Process Automation Operator Performance Gets Better

Prioritized Data, Simpler Displays, Human-Factors-Designed Equipment, Fatigue-Reduction Efforts, Alarm Planning and Other Tools Can All Improve Situational Awareness and Operator Performance. So How Much Do You Need of Each?

By Jim Montague

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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.
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