Terri-Jane Yuzda

Cybertech Builds Teams, the Teams Build Control Systems

Freelance Writer

Team Players
The Cybertech engineers and engineer in training shown here are part of a team that puts solutions ahead of titles. Back, from left, are Mike Palamarek, P.Eng., Ken Martel, P.Eng., and Bob Hillyer, E.I.T. Seated is Ken Partington, P.Eng.

It may be used too often by too many, but the word combination "engineering team" still packs plenty of punch at Edmonton's Cybertech Automation Inc. Co-operation among engineers and technologists is the cornerstone of Cybertech's success, and it's something staff and management at the automation and control system consulting firm know and practice.

"There is no school that teaches everything to do with industrial controls. Our competitive advantage is that we work as a team," says Ken Martel, P.Eng., engineering manager. "When we work on a problem, everyone here is very willing and open to sharing their experience."

Adds Cybertech President Kevin Matwichuk, a technologist: "We consciously make it part of every project to bounce ideas off each other and to learn better approaches."

A Multi-Disciplinary Start
In 1994 Mr. Matwichuk, technologist Rob Van Soest and electrician Ray Leblanc founded Cybertech Automation and Cybertech Electric, the first two Cybertech companies. Within months they were joined by another technologist, Pat Richardson, and by Mr. Martel, an electrical engineer.

The original Cybertech team, who had worked together for previous employers, deliberately built an organization that stresses the skills people bring rather than their titles. Developing and programming industrial controls means meshing a number of those skills within a range of disciplines, including computer and instrumentation technology, electrical engineering and electrical trades.

Mr. Martel, a NAIT instrumentation graduate who earned his engineering degree at the University of Alberta, now oversees personnel at Cybertech Automation. He's also one of the four company directors of the associated company i-GEN Solutions Inc. Today the Cybertech group of companies employs a staff of more than 40.

As the company grows, new employees pick up the cooperative attitude that started it all. Bob Hillyer, E.I.T., a 2002 graduate from the U of A's electrical engineering control stream, started full-time after eight months at Cybertech as a co-op student.

During his co-op stint, Mr. Hillyer was struck by a noticeable absence of hierarchy. "The politics of larger companies that stand between problems and solutions is not here," he says. "This is a family-type company and you feel like family here."

Personal Growth, Corporate Growth
Ken Partington, P.Eng., who joined Cybertech after graduating in 1998 from the U of A in electrical engineering, voices similar sentiments. "Having gone through co-op and worked for pretty much every size of company, I found it very appealing to be here. It's much more conducive than a larger company is to talking to everybody, learning things and being given many job task and scope opportunities."

Mr. Partington has benefited by having Cybertech send him to instrumentation courses at NAIT (where he graduated in architectural drafting technology before attending U of A). He's now applying these varied skills on water treatment plants and other Cybertech projects as far away as China.

Besides a flat structure that fosters interaction, Cybertech has also benefited from links company founders already had with clients. A relationship with Enbridge Pipelines, for example, resulted in the development of ScadX in 1997. The human machine interface, or HMI, is used on Enbridge's existing pipeline-control platform.

With ScadX, Enbridge can license all of its HMI locations under one agreement. That's far less expensive than licensing each of 100-plus workstations along its pipeline routes.

Then Came i-GEN
From being a consulting firm adept at programming the programmable logic controller and HMI products developed by others, through to creating ScadX, Cybertech had become a controls-solutions developer in its own right. Now, however, that research and development is carried out by Cybertech's sister company, i-GEN Solutions.

Formed in 2000 and headed by Kevin Matwichuk, i-GEN released its first major creation in the form of infoHAWK.net, which builds upon but extends well beyond ScadX by being more distributive. Importantly, infoHAWK.net is designed to work with Microsoft.NET, the open-architecture platform launched last summer by the computer giant, and which allows sharing of data over local and wide area networks as well as the Internet.

Mr. Martel stresses the value of separating Cybertech Automation from i-GEN, a company developing and then promoting its own products.

"One of the reasons for forming i-GEN is that we work for our clients to deliver what is the best solution for their needs. We wanted Cybertech Automation to be somewhat independent in coming up with the best solution and not trying to pressure particular products on our clients."

Though Cybertech Automation and Cybertech Electric remain namesakes, their focuses have differed from the start. For Automation it was controls programming and design, while for Electric it was electrical inspections and commissioning of control systems. Cybertech Electric also assembles control panels designed by Cybertech Automation.
Having a panel shop within Cybertech's building in Edmonton's West End means the company can incorporate design changes quicker and more cost-effectively than an outside party can.

Fort Saskatchewan Beckons
Big players have taken notice, with Cybertech meeting the call to work on several major projects. For instance, in 1999 Cybertech was responsible for a large project for Shell Canada Ltd.'s Scotford Refinery near Fort Saskatchewan.

The project involved replacing 1,500 loops on an outdated data acquisition system with a new Foxboro IA (Intelligent Automation) control platform. In providing the electrical engineering design, construction support and the live swing-over, Cybertech's challenge lay in commissioning the project without shutting down the refinery.

Success on that project led to additional work at the Scotford Refinery and with the new and adjacent Shell Upgrader. Cybertech is the consultant for safety-shutdown systems and automation of programmable logic controls for the upgrader start-up.

Recently, Cybertech was awarded its largest contract to date. It entails replacing Scotford Refinery's entire distributed control system ¾ again while the plant is running.

The refinery's made good use of Cybertech, thanks in part to Mike Palamarek, P.Eng. He's been the project manager on several of the Scotford projects, including the design of a stand-alone control and safety system training centre for the upgrader's technical personnel.

The One and the Many
One of nine employees who are also shareholders, Mr. Palamarek joined Cybertech in 1996. He, too, appreciates the absence of formality and willingness to share that characterize Cybertech. "In one way, it's almost like you're a one-man show. You get to run your own jobs, but at the same time you've got the support, and there are some very good resources."

Another sign of Cybertech's growing capacity was its work as the controls engineering consultant for an $80-million conversion to isooctane production at Alberta Envirofuels Inc. This Sherwood Park project, completed in 2002, included the control building electrical design modifications, as well as distributed control systems, their programming and their graphics. It also encompassed programmable logic control hardware specifications, asset management software, power monitoring software, graphics for HMI systems, and software testing and commissioning.

Cybertech's successes extend beyond the petrochemical sector. Cybertech has programmed control systems in a variety of settings, such as food and beverage, power and plastics plants; pulp mills; and water-treatment facilities as far away as China.
While many controls programming principles are common to different industries, meeting the particular requirements of food processing, say, requires the kind of industry-specific understanding that some Cybertech personnel have picked up over a couple of decades.

"You have to be able to understand the process," explains Mr. Martel, who still participates as a project manager on major contracts. "With clients, as with staff, a team approach has proven beneficial."

But Mr. Martel admits that, with continued growth, the Cybertech companies face a challenge to sustain the sort of staff dialogue that has carried them so far.

"We started off small and although we've grown significantly, we've tried to keep a small team environment very much alive."


"We consciously make it part of every project to bounce ideas off each other and to learn better approaches."
- Cybertech President Kevin Matwichuk



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