The Control Room of the Future - Smarter Reality

The Control Room of the Future Will Put a World of Science-Fiction Tools at Operators' Fingertips - but They'll Only Be Effective if Designers, Engineers and Operators Jointly Plan Ahead and Use Them to Serve Practical, Functional Needs

By Jim Montague

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"It felt like back to the drawing board," says Dahm, who quickly developed and deployed an experiment and countermeasure to compare designs for the control room. "I took over a conference room in mid-January to create a mock control room," explains Dahm. "To make it realistic in size and feel, we hung up sheets to establish wall space and dimensional correctness. We built ¼-in. plywood console sections, copied ABB's graphics onto foam board for displays, and this gave us life-sized models of each control room design (Figure 2). The operations committee members reviewed the mock-ups, and were given tape measures, staplers and tape to modify the designs. They were able create an enhanced version of the project team's design that would be acceptable to everyone."

By using this simple, low-cost countermeasure, the teams aligned their thinking and reached a best alternative solution that combined of a lot of new and some old thinking into a collaborative, positive plan. Dahm's design facilitated this outcome, in which operations could observe firsthand the real issues surrounding performance-related dilemmas and human factors. These included openness, visibility, ergonomics, lighting, access and overall workflow.

"So, in the end, operations' leadership accepted our modified plan, and we now have a human factors-compliant control room," he adds. The new user-centered FGD control room is scheduled to be built at the Monroe plant during July and August of this year.

Simulation and Virtualization

Another toolset sure to be crucial in future control rooms is closer-to-real-time simulations to help manage and optimize process applications. For example, DuPont ( has been using advanced regulatory control (ARC) applications and its rigorous modeling and simulations for many years, but lately some DuPont engineers have been using rapid prototyping methods to help choose, implement and gain model-predictive control's (MPC) benefits in smaller applications where it makes economic or operational sense. To aid these efforts, DuPont is using the recent integration between Aspen Technology Inc.'s ( aspenOne APC software and its Hysys dynamic modeling and simulation software to refine and increase its smaller-scale MPC implementations by 450%.

"Basically, this capability facilitates appropriate use of MPC in more applications, which is part of DuPont's best practices and Six Sigma approach," says Phillip "Dave" Schnelle, principal consultant in DuPont's Process Dynamic and Controls group. "Rapid prototyping is part of our application development flow for APC. It allows us to screen APC applications and answer the question 'ARC or MPC?' We run Aspen APC on our central server in Wilmington, Del., and hook it up to data sources, such as Aspen's standard InfoPlus.21 (IP21) historian, at any of our plants worldwide via a process data connection. We can mock up and prototype MPC applications connected to real process data. We can then show operations: 'This is your plant on your current controls, and this would be your plant on APC.'

"Rapid prototyping helps us make the 'go or no go' decision. We can quickly test and train on the concept; transfer ideas to the operators; develop MPC models; and do it all without spending a lot upfront. Once we know a project will succeed, much of the design has already been done, and we have most of the application already to go."

Likewise, Barrick Gold Corp. ( is using MiMiC simulation software from Mynah Technologies LLC ( to help it develop "virtual plants" that operate several applications at its new Pueblo Viejo goldmine in the Dominican Republic. MiMiC replicates the actual DeltaV controls and I/O components of several major ore processing subsystems, which can be used for training, testing and production evaluation. This lets Barrick's operators test process reactions without impacting the real facility, which can save huge amounts of energy, labor and materials.

"Many process industries are getting more interested in simulations because traditional testing and evaluations are too cumbersome, time consuming and costly. And, using simulations to test logic and control strategies can find major issues before they ever reach the plant, instead of six months after the factory acceptance test (FAT), which can be 100 times more expensive," says Martin Berutti, Mynah's president and COO. "Future control rooms are going to use a lot more of these tools, and they'll be more highly automated and regulated. So, operators will have to man up to higher technical levels, manage more workers in the field and move from using just primary data such as sensor readings to also handling metadata about the quality of those readings."

To give power plant operators some of this new training, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DoE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and its Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training and Research (AVESTAR) Center ( are providing simulation-based training by deploying a first-of-its-kind simulator for an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant with CO2 capture. Based on Invensys Operations Management's ( SimSci-Esscor Dynsim software, this dynamic, high-fidelity simulator provides realistic training on IGCC plant operations, including normal and faulted operations, plant start-up, shutdown and power-demand load changes.

In its next phase, AVESTAR will incorporate Invensys' EyeSim software to add immersive, 3D, virtual reality to the training experience. This will extend training beyond the control room and allow field operators to perform manual functions, such as opening or closing valves, or start or stop pumps from anywhere within the IGCC plant.

Wearing a stereoscopic headset or eyewear, trainees enter a virtual environment that allows them to move freely throughout the simulated 3D facility to study and learn various aspects of IGCC plant operation, control and safety. Using gamepads for navigation, users can interact with plant equipment items, activate transparent views, display pop-up trends and experience equipment sound effects, malfunctions and visual training scenarios (Figure 3)

Besides simulating processes, some users are even reproducing their control rooms in virtual formats. For instance, Grizzly Oil Sands ( in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is using improved, steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) produce more than 5000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day in the first phase of its Algar Lake Project. However, to make its SAGD process more efficient, Grizzly has developed an innovative facilities model, Advanced Relocatable Modular Standard, to reduce costs, risks and the environmental footprint of its in-situ thermal development, and is working with Rockwell Automation's ( Global Services Division and its PlantPAx process automation system. 

"For our facility model, we needed an advanced, integrated process and motor control system that would monitor multiple SAGD sites from one central location, now and as we expand," says Brian Harrison, Grizzly's engineering vice president. As a result, Grizzly will build a shadow control room founded on a virtualized computing environment at its Calgary headquarters to monitor and control current and future oil sands sites across northern Alberta.

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