Operators Equipped for Effective Decision-Making

Little Thought Has Been Given to Human Factors in the Design of the Operator Stations, and Even Less to the User Interface Design

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Personalized workplaces ensure that operators and other personnel are presented only with the information needed, in the proper context. The design of the environment provides intuitive and easy access to all integrated information through a simple right mouse-click on each object. Navigation is simple and independent of where the information is located. Information displays can mix-and-match any combination of data sources that are part of the 800xA environment. The operator can be presented with consolidated alarm and event lists, for example, without needing to know what application or controller supplied the information.  Since it is all available in one place, troubleshooting becomes much easier.

Implementation of standards in the areas of display design (such as from the ASM Consortium, EEMUA and ISA), enable operators to perform effectively no matter what is happening in the plant. Workplace layouts are adjusted and optimized to users' preferences and needs with individualized menus, toolbar contents and display locations. Windows management functions such as safe areas and the pinning and stacking of priorities minimize operation errors by prioritizing the presentation of material.

Ergonomic Factors Boost Alertness

Instead of being designed with operator performance in mind, many control centers, control rooms and operator stations are designed without respect to human factors or simply to impress visitors. Incorrectly planned environments intended for 24x7 use often are depressing, unwelcoming and uncomfortable at best—and at worst create fatigue and boredom.

ABB has been focusing on human factors for many years, and works closely together with CGM, specialists in control room design and ergonomic work environments. Together, ABB and CGM have turned fatigue and distraction into operator alertness and pro-activity with an offering called the Extended Operator Workplace (EOW), which aims to create the best work environment for the operator, including the operator station functionality within the control system as well as the surrounding environment. Exclusive to ABB, the EOW provides a modern control room or control center that promotes more alert, less stressed, happier and much safer operators.

The high-end EOW-x contains the latest flexible motorized console technology adjustable to individuals at the touch of a button. Included is the Advanced Operator Keyboard that includes hotkeys for easily switching between different System 800xA screens. In the motorized, large overview unit, a directional sound system as well as a high frequency dimmable lighting system is integrated. The console also has a live video camera system with speaker system for public announcement. "Micro ventilation" capabilities even allow each operator to personally adjust ambient temperature conditions.

A Competent Operator Is a Confident One

Finally, the assurance of operator competence through proper training also is affected by integration factors. A closely integrated training environment, for example, makes it possible to train operators on simulators that behave essentially identically to actual plant systems, instilling confidence that operators can respond correctly to abnormal situations when they arise. ABB provides custom simulator solutions to most types of plants using the System 800xA Simulator, a simulator version of the standard System 800xA.

For a new plant, use of an operator training simulator can contribute to shorter initial start-up, enhanced operator performance as well as trip and incidence avoidance. It also allows the testing of operational procedures and the tweaking of display and control strategies before initial start-up, when changes are less risky to make.

Operator training simulators also are important to the effective operation of existing plants. Many high-reliability plants are having difficulty maintaining performance during turnarounds because workers deal with these procedures only infrequently. And the ongoing retirement of experienced operators has only made this situation worse. 

While the direct benefit of using a simulator is difficult to quantify, a recent survey by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) indicated an average yearly saving of about $4,500 per megawatt of generating capacity. These savings are attributed to reduced training costs, improvements in plant availability, fewer environmental excursions and reduced damage to equipment. A little bit of math indicates a three-month payback for the typical power generation facility and begs the question: In what scenario would you not invest in a training simulator? 

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