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Using Predictive analytics to prevent power outages
Philadelphia, PA, January 21, 2019 /Media Newswire/ -- Fischer Block, Inc., a leader in providing innovative high-resolution power waveform sensing devices and power reliability solutions, reveals how widespread power outages may just become obsolete with game-changing SMART Block® technology from Fischer Block, Inc.

Forward-thinking Fischer Block, Inc. CEO Greg Wolfe envisioned a world with virtually no power outages as the new normal.

"Imagine that a hospital caring for thousands of people doesn’t lose power because a utility company can find and fix a problem on the power grid before there’s an outage," Wolfe says. "Or a huge industrial plant with 20 power substations on its campus staves off an outage, keeping operations going. Hypothetically, a big plant could lose $1 million every single day if it has an unplanned shutdown. Even an outage that’s caused by a falling tree—imagine pinpointing the location almost immediately and restoring power faster."

Fischer Block’s patented IoT-enabled SMART Block® devices provide companies in the utility and industrial sectors with critical early warning indicators so they can prevent costly outages. The extremely compact smart devices—each about the size of a blackboard eraser—mechanically connect to existing electrical control panels plus their critical assets, including flat panels, protection relays, motors, generators, wind turbines, test switches and terminal blocks. It's the only technology of its kind on the grid that provides advanced analytical information, yet cannot trip breakers, thus significantly reducing the grid's cyber vulnerability while increasing its resilience.

Five years ago, software engineer Margaret Paietta agreed that this technology should be the new normal. That’s why she accepted Wolfe's invitation to join Philadelphia-area Fischer Block when it was just a startup in 2014. "We want power transmission companies to be able to offer 24/7, reliable, non-interruptible power to their customers," she says. "We want them to say, 'When you throw the switch, we’re always there for you.' With this new technology, we're showing how we can help achieve that."

The power industry has taken advantage of network communication technologies to deliver power more efficiently and reliably. However, as information technology becomes increasingly interwoven into the electricity system, the industry has become more vulnerable to cyber attacks. In recent years, hackers have not only gained access to utility customer information, but access to energy control systems, threatening to disrupt power delivery itself. "Our solution addresses this growing threat," Wolfe says.

This avant-garde technology gives utility and industrial companies a never-before-seen view of what’s going on in the grid and power systems so they can fix minor problems before major outages occur. "Our SMART Block® edge devices basically break down what’s going on within the inner mechanical and electrical workings of the system as a whole, as well as the critical assets along the way, showing exactly what and where the issue is, so power system maintainers can address it," Wolfe says.

SMART Blocks®, installed throughout a power system, provide continuous real-time waveform data collection, digitization and analysis. "We collect and analyze that data, and apply intelligence at the source, sending back only the critical information needed, so that power companies can take preventative action," Wolfe says.

To fuel their growth, Fischer Block, Inc. recently raised a $3.4 million Series A round, led by Radnor, PA-based ACT Capital Management and Pacera Larson Ventures in nearby King of Prussia. JetBlue co-founder and former CFO John Owen, now an angel investor, backed Fischer Block, Inc. from the beginning and invested in its first two seed rounds. Owen said he was impressed by Wolfe’s experience and the value of his technology. "I invested in him because I felt he had built a better mousetrap," Owen says.


All Roads Lead to the Navy Yard
Wolfe, who previously headed up divisions at a global provider of test and measurement equipment to the electrical industry for 15 years, watched customers operating in a very reactive fashion. "They'd experience a lightning strike and then an outage," he says. "They'd use our portable equipment to go test everything and try to figure out what was intact, partially damaged or damaged. They'd frequently ask how to interpret the results. Very reactionary. Little was actually being done to actually prevent outages either in plants or on the grid."

That's when Wolfe joined forces with Paietta, who engineered flight simulation software for the Pentagon early on in her career, along with other future-leaning engineers and energy industry veterans. "We said, 'Let's form this company and create a solution that can provide online monitoring now because everything else in the market takes months and years to implement,'" he says. "What we do is essentially a fusion of the Internet-of-Things and data analytics. We weren't riding any wave at that time. We were one of the first."

The team started with a desire to provide a product that could be quickly and non-intrusively installed on the grid without having to initiate an outage. "That's the basis of our flagship patent," Wolfe says. "As our customers shared their pain points with us, we built our online monitoring system to bridge that information gap."

