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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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.  

Williams reports that, once Operator Training System was installed at Geismar in 2008, the operators began to enjoy using and training on it because its mimics the plant and its control issues so well. "They could see loops and control strategies that weren't performing well," says Williams. "As a result, they began to go into screwy areas, play with the systems, dialog with the process engineers, show problems that might not have been found otherwise and call for fixes. This is why a good simulation should show the plant—warts and all."

Drake LaCombe, one of Honeywell Specialty Products' senior plant operators, is even more enthusiastic about Operator Training System and the benefits it brings to his application. "What I love about this system is that controls that work in the plant also work in the simulator, and controls that aren't worth a blankety blank in the plant also aren't worth a blankety blank in the simulator," says LaCombe. "A rigorous simulation can show where a new control strategy is good or not. In the past, if we said we had a hunch about a possible issue, then the plant manager might say it was too risky and not to do it. Now, since we can show proof of the problem, it's more likely that he'll say OK. A good simulation make our improvement cycle a lot faster."

Besides being hungry for new knowledge itself, these new learning organizations also make use of new avenues through which to gain it. Of course, these include the latest software add-ons and networks linked to their DCSs and PLCs, but they also includes all of the emerging collaborative software and Internet-based social media tools too. These include web-based discussion groups and Internet forums, weblogs, mini- and microblogs, wikis and other hybrid forms, and they usually let users share text, emails, audio, images and video. Some examples of social media include Wikipedia for reference tasks; Yahoo Groups and Google Groups for reference and social networking; LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook also for social networking, YouTube for video sharing; Twitter and others for micro-blogging; and a bunch of ever hipper and more cutting-edge hybrids. Of course, many of these tools overlap and often are linked directly or indirectly with many or all of the others.

However, Cosman cautions knowledge managers not to get distracted by ever-changing technologies for delivering data, and focus instead on what they wanted to accomplish. "It's important to craft a knowledge-management strategy and stick to it, so you don't just chase technologies and lose track of what you're trying to do," says Cosman. 

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