By Peter Gommers
A new software reporting system is making quick work of generating reports. The software uses automatically collected data as well as manually input data and also allows analysis and review. Microsoft's Excel software forms the core of the system that generates customized reports that can be saved and distributed in many formats.
The reports related to an industry's water use seem infinite. A facility's reporting needs vary dramatically and include those reports required by regulations as well as those needed for process control management. Typical reports may include a daily flow usage report for the supervisor, a chemical treatment report that has to be submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection every month, as well as fulfilling a request from maintenance to monitor the efficiency and reliability of the pumps in the pumping stations.
A report is far more than a collection of values on a sheet of paper. A good report takes in raw data and turns it into valuable information. To achieve this transformation, the reporting system needs to be equipped with the proper tools to provide data collection methods, a calculation and formatting capability and a way to distribute the report to the interested parties.
SyTech, Inc. in Walpole, MA., has created XLReporter, a software product designed to remove the obstacles to report generation. The new software has recently won the Control Engineering Editors' Choice award. It is proving itself to be practical and extremely functional in preparing and distributing a variety of customized reports.
The Core of a Good Report
Initially the company recognized that the product had to be simple enough in its application so users can design and generate their own reports. Second, the tool had to be open to the many types of data available in the industry. Third, and most important, the reporting system had to use an environment that is comfortable and familiar to most users.
With all these requirements in mind, SyTech created XLReporter, a reporting system that uses Microsoft Excel at its core, armed with industrially robust scheduling and easy to use configuration tools. It provides calculation and formatting capability using the software environment typical report users have grown to trust.
XLReporter uses Microsoft's COM Automation technology to harness the Excel "engine" to manage and insert data into worksheets. This is all performed in the background completely invisible to the user.
"We have successfully applied SyTech products to a variety of water and wastewater applications," stated Kelly O'Day, director of utility management consulting for the Water and Wastewater Instruments and Controls division of Woodard & Curran. "This is a win-win situation, creating better solutions for both our clients, and my application engineers. We look forward to our continued success in using SyTech technology to address our client requirements."
Compatibility With Automation
It makes sense to automate the reporting for processes that are set up to run automatically. The software includes a scheduling program configured to generate reports on a periodic basis. In addition, process events can also trigger the generation of a report. The user sets it up once, and it runs forever. Of course, on demand reports are also supported.
Joe Andreshak, Product Manager at Microsoft said, "The automation interfaces provided by SyTech enable Excel to be used in more niche markets that require automated and unattended operation. This is an example of how Microsoft Office applications can solve critical business problems for our customers and deliver great benefits to creative partners like SyTech."
Analysis and Distribution
Data analysis is the strong suit of this application, which uses tables, charts, data sorts or color-coding that enhances the meaning of the reported values. By pre-configuring standard Excel functions or even macros, any data enhancement or analysis is performed as an integral part of the automated report generation. Of course, manual analysis within Excel can be performed at any time on a finished report.
When the report is done, it must reach the people that need to see it, the operators, the engineers, the management and the regulatory agency. The distribution aspect is as important as the report generation aspect. It is of no use to create a report that nobody can see.
XLReporter hosts a wealth of channels to distribute the reports. Left in the native Excel format (.XLS), the file format can be shared between all computers that run Excel. In addition, SyTech has created an operator friendly Excel file viewer. The secure environment of XLViewer allows users to safely share the power of Excel between the plant floor, the engineering department and the front office.
Converted in HTML format, a report can be viewed by any browser program. If stored on an intranet or internet server, the report is web published as soon as it has been generated. Attached to an email, a report can be automatically sent to a pre-configured list of recipients. XLReporter's scheduler program will make sure that the distribution occurs on time. The report also can be sent to any networked printer or it can be converted to custom file formats, such as PDF, CSV or TXT for distribution or storage.
With its four tier approach, "Collect, Report, Analyze and Distribute," SyTech has designed its XLReporter to address the void in reporting solutions for industrial applications. The company has created its new software to be easy to use and affordable, and to put process information back in the hands of the common user. For more about this and other computer software available visit www.industrialww.com and search articles for "software gamut."
About the Author:
Peter Gommers is Vice President of Engineering at SyTech and has 20 years experience in Process Automation. He holds a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in Process Control.