The Fischer Block team tested the SMART Block® technology at the nearby Philadelphia Navy Yard. "Who would have thought we'd get our own substation sandbox to test and perfect our technology?" Paietta says. "We worked in this amazing environment where we could visit often, implement changes on the fly and see what worked in a real-world substation environment. And, the people working at the yard were great, supporting us every step of the way. In fact, they even referred us to some of our largest accounts."


The Way Forward: Continuous Monitoring
Within three years, the team made good on their goal. "We developed the hardware and cloud-based software in that time," Wolfe says. "And then we started working with dozens of salespeople to introduce our solution to customers across North America." Now, hundreds of SMART Blocks® are in operation at dozens of locations, soon to be thousands.

Fischer Block also relies on a team of advisors to help guide its technology roadmap. "They’re industry legends who’ve been interpreting electrical signatures for 20 to 30 years," Paietta says. "We’re really combining the old-fashioned power system technology with leading-edge communication via the internet. We are disrupting the status quo."

However, the company's predictive analytics network is what Wolfe says really sets Fischer Block apart from competitors. "We’re bringing top-tier predictive analytics to industrial plants, wind turbines, and a severely aging grid, helping our customers improve their power quality and reliability challenges," he says.

Additionally, Wolfe saw a disturbing trend of using portable equipment to test a wind turbine, for example, and then not returning to run the same test for a year or two. "That's clearly far less effective than monitoring that turbine 24/7 and taking samples every few hours where you can statistically characterize the performance and immediately detect early warning signs of pending problems," he says. "Continuous monitoring just makes common sense. And, with our technology, now it’s possible."

While the sophisticated continuous monitoring system gathers high volumes of high-tech data, Paietta knows some customers may not have the bandwidth to digest and actionize that much information. "Our software algorithms do that work for them," she says. "We've also installed our cloud application directly on some of our customers' own networks behind their firewalls. Either way, our intelligence analyzes the data."

Paietta says one of the most exciting benefits of the system is that it compares data as it collects it. "That means if there’s an outage in Miami in the morning, our algorithms, using machine learning and AI techniques, can immediately identify root cause and initiate a sensor broadcast to all SMART Blocks® throughout our system," Paietta says. "That can prevent a similar outage in Chicago that same day. Additionally, we alert our customers through text messages, emails and a number of intuitive dashboards."

When Mother Nature causes outages, Fischer Block's platform lets power companies know when and where the problem occurred out on the grid or within a plant. That way, the power provider is armed with all the information they need prior to dispatching workers to the site. Employees can then come prepared with the proper trucks and equipment to make a timely repair.

"Those California wildfires, believed to be started by electrical wires slapping into each other, causing arcs and sparks," Wolfe says. "Our technology can detect these conditions before a fire ever starts."


Implementing 21st Century Tech, With Minimal Effort
Fischer Block's technology can help bring every substation across the power grid to the 21st century, very quickly and at an extremely low cost. The SMART Block® platform is the only technology of its type, with fully non-intrusive installations that require no new wiring, Wolfe notes, so installations can be completed economically within just a few minutes, compared to months and years with traditional solutions. In addition, there's no need to schedule an outage, greatly increasing the number of substations that can be modernized each year. "We come in and install miniature, advanced high-resolution sensors across a client's network, whether it's on the grid, in a manufacturing plant, or within wind turbines," Wolfe says. Then, the data immediately begins streaming to the Fischer Block wave iQ™ analytics platform. SMART Blocks® provide power system companies the ability to modernize now, not years from now."


About Fischer Block, Inc.
Fischer Block, Inc. is a leading provider of power waveform analytics solutions for Power Utility and Industrial customers. The patented SMART Block® "edge device" mechanically connects to existing control panels in minutes without interrupting ongoing operations. The device provides continuous waveform data collection and digitization, enabling high-resolution waveform visibility and a full suite of innovative waveform analytics applications and services that identify and address a wide range of power quality and reliability challenges.

For information on Fischer Block, Inc. devices and applications, or to find the location of a representative, visit the Fischer Block, Inc. site at www.fischerblock.com


CONTACT
Margaret Paietta
margaretp@fischerblock.com
Related Links
www.fischerblock.com

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