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Not surprisingly, advanced process control (APC) and its models are also founded on preserving and reusing knowledge. However, they also deliver the most value when staffers add them to their collective know-how to make improvements in their processes.
For instance, Lothar Lang, consulting human factors engineer at LyondellBasell (www.lyondellbasell.com), reports his firm used to focus most on the reliability of its equipment, machines and petrochemical processes, but realized it also needed to tie in its people's expertise to get everyone on the same page and improve performance. For instance, critical conditions management (CCM) typically deals with operations and HMI issues, but it must also prioritize its reporting to get the most crucial alerts in front of users, so they aren't just treating symptoms instead of underlying causes.
"We'd used our staff support groups and ExperTune software to implement key performance indicator (KPI) monitoring in processes at 18 facilities, including percent of control loops not in normal operation, percent of loops without output constraints, loops with valve issues and loops with significant oscillations, and then continuously improved them," explains Lang.
For example, LyondellBasell recently deployed an APC system at its petrochemical plant in Channelview, Texas, but then began experiencing wild swings in the steam flow and reflux rate of a distillation column that makes an intermediate product for polyurethane (Figure 1). After an initial search failed to find an APC-related cause, the plant's operators found that ExperTune's (www.expertune.com) PlantTriage plant-monitoring software showed that the column's pressure controller was the root cause of the oscillations. Consequently, stabilizing the column allowed the APC to quickly optimize its operation, and reduced two steam flows by 7000 pounds per hour.
"Operators need to be aware of what's going on in their applications, and be able to make changes when they go out of range," adds Lang. "However, you can't expect operators to be proactive if there are too many loops that aren't performing, and if they're constantly putting out fires. PlantTriage helps us find issues and helps compensate for a lack of staff. This is why we're driving the use of KPIs to improve loops in automatic, reduce oscillations, improve performance and keep within efficiency ranges to produce quality products."
Besides collecting and redistributing tribal knowledge, users can also benefit from how veterans deliver their know-how, reports Eddie Habibi, founder and CEO of PAS Inc. (www.pas.com), and Jim Conner, retired operations and technology VP at Celanese (www.celanese.com). Conner helped start Project Graybeard at his former company explore ways to retain senior staffers' knowledge, so they could help their colleagues collaborate better and access safety data easier.
"When experienced people are asked for help, they provide the basic answer, but they also tell more, and usually add important facts about what the questioner is trying to do," explains Conner. "Veterans will answers questions that less-experienced colleagues haven't thought to ask yet, and will push key information to them."
To replicate some veteran awareness, Conner says Project Graybeard worked with PAS' Integrity software and Automation Genome Mapping software to develop a new application that can reach into databases and secure explicit and tacit information, such as incident reports, maintenance records, automation configurations and other data. It will be released later this year or early in 2012. "This tool works in the same way as an expert source," adds Conner. "It says, ‘You asked for this, but you also need to know this.' For example, a user may want to change the controls on an oxygen compressor, and this tool will push documents to them about design, maintenance, incidents and safety interlocks."
"In the past, these kinds of groups were very ad hoc, and used service management or customer relationship management (CRM) tools. Now these communities of practice are much more organized, easier to use, and have become of the daily lives of many engineers that use them," says John Sorensen, Honeywell's director of services. "For example, if a user needs the right algorithms for a PLC or DCS in a specific application, such as a German pharmaceutical manufacturer building a greenfield plant in the U.S., then he can pull the best practices for those components from the community's veteran users, such as the unique tweaks for those types of controllers."
However, if you want to recruit and organize your own team or tribe, there are several key steps, according to Polytron (www.polytron.com), an Atlanta-based process and packaging SI (Table 1). In his whitepaper, "Tribal Knowledge," (www.polytron.com/images/stories/articles/whitepapers/tribal-knowledge/simple.pdf) Polytron's technology transfer and training manager, Rande Allen emphasizes building a new organizational culture instead of trying to change or replace an old one, which can help counteract resistance. "To create a new tribe, care must be taken to ensure that trainees from all shifts are taught together simultaneously. This is done to make sure all have the same knowledge base, and to begin building the new bonds and common language that are vitally important for a successful tribe," stated Allen. "Next, because so much tribal knowledge is verbal, steps must be taken to encourage tribal knowledge sharing, recording and dissemination. Finally, there must be a means by which tribal knowledge and resulting innovations can travel from employees up to management."