Perfect Fit: Operator Performance

Enhancing Operator Performance Means Tailoring the Right Combination of Situation-Aware Displays, Rationalized Alarms, Ergonomic Consoles and Field-Capable Interfaces. Here's How Users Maintain Operator Effectiveness

By Jim Montague

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In addition, all of Gail's pipeline networks have been integrated with a gas management system (GMS), so operations data can be used directly for gas allocation and billing. Email and short message service (SMS) notification of critical alarms are supported, which allows authorized personnel to access the new SCADA system from anywhere with an Internet connection.

"This is the largest SCADA system ever commissioned by Gail," says S.K. Agrawal, Gail's deputy general manager. "Work on our new SCADA system included integration of approximately 400 RTUs of eight different makes. Besides improving operations and maintenance, centralized SCADA has substantially reduced our capital expenditures and operational expenditures. All the new pipelines coming up in the next 10 years will be integrated with this SCADA system."

Right in Front of Your Face

Because humans take in more than 90% of their information about the world through their eyes, the most crucial devices for improving operator effectiveness are still HMI displays and screens. Fortunately, black-background, cluttered and overly colorful screens have been giving way to simpler, less distracting displays with prioritized colors and concentration on the most important data values and alerts. These improvements are largely thanks to the work of the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium, Center for Operator Performance and PAS Inc. Many suppliers are following these recommendations for situation awareness, hosting displays on higher-resolution screens, and even offering HMIs that are large enough for several operators to work together when needed.

Stuart Andrew, product manager for Honeywell Process Solutions' Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS) HMIs, reports his firm just spent about a year observing and working with operators as part of its Operator of the Future Initiative to find the most effective and ergonomic conditions for them to work in, and redesigned its consoles as a result. The latest Experion Orion console and collaboration station will be released in mid-2014 (Figure 2).

"A key change in our console is that, where we used to have multiple small screens, Experion Orion will now have one, large, 50-inch, continuous work surface," says Andrew. "This will allow operators to lay out, display and combine information in front of them in the most effective way for each application.
Operators will no longer have to rotate between different screens when checking overviews, alarms, etc. Some operators also reported that using Windows and a mouse wasn't as quick and responsive as their former touchscreens and touchpads, so the new Orion will also have a touchpad component."

Likewise, Tanner adds ABB recently launched its 800xA Collaboration Table, which allows several users to examine an application and KPIs at once. It also uses some 3D visualization gained from gaming technology to illustrate those KPIs. "This could be especially useful to shift supervisors as they go through their day or when making sure everyone is on the same page at shift changes," adds Tanner.

Besides size, resolution and comprehensive indicators, operators also want the same manipulation capabilities they have on their smart phones and tablet PCs. "Users want the same multi-touch, pinch-and-zoom and sweeping features on their display screens that they have on their smart phones," says Jeff Payne, automation controls product manager at AutomationDirect. "That's one reason why we developed and launched our Point of View HMI/SCADA software about six months ago. It has drivers for many PLC families, uses many thin-client functions to give users greater access to their data, can be accessed via mobile clients or web browsers, and is able to scale onto any tablet PC or smartphone."

Of course, this mobility means more interfaces are making their way out into the field, but some operators are even trying to take more experienced eyeballs along with them. To aid this impulse, XOEye Technologies makes eyeglasses with a 5-megapixel camera, LED lights and audio speakers, which enables an operator to show colleagues back in the control room exactly what he's seeing in the field.

Rationalize, Record, Recreate

One of the most important ways to improve the performance of process control operators is to rationalize the streams of nuisance alarms produced by many applications, but deciding on which alarms are significant and require action and which aren't important and can be safely ignored is typically a complex, lengthy and labor-intensive process. These projects are worthwhile, but they usually require a dedicated team of engineers, so many small organizations can't afford them.

"One of InTouch's new features is Alarm Aggregator that allows users to place information about alarms into metadata areas. It then generates alarm counts, shows where they're occurring and on what devices, reduces them to four levels of severity, and shows only critical alarms in red," says Invensys' Krawjewski. "This means anyone, regardless of their skill level, can use these tools."

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