"It's been our goal for years to get as many applications as possible onto one platform, so we don't have to call up so many different types of software," says Fritz. "But we wanted more than snapshots of what's going on, so we're installing new Proficy Vision software, which brings all our separate software programs into one customizable dashboard, and allows us to bring up and quickly scroll through all our individual programs that we couldn't see all at once before. Now our office managers and 56 field staffers can view water operations on the SCADA system, HVAC data, vehicle locations and status, security camera feeds, work orders and other information at the same time (Figure 1). So if there's a water main break, they can trace it with GIS, isolate it faster, check affected pump rates and tank levels, find the closest person and vehicle, tell operators which valves to close, and get specification data into the right hands more quickly."
See Also: Wireless: A Field Guide to Industrial Wireless
Don Busiek, GEIP's general manager for manufacturing software, adds that Proficy Vision was just released in January, and while it renders several types software on one screen, its counterpart Proficy Mobile software will allow users to access SCADA data on tablet PCs and smart phones. "This all about understanding how operators navigate and what they need, and then coming back and providing the right data to them at the right time," says Busiek.
Training, Software and Other Tools
Apart from all the displays and technical solutions, another of the best ways to empower operators is still good, old, thorough, in-class or on-the-job training, which is often aided by online curriculum and simulations.
For instance, to prepare for commissioning and start-up on its Angel platform on western Australia's Northwest Shelf, Woodside Energy Ltd. recently decided to use UniSim operator training simulator from Honeywell Process Solutions to instruct operators how to run its Experion C300 Process Knowledge System (PKS) and quickly diffuse potentially unsafe situations. In fact, Woodside reports employing UniSim before commissioning prevented at least five process trips.
"The Angel training simulator was identical to our real Angel control room panel and enabled our operators to practice on the new C300 system," says Dustin Taylor, Woodside's process engineer. "We also used UniSim Design to model the process, which provided dynamic process behavior for training our panel operators. UniSim increased the competence and confidence of our staff when dealing with unsafe scenarios, plus we reduced the number of trips."
Andrew Ogden-Swift, director of technology strategy at Honeywell Process Solutions, adds, "There are several approaches to training operators including classroom, on-the-job and using standard and custom simulators. The key to proper simulation is defining the competencies needed for operators to perform their roles effectively, while designing training solutions to achieve required competencies."
Similarly, Glenn Goldney, global programs manager for Rockwell Automation's Global Workforce Solutions (GWS) division, adds that, "Operators have been a very neglected population. Not only is there a widespread skills shortage, but their job descriptions are hard to define because of their multiple crafts and roles, and even those existing job descriptions are changing rapidly. This is why training is more important than ever for developing and retaining talent. This is why GWS also helps users segment their job structures and redistribute some responsibilities, so everyone can be more effective. For instance, we recently helped Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. develop a custom job interaction and e-learning solution for operators at its emergency, back-up power plant in Valdez, Alaska, which serves transfer facilities at the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline."
Likewise, AES Wind Generation, a subsidiary of AES Corp.
in North Palm Springs, Calif., recently installed 49 of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry's (MHI) 1-megawatt wind turbines at its Mountain View IV wind farm and implemented Iconics'
Genesis64 SCADA system and Hyper Historian, which are networked via open protocols such as OPC, take in data from Modbus TCP/IP and MHI CNET interfaces and provide AES' operators with immediate and aggregated data for monitoring and reporting. Genesis64's global aliasing function also allowed the wind farm's staff to configure controls for one turbine and then quickly import the same I/O and other settings in the other 48 turbines.
"Many operators are increasingly overwhelmed with data because each is typically being asked to manage more systems," says Russ Agrusa, president and CEO of Iconics Inc.. "Operators must be able to integrate disparate information and software into standard, common interfaces. They need tools that can dig through "big data" and allow priority alerts to bubble up to the top."
Seeing in the Future
Naturally, as most human endeavors migrate to tablet PCs and smart phones, some even cooler tools are beginning to pop up to aid operators. One of these futuristic, collaborative tools is Mobile Voice and Video from Emerson Process Management. This wearable, video-conferencing system allows field operators to point a hands-free camera at problematic equipment, and confer with technical experts at a distance (Figure 3). It was developed with components from AudiSoft and Frontline Communications.
"Mobile Voice and Video has full, high-definition video, but it also makes voice communications a priority," says Neil Peterson, Emerson's senior wireless marketing manager. "This means it can switch to fewer frames-per-second video based on available WiFi or cellular bandwidth to keep conferences up and running."
Better Interfaces = Better Operators
There are a few basic steps needed to upgrade human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and their software, so they can contribute more fully to helping operators and their applications. Keith Jones, president of system integrator Prism Systems, reports these are some of the most crucial:
- Involve operators up-front, discuss why an upgrade is important, secure buy-in and allow input on planned changes.
- Decide on what HMI platform to use and seek proficiency in it by aligning with a system integrator and supplier partners.
- Renew focus on overall business goals, understand required operations and define or redefine displays and graphics functions to best serve those tasks. For example, don't make displays that merely recreate P&IDs, but instead evaluate the manufacturing process to determine what operators truly need to know, ask them what screens they use most and build HMIs based on that data.
- Draft a project team and then cross-pollinate by sending at least one person from the end-user's side to the system integrator's side and vice versa.
- Hold regular visits and face-to-face and WebEx meetings to update participants on the project's progress, and seek new input.
- Develop HMI project scope, plan and acceptance schedule, including layout, graphics placement, navigation procedures, alerts and alarms, user identification and other security requirements.