Building a 2020 control room

Think Again about this application example: a control room designed for 2020 attracts young engineering prospects, among other benefits. See five control room design challenges and three control room design tips.

By Mark T. Hoske April 20, 2016

Smart applications of automation technologies increase safety, improve quality, decrease downtime, and, perhaps, in an unintended benefit, can attract younger engineers. These were among application lessons learned from a major chemical company that installed a new control room designed with the year 2020 in mind, among presentations at the ARC Group Industry Forum, in February, in Orlando, Fla.

Control room 2020

Michiel Tijsseling, Dow Chemical process automation leader, worked on a control room design for year 2020 for two units at Oyster Creek OC-1001 Hydrocarbons Command Center, Freeport, Texas

Before the upgrade, the plant had 1991 state-of-the-art control rooms with computer floors full of spiders. The goal was to build a control room and training facility better than what people could buy for home use.

Easy human-machine-interface (HMI) navigation was needed. Small screens with five layers wouldn’t be adequate. Communication and navigation were considered in the design.

The building exterior is blast and hurricane proof, and all options were considered including a mobile no-control-room option. The result was a future-proof design for operations, since controllability of the process is a function of the operator, Tijsseling said.

"We use state-based control. If there’s a trip, the steps in-between are shown, along with what happens automatically, to help the operator do what’s needed," Tijsseling said.

Three plants are supported in one area, with separate areas for operations and support roles, nearby, but not in the way of each other. The control rooms are central to all operator needs.

Non-negotiables were cyber security, no dongles, and a special, separate server and client room to preview, review, and audit what’s needed.

The new design creates a reliable interface to the process for control, and it is redundant in a smart way, so any one component of failure doesn’t create outage, explained Tijsseling. Telecommunications and those in charge of analyzers wanted to use part of the area, but those were separated, as well. The 2020 design is five generations beyond 1980 technologies with task-oriented sheets and interfaces for commissioning and startup, upset conditions, smooth operations, integration of information and procedure access, and an integrated site for the three plants, suppliers (feedstock), and clients.

Three 55-in. screens provide a large area overview, and a task sheet is shown on a 23-in. screen. Within 30 seconds, an operator can know the status of plant. It fulfils operator needs, rather than all operator wishes. But it shows well. Local engineering-minded students were impressed with ergonomics and layout and design supporting physical needs, lighting, noise, temperature, and workflow.

"What do I need to work here?" asked one student, according to Tijsseling. An executive taking a tour brought additional co-workers the next day.

Three control room design tips

Working on a control room design? Tijsseling offered three points of advice.

1) Start early. Before drawing plans or building, consider control drawings also.

2) Don’t finish early. Continue until the design is optimal. Work on it every day and make additional investments in graphics.

3) Use plenty of experts and not only those familiar with the previous design. Get information from industry and experts to get people involved. Seek a breakthrough by getting involved early, listening to end users to set the groundwork for operators of the future.

Intelligent control room design can create a futuristic and functional means to improve operations.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

ONLINE extra More information is included above and below with the expanded online version of this article. 

Five control room design challenges

Control room design challenges, according to Michiel Tijsseling, Dow Chemical process automation leader, at the 2016 ARC Group Industry Forum in Orlando, Fla., include the following:

1. Most operator graphical displays are subpar because they:

a. Don’t present the most important information to the operator

b. Mimic faceplates or process and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs)

c. Don’t tell enough about the process.

2. Control room design often is an afterthought in process plants.

3. Optimal control room design benefits safety, operational excellence, and reduces unplanned incidents.

4. Analog panels often gave operators a good overview of the process, but cathode ray tube (CRT) screen changed that.

5. The science of control room design needs to progress from ergonomics to ergonometrics, which includes maximizing productivity as well as minimizing discomfort.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

Consider this

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Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.