User-Centered Design at Work

User-Centered Design Theory Is Interesting, but Is Anybody Actually Using It?

By Dan Hebert

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"UCD helps solidify the design and the customer's views," Gurney explains. "It's very common for engineering and operations to be on two sides of a wall. What we're really trying to do is break that wall down and bring everyone into one room, so we can build what they need to operate and, when they start the system, they have all the tools they need."

"The primary challenges are getting everyone working together for a common outcome, getting the right people involved, getting everyone to take the time upfront to think about the operation, and getting operators and engineering on the same page," reflects Gurney. "Part of my job when working with them is to get everyone excited—to get them thinking: What are the possibilities? What can I do to make this better?"

MCG Revamps Automation Systems

Increased demand for its products prompted MGC Advanced Polymers to upgrade its plant automation to a Yokogawa process control system. Andrew Digrys, project engineer at MGC, reports that operators were crucial to the success of the project.

"Operator input was required and deemed essential in the development of the new functional requirements because of their process knowledge and experience," Digrys explains. "Their input was a key component in correcting deficiencies in existing automation functionality and detailing processes for new functionality. Operator input in the design phase of the project also had the benefit of ensuring positive acceptance."

The old batch automation system was based on custom code that was poorly documented. The new automation plan required the participation of operations personnel to generate functional and detailed operation design documents that could be used for a modular and fully ISA-88-compliant batch control system.

The project included a complete redesign to a fully compliant ISA-88 application using generic unit models. Control functionality was standardized for all similar components from equipment modules through unit models. 
"Operators assisted in identifying key areas of the process where issues existed," says Digrys. "They provided insight and direction for the improvement of processes and procedures that could be included in the new ISA-88 batch design. They understood what portions of the previous automation could be used and what could be eliminated."

With the help of operators, display graphics were reworked and improved so that pertinent process data was visible and fully accessible. New batch Interlock displays using informative flow charts provided clear execution details that were easy to read and/or follow. These new displays proved to be an excellent troubleshooting tool for operations and maintenance personnel.

Digrys reports that the project was a success. "The number of operator human interface station graphics required for plant production was reduced significantly. The remaining graphics were enhanced by adding clearer automation messages that were pertinent to the operators. These detailed batch operator messages were key additions that provided real-time details of executing batch steps."

The new modular design provided a better means of handling process upsets during very critical phases. Plant production constraints were identified and corrected, providing improved quality while reducing batch cycle times and improving production rates. The redesigned system, using unit operations and procedures, provided the ability to construct and implement new recipes for different product grades without requiring an automation redesign.

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