Yokogawa: Stepping Up Situational Awareness

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 @ 01:10 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
One third of controllers are on manual operation at plants and Ian Nimmo wants to know how plants can achieve any kind of positive returns with their automation tools.

“One third of controllers are on manual because the operators say they have a better feel for what is going on,” Nimmo said during his keynote address Wednesday at the Yokogawa 2012 Users Group in New Orleans. “We promise big returns (with automation), but if controllers are on manual control, how can you deliver on what your promise.”

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Automation gains all fall on reducing process variability, said Nimmo, the president and founder of User Center Design Services. Part of reducing variability in the process means reducing or eliminating alarms so operators are not reactive, but instead become proactive.

“When operators are using automation incorrectly there will be increases in variability,” Nimmo said. “I want to see proactive use of automation that will take care of an alarm before it actually becomes an alarm.”

“Process control operators are the saviors of our industry, they can make or break our profitability,” Nimmo said.

It all comes down to situational awareness and how operators handle the abnormal situations that can crop up. “The control system manages the normal; the operator is there to manage the abnormal,” Nimmo said.

What has to happen is the operator should be able to:
• Scan the environment for hazards
• Consider how equipment conditions are changing on a day-to-day basis
• Understand potential hazards
• Formulate plans for handling/avoiding hazards

One of the problems facing operators, Nimmo said, is they have poor tools. Yes, they have HMI and alarms, but they do not have the proper configurations or they are lacking proper data sets or even have poor graphics that are too confusing to understand.

“We know how to do it, but what are we going to do about it? If we continue to do things this way, we will continue to have accidents like Texaco Pembroke,” he said.

In Pembroke, Wales, four workers died and a fifth suffered serious injuries on June 2 last year when a 730 cubic meter storage tank exploded and also caused damage to a second tank. Ten fire and rescue service vehicles responded to the scene, and had fire extinguished within an hour and a half.

What operators need is to know the past, the present and the future. So, for good situational awareness, they need to know and understand:
• Trends
• Abnormal Situational Management (ASM) Graphics
• Alarms
• Historical data
• Maintenance projections
• Weather forecasts
• News
• Music, which can help alleviate any kind of stress in the environment which could help achieve a more stable atmosphere.

“Our goal is to have good situational awareness and having proactive operators,” Nimmo said.

The types of graphics operators see today are often way too colorful and busy. Nimmo said a true HMI interface should allow for color-coded graphics on a gray background that allow for understanding of what really is happening.

“We need tools that put danger in context,” Nimmo said.

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