up to the task of solving that issue. And innovation is a factor because this project involves an early baggage storage system that’s the first of its kind in North America. This software was needed to help with some of the challenging information that needed to be displayed. And the airport needed a solution that was flexible and could scale to handle the hundreds of PLCs that would need to be connected to this system.”

The airport will have the first and largest early baggage storage system in North America, which required innovative design around the communication protocols and graphical depictions. The airport also needed a SCADA system that’s geographically aware of its equipment so situational awareness can be designated and managed. The solution also includes alarm-based SCADA navigation and situational awareness controls, such as integration with CCTV.

“What I find impressive about this system is the sheer size of it,” Holbrook said. “It’s over 280,000 tags, over 50,000 alarms, and 50 screens. And it’s connected to 128 Rockwell and Siemens PLCs. And this was all accomplished using seven redundant gateways.”

Integrating seven disparate systems into one was a difficult task. The various systems needed to be studied, and custom tools were developed in order to complete the process. Over 50 SQL scripts had to be written in order to bring the tags over, and over 100 screens had to be analyzed and converted to SVG so they could be imported into the new system. The information came from raw text, XML, CAD, GFX, SQL and other formats. Extensive testing and office emulation also were required.

Scheduling for success

“The difficulty came in maintaining live operations at our busy airport,” Salamo said. “This meant that testing and commissioning had to be done in small windows in the overnight period. Careful schedules and detailed phasing plans were developed in conjunction with Brock in order to achieve the accelerated schedule for a process that had to be repeated for every sector.

The biggest challenges were coordinating the nighttime work, day in and day out, and making sure that we didn’t fall into the continuous regression testing that you sometimes have in identifying bugs and having to retest certain aspects that had previously passed. With the schedule, there were some instances where we did have to do some regression testing, but overall, it was a great success.”

In deciding whether to go with this system for its ambitious, five-year improvement to its baggage handling system, GTAA looked at the work that Brock did at Dublin Airport in Ireland. Salamo said people at Toronto Pearson liked what they saw in the Dublin project.

“What we found very appealing was the fact that it was one source of truth, a common interface amongst all of the screens and applications and it was one story to tell,” Salamo said.

Training of operators is also easier thanks to the new system. “It’s advanced — a lot more advanced than the applications we had before,” said Gil Pabustan, baggage services training supervisor for GTAA. “For training purposes, training on one application is a lot easier than on three different applications, as we did in the past.”

Pabustan added the new system is better overall. “We noticed a big difference. I feel that now, everything’s a lot smoother, much better, in respect to reporting and data collection. The team is very happy with the new system.”

Brock looks forward to working with Toronto Pearson for years to come. “As the Baggage 2025 program continues over the next five years, there will need to be many modifications,” Holbrook said. “This new SCADA system provides a firm foundation on which to build upon for these efforts.”

GTAA picked this system with an eye to the future. “It was chosen to meet modern IT standards, independent of PLC and ICS original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), thus allowing GTAA to be in the driver’s seat for planning and evolution of systems and technologies employed,” Cakic said. “Choosing a partner such as Brock — with a strong IT background, orientation towards innovation, demonstrated agility, and common goals with the airport — was key for our success.”

This article appeared in the Global System Integrator Report.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Jim Meyers is communications manager at Inductive Automation, creator of the Ignition industrial application platform for SCADA, HMI, IIoT and more.