State-of-the-art Control Rooms

In process and discrete manufacturing plants, control systems may run the machines, but it's the control rooms that can most impact the personnel who need to keep the plants running. If your control room hasn’t been upgraded since you moved out the green screens, you could be encountering several problems that can now be easily remedied, particularly in the area of human factor engineering.

02/01/2009


In process and discrete manufacturing plants, control systems may run the machines, but it's the control rooms that can most impact the personnel who need to keep the plants running. If your control room hasn’t been upgraded since you moved out the green screens, you could be encountering several problems that can now be easily remedied, particularly in the area of human factor engineering.. Also called “ergonomics,” human factor engineering attempts to counter stress-causing elements, which often go hand-in-hand with high-speed production.

“Advancements in hardware and software have ensured us nearly 100% reliability in terms of the information that is captured and relayed back into the control room. So why do we still experience so much inefficiency and so many errors in our control room?” asks Steve Whitley, managing partner of DesignMatters LLC. “Because we often ignore not only the existing elements that can cause immediate mistakes (miscommunication, misunderstanding, and improper recognition of information), but also the many antagonizing elements within a control room that cause operator fatigue and make it almost impossible for operators to perform at the levels that are expected of them.”

Motiva

Motiva

Motiva's central control room (left), which consolidated five rooms into one, was a focal point of its Norco refinery modernization project. The design radiates from the operator outward, increasing his or her awareness. Source: Emerson. But sometimes simpler is better (right) as seen on this mapboard in the control room for the Hoover Dam. Source: Red Lion

DesignMatters, and its sister company Command & Control Environments (CCE), specialize in reducing operator fatigue and the errors and inefficiencies it can cause. Whitley explains: “In simple terms, fatigue management, at least within the control room, refers to keeping operators as aware and as focused as possible.”

The fatigue-producing “antagonizing elements” Whitley mentions include poor lighting and acoustics, improper traffic patterns, poor operator adjacency, and improper sightlines. Fatigue management factors can also extend beyond the control room to include areas for rest and recovery areas, exercise rooms, and healthy food/snack options.

Imagine a scenario in a typical control room with the aforementioned challenges. An operator having to deal with improper lighting (such as lighting too bright or too dim, glare from outside light sources, reflection, inability to adjust light levels for specific tasks) will experience eye strain/fatigue. Too much noise—from poor placement and direction of operators, noise from outside sources, competing conversations with visitors/guests, noise reverberation, and echoing—can cause tension, which causes fatigue.

Poor control room design can be painfully obvious, but good design should be almost invisible. Design of the CellSouth NOC

Poor control room design can be painfully obvious, but good design should be almost invisible.

Improper traffic patterns not only create noise distraction, but also visual distraction. “It is not uncommon for a typical control room operator to acknowledge, either consciously or not, between 150 and 200 'traffic passes’ per shift—people in and out of the control room walking within the visual or audible zone of an operator,” says Whitley. “This recognition contributes to fatigue.”

Additional fatigue can be felt when improper sightlines force an operator to physically put themselves into an alternative, non-ergonomic position in order to see the information (such as rolling a chair side to side to see the monitors, or standing up and turning around in the chair to see a display panel).

Individually, these and many other types of control room challenges may seem insignificant, but collectively they can have a damaging cumulative effect on people and their ability to operate with the awareness and focus needed to reduce error and increase efficiency.

Helpful resources

Whether you are consolidating a group of distributed control rooms or redesigning a current room for peak efficiency and fatigue reduction, the same rules and guidelines to avoiding environmental stressors apply. CCE provides whitepapers and online evaluative questionnaires that are excellent resources.

Single large screens can improve collaboration. At Statoil Hydro

Single large screens can improve collaboration. At Statoil Hydro's Tjeldbergodden plant, 30 operators comfortably control the processes of one of the world's largest methanol plants. Source: ABB

Makers of DCS/SCADA systems also can be helpful: Invensy, for example, provides a detailed two-part whitepaper discussing both operating factors and design trends for control rooms. Other examples of recently redesigned control rooms (seen in the photos accompanying this article) provide further insight into specific technologies, design schemes, and benefits. View this article online at www.controleng.com/archives for links to the whitepapers and detailed information on examples supplied by CCE, ABB, Honeywell, Emerson, and Red Lion Controls.

Though poor control room design can be painfully obvious, good design should be almost invisible—. The design of the CellSouth Network Operations Center (see photo), “is melded together so effectively you don't notice it and you can just do your job,” says Greg Gunter, NOC manager. “I hate to think of the many mistakes we would have made had we not had the help of a third party [DesignMatters]. Everything (lighting, seating, displays, acoustics, etc.) is transparent to those of us who spend our entire shift in one room.”

Motiva Enterprises’s Norco refinery in New Orleans is ranked among the largest in the world, and several years ago refinery management initiated a modernization project with Emerson. The project scope encompassed eight major process units, 6,000 I/O points and 636 control valves, and consolidated five control rooms into one integrated command center. Motiva Norco operations manager Jeff Funkhouser said the new control room (see photo) was a focal point of the project. The design radiates from the operator outward, increasing his or her awareness. An overview layer is always present on the big wall screens, giving the operators a bird’s eye view of the entire plant.

The new control room (see photo) at Statoil Hydro’s Tjeldbergodden methanol plant is also at the very cutting edge of process control and ergonomics. With the implementation of ABB’s System 800xA Extended Operator Workplace, it’s a text-book example of the interactive operator environment of the future. In each of these cases, the users have found that human factor engineering can indeed counter the high stress that is too often present in production environments, while also improving efficiency and reducing errors.

Multiple monitors with smooth sight lines and the right technology can help lessen fatigue and increase efficiency. Crude oil producer Wintershall centralized operations at 18 of its 26 offshore platforms and installed video conferencing technology along with Honeywell Experion PKS software. Source: Honeywell Process Solutions

Multiple monitors with smooth sight lines and the right technology can help lessen fatigue and increase efficiency. Crude oil producer Wintershall centralized operations at 18 of its 26 offshore platforms and installed video conferencing technology along with Honeywell Experion PKS software. Source: Honeywell Process Solutions



ONLINE EXTRAS
Whether you are consolidating a group of distributed control rooms or redesigning a current room for peak efficiency and fatigue reduction, the same rules and guidelines apply for

www.mycontrolroom.com consolidates advice and services from a group of companies dedicated to control room design and installation, including Command & Control Environments (CCE), DesignMatters and User Centered Design Services (UCDS). This service brief from UCDS described what's involved in a HMI site assessment, best-practices workshop and custom style guide.

UCDS is an associate member of the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium . Ian Nimmo of UCDS wasnt and instrumentation experience as well.

Nimmo and Moscatelli bring their experience to sites in the form of a service called Management System Gap Analysis, which looks at how existing site policies are intended to work, how they actually work, and how they compare to industry best practices. For more on what the process involves and what results can be achieved, view the UCDS Service Brief.

Nimmo has also written a book on HMI and control room design , which includes information on best practices.

Makers of DCS/SCADA systems also can be helpful: Invensy, for example, provides a detailed two-part whitepaper discussing both operating factors and design trends for control rooms:

Control Room Consolidation - Part 1, Operating Factors

Control Room Consolidation - Part 2, Design Trends


More information on the examples of successful installations mentioned in the Control Engineering article can be found through the followig links:

Motiva Enterprises Norco refinery / Emerson

Statoil Hydro / ABB

Wintershall / Honeywell

Hoover Dam / Red Lion Controls


Author Information

Reach Renee M. Robbins, senior editor of Control Engineering, at renee.robbins@reedbusiness.com .




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