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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Andrew Brodie, Fast/Tools marketing manager in Yokogawa's control instruments division, adds that Fast/Tools' Alarm System Performance Analysis (ASPA) option can assist operators by evaluating alarms in its Alarm Master database, determine which are bad actors, and help users analyze their existing applications more deeply by comparing performance before and after changes are made.

"Operators can add a chronological date range, point it at their alarm database, and ASPA will work with Yokogawa's historian, which is proficient at gathering alarm data and identifying alarm trends," explains Brodie. "For smaller facilities, we also do alarm rationalizations as part of our Advanced Decision Support service. We help benchmark current situations, develop an alarm philosophy document, and help phase in an improvement plan."
Brodie adds that Fast/Tools V.10 was just released, and it has an event-based recording tool that can document all moves and mouse clicks in an application, find out what's been done wrong or right during a certain period, and retain targeted recordings of golden batch episodes that can be used later for training. Looking outside the process, Fast/Tools also has a Collaboration Decision Support Center, which aggregates and displays data sources external to the application but still relevant to it (Figure 3).

Rise and Walk

Beyond being mobile in the field, some developers are encouraging operators to be more mobile and active at their desks in the control room. Some facilities have exercise equipment next to their control rooms, and some developers are making consoles, desks and chairs that allow operators to stand as well as sit while they're working. Honeywell's Andrew adds, "Control room operators are still working many 12-hour shifts, but their roles are changing from manipulating and optimizing processes to hitting economic targets, and this can add a lot of stress. As a result, ergonomic designs are adding sit/stand modes to many workstations, so operators can avoid the health dangers of sitting all the time."

For instance, Connexus Energy Group is a customer-owned energy cooperative in Ramsay, Minn., that serves 126,000 members in seven counties north of the Twin Cities. Its operations control center recently needed new consoles as part of an upgrade to a new SCADA system to improve communications with its substations and reduce response time to outages.

Besides enabling all communications functions at each console so operators wouldn't have jump from station to station, Connexus also wanted adjustable-height consoles to fit its differently sized operators and reduce their neck and back aches from craning to see stacked-up monitors. So the utility adopted Ascend Sit/Stand consoles from Winsted Corp., which allow Connexus' operators to raise and lower their workstations to whatever level is most comfortable (Figure 4).

"What we didn't anticipate is that operators are leaving their consoles in the stand position as the default," says Nick Loehlein, Connexus' systems operations leader. "We'd assumed the standing position would be the exception rather than the rule, but they're standing during their night shifts. If they want to sit, they take a tall chair and maybe sit for a half an hour, and then they stand right back up again."

Smart Everywhere

Because so many operators, engineers and managers are practicing BYOD in their facilities, many suppliers are scrambling to offer apps for the flood of smart phones and tablet PCs coming onto some plant floors. Most of these apps are enabled by the HTML 5 standard that allows their graphics to scale up or down, and fit on different-sized displays.

Mario Mitchell, electronics product manager at Parker Hannifin Corp., reports his company recently launched iOS and Android versions of its Remote Manager app, which can control its Factory Display and Express HMI software. "With just an IP address and a password, operators and managers can view their operations and control processes, see critical information and alarms, and even turn devices on and off."

While its IntelaTrac mobile, data input devices have been available for years, Invensys recently relaunched its SmartGlance industrial mobile reporting app, which delivers secure, on-demand access to graphical reports from any operations data source via mobile devices. Meanwhile, its InTouch Access Anywhere software also uses HTML 5 to show all indicators and controls on any device with a web browser.

Tanner reports that ABB is beginning to explore eye-tracking technology and augmented reality tools to further enhance its interfaces. He adds its augmented reality efforts, such as overlays for displaying temperatures, trends and alarms, can be examined by looking up the 800xA symbol at the Apple iTunes Store

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