Hunting Know-How

Everyone Wants to Gather and Preserve the Knowledge of Veteran Process Control Engineers. However, Few Know How to Turn Expertise into Useful Information that Rookies Can Use to Make Wise Decisions

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From Preservation to Simulation

Besides helping individual users make better decisions, another primary reason for preserving and coordinating expertise is to make it available and usable in ways that hard copies haven't done in the past, which can help larger systems and organizations cooperate better too.

"We discovered that three to five years after designing, building and opening a plant, 80% of the original knowledge about it is unavailable—50% is just gone and 30% can't be looked up," says Tom Williams, program manager for operator effectiveness at Honeywell Process Solutions (www.hpsweb.honeywell.com). Williams also led Honeywell Specialty Products' Automation Showcase project in Geismar, La., which started in 2004 and just wrapped up in June. "A lot of paper-based information is filed away or lost in organizational islands that aren't connected to users who may need it. Now, we can connect electronically and retrieve that information more easily."

Williams reports that all plants have some kind of operating procedures, but most have been passed along via word-of-mouth or in on-the-job training. Unfortunately, much of this know-how can be lost when the experts are laid off, move to other jobs or retire. This is where simulations can substantially benefit users by capturing best practices and then training people over and over on them. Williams adds that the Geismar facility has been using Honeywell's Operator Training System, which is built on its UniSim simulator, and had three sections—Experion system, computational engine and UniSim unified platform—that were recently joined on one virtual server. "This was a big help at Geismar because now we can run these formerly separate elements on one laptop. This means the trainer and the trainee can both work and test at the same time on learning regular operations, infrequent events and abnormal situations. And, of course, showing someone how a veteran performs a best practice will help him retain that knowledge a lot better than just telling him about it."  

Optimizing Catalyst Regeneration

In fact, one such infrequent event occurs in reactors at a Honeywell Specialty Materials' chemical plant. These reactors have to be taken offline every three to six months so their catalyst can be regenerated. When the reactors were taken off-line previously, operators had to meticulously perform each regeneration step over an extended period. Typically, the plant required multiple regenerations per year, so downtime and lost productivity were taxing the operators and plant efficiency. "We had to find a way to minimize the time the reactors were taken off-line to regenerate, plus we wanted to reduce the cost of the catalyst," says Williams. "The only way to meet our goals was to find a way to automate this process and remove some the variables we couldn't control."

To improve regulation of regeneration and reduce catalyst performance variability, the plant's engineers recently used Honeywell's Procedural Operations software in its Experion PKS solution and were able to show the best procedure for regenerating the catalyst in the reactors. "Procedural Operations captures exactly how the regeneration procedure should run," explains Williams. "So we now have operators following HMI screens and prompts to do it precisely that way, or they can automate the process or park it safely if there's an abnormal situation."

Likewise, Procedural Operations inserted more reliability into the regeneration process. "Because the process is now the same every time, we expect to reduce the variability resulting in cost savings for our site," said Jeff Richards, Honeywell Specialty Products' automation site leader. "Also, Procedural Operations let us convert a manual procedure into an automated system that incorporates operator check and trigger points based on demonstrated best practices."

Learning Organizations and Social Butterflies

Once the collective expertise of a facility's veterans is gathered, prioritized and redistributed, several observers say the next step is to become a "learning organization" that can reflexively acquire and disseminate the knowledge it needs to handle future challenges.  

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