Learning a bit more about the people that make Affinity Energy tick.
For more Q&A with Allan, check out his CSIA interview.
We took a little time to interview Allan Evora, president of a control systems integration company in Charlotte, North Carolina to learn more about him and why he founded Affinity Energy.
Q: How would you describe to lay people what you do?
A: Let me explain it with a car analogy.
Driving a car requires you to use the brake system, steering system, and electrical system. All the different components you use to operate your car are centrally managed via the car’s brain, or control system. The control system provides feedback on how fast you’re going, warns you that your seatbelt isn’t on, and engages safety features of the car.
What we do at Affinity Energy is coordinate that central piece, that behind-the-scenes brain that ties all that equipment together…but instead of working with cars, we work with power and energy systems at energy plants, solar farms, and data centers. All of their equipment, whether a generator providing power or a chiller providing cooled water, must be controlled, monitored, and managed.
We plan, engineer, and design that system, and ultimately provide operators with the means to operate, maintain, and control their facility!
Q: What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching controls engineers or system integrators?
A: At the end of the day, customers should understand that it’s not only the technical expertise of a system integrator that counts, but how they execute their business. System integration is more than just the physical act of connecting systems, programming control sequences, and developing HMIs. Your system integrator should provide you with a comprehensive engineered solution.
Are you getting documentation and drawings? Are they going through proper quality or acceptance testing procedures? Are you getting customized O&M manuals?
In Affinity Energy’s case, our deliverable is much more comprehensive today than it was 10 years ago.
Q: Tell us how you got started in the business of control system integration.
A: After my employer was sold to GE in 2001, I make the decision between employment within a very large multinational corporation or branching off on my own.
There was no doubt in my mind that my career and my future was in power and energy industry in controls systems integration. And I really enjoyed the smaller company atmosphere, making decisions on the fly, using a wider breadth of skills, and not getting caught up in administrative bureaucracy.
I took a risk and pursued the entrepreneurial path. In June, 2002, Affinity Energy was born.
Q: What’s a trend you see in industrial automation right now?
A: Security. Due to recent events, whether its hackers infiltrating water systems or messing with building automation, there is even more scrutiny in security.
Electric generation has always had significant perimeter security. But with more smart instruments and controls accessible through networks and wireless, the ability for an undesirable to take control is greater than ever. Making sure devices or instruments are protected against unauthorized access has been at the forefront of a lot of discussions lately.
Q: What challenges are your customers facing?
A: In some ways, the power and energy industry is lagging behind what has already occurred in manufacturing. There are a lot of great tools that have allowed manufacturing facilities to decrease downtime and increase quality. Those are just now coming into the electrical distribution and controls space, slowly bringing the power and energy industry into the 21st century.
Our customers are being forced to do more with less. As a result, we’ve seen a significant reduction in mission critical operations staff. But at the same time the amount of information, how quickly you can acquire it, who you can route it to…it’s all growing. Most of our customers say it’s overwhelming. For the most part, our customers only have time to operate on a need-to-know basis. They don’t want to know when everything is working fine, only when something’s abnormal.
As a system integrator, our #1 priority is to make our customers lives easier, not harder. So, we’ve taken the challenge by the horns, working to understand exactly how important certain pieces of information are to certain customers. Are those items actionable, or do they just need to be logged? Does this need to show up as an alert? Who does this piece of information actually need to go to? Does the data show efficiency-increasing opportunities our customers are unaware of?
Q: What is the smartest decision your company has made recently?
A: Recently, I’ve make a conscious decision to bring in young professionals. Within the last several years, there’s been a convergence in using open IT standards.
Instead of the industrial-specific protocols and technologies the older workforce is familiar with, the industry is utilizing IT protocols. Not only just on the security front, but also when developing graphics and working with databases. Even though they may not be as experienced, our younger generation workforce has helped us be better equipped and cost effective in dealing with those challenges.
Q: Why did you choose a career in power and energy?
A: I originally started in aerospace engineering, but after seven years saw great opportunity in power and energy. The electrical transmission and distribution infrastructure in the United States is extremely old. It’s pretty much been the same since it was originally designed.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a great transition from electromechanical to digital. I realized that by switching industries, I actually had the opportunity to be part of something huge.
I originally founded Affinity Energy as a systems integration firm involved in electrical substation upgrades for electric utility companies, and we took advantage of the switch to digital during the transformation of how substations were monitored, controlled, and protected. Since then, we’ve adjusted our focus to include mission critical facilities, but have maintained our focus on power and energy systems.
Q: Why do you like being a control systems integrator?
A: One of the biggest skills required as a control systems integrator is solving problems. For the most part, each project has its own unique set of requirements, so it doesn’t get boring.
For some, that can be a double-edged sword. You’re constantly challenged to come up with new solutions to what seems like a never-ending list of requirements. Personally, that challenge is something I love.
Q: What makes Affinity Energy optimistic about the future of the automation-control systems industry?
A: The energy density in some critical facilities, like data enters and energy plants, continues to grow day by day. This, coupled with the growing amount of data that can be acquired, means there’s always a bigger challenge to be solved. Every day we face unique challenges in how best to optimize the facility we’re working on. It’s a thrill to be an integral part of that process.
Allan D. Evora is a leading expert in control systems integration and president of Affinity Energy with over 20 years of industry experience working in every capacity of the power automation project life cycle. With a background at Boeing Company and General Electric, Allan made the decision to establish Affinity Energy in 2002. Allan is an alumnus of Syracuse University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, graduate of the NC State Energy Management program, and qualified as a Certified Measurement & Verification Professional (CMVP).
Throughout his career, Allan has demonstrated his passion for providing solutions. In 1990, he developed FIRST (Fast InfraRed Signature Technique), a preliminary design software tool used to rapidly assess rotary craft infrared signatures. In 2008, Allan was the driving force behind the development of Affinity Energy's Utilitrend; a commercially available, cloud-based utility resource trending, tracking, and reporting software.
Allan has been instrumental on large scale integration projects for utilities, universities, airports, financial institutions, medical campus utility plants, and manufacturing corporations, and has worked with SCADA systems since the early ‘90s. A passion for data acquisition, specialty networks, and custom software drives him to incorporate openness, simplicity, and integrity into every design in which he is involved.