"Ian has consulted for us in the area of alarm management, central control room design, process control management and operator workload assessments. He is without doubt one of the world's experts in the above fields and has assisted us implementing leading edge techniques with definite business outcomes."
— Angelo, Senior Process Control Engineer

What Others Are Saying:

Navajo Refining Company, located in southeast New Mexico, is part of the HollyFrontier Corporation and employs approximately 360 workers at this site.

"While in the development of a new Training Center, we needed design ideas. We contacted UCDS and they designed several conceptual designs of a training center in accordance with our needs. While we did not build the exact design (we had to downgrade it, in accordance with our budget), we were able to use most of the ideas from UCDS for the training rooms. The Conceptual Design we received opened our eyes to what we really needed. It helped us focus on the key aspects of what a Training Center should be."

Jeff Stack
Training Specialist
HollyFrontier Corporation


Company Background:

SourceGas LLC (“SourceGas”) and its subsidiaries serve approximately 425,000 customers and operate more than 19,340 miles of natural gas distribution, gathering and transmission pipeline, as well as storage facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. SourceGas and its subsidiaries also provide gas transportation, in-home HVAC and appliance service and sales, as well as gas commodity sales services to its natural gas customers in many jurisdictions. SourceGas and its predecessor companies have provided natural gas service to small and rural communities for nearly 80 years.

"The company lacked enough appropriate industry knowledge and expertise to comply with the extensive PHMSA 192.631 Control Room Management code requirements for Alarm Management, Fatigue Mitigation, Management of Change, and Process Management. Outside guidance was sought to aid in the CRM plan administration and implementation. UCDS came highly recommended from various industry contacts and references.

UCDS performed a gap analysis and made various recommendations and improvements to our CRM plan. Plan has successfully gone through two multistate audits. UCDS brought to the table knowledge and skills in areas that were lacking. Staff now has better guidance and skills on all aspects of Gas Control functions. I would absolutely recommend UCDS!"

Bill Stephens
Senior Manager of Codes and Standards

LyondellBasell is a world leader in chemical manufacturing and refining. Goal Zero is our motto for zero, safety incidents, environmental incidents and customer complaints.

"Our Ethylene Oxide control room needed to be updated to enhance operator effectiveness for managing abnormal situations. At times the noise level would exceed 80db and our board Operators would struggle to operate the units from the distractions.

UCDS, after a very comprehensive study and report, more or less woke up not only our site but our other company sites to the importance of control room environments. We thought we only had a noise issue. However after the study we learned we had much more than a noisy control room that we needed to improve on in order to provide a safe environment that’s also ergonomically enhanced for the control room operator.

My personal thoughts for the work done are that there are a lot of “old school” thinkers managing and running plant control rooms. The data in the UCDS reports were basically indisputable and made very clear the importance of the recommendations. Since we implemented the changes our Operators are much less fatigued at the end of their shift and our site KPI’s have drastically improved.

I would HIGHLY recommend UCDS because the industry still has a lot of catching up to do in order to improve control room environments for safe operating conditions that actually can reduce operator fatigue and improve abnormal situational management, (ASM)."

Michael L Johnson
Sr. Control Systems Specialist


Facility Background:

The Victoria, TX nylon plant was constructed over 60 years ago and remains a key global supplier of intermediates. Each production unit represents a different molecule required for nylon production and is operated as separate business unit. Control systems are localized with no integration between areas. Some areas are still utilizing analog controllers, while others have as many as three generations of distributed control systems.

"Our site initiated a capital program to replace all area control systems with a common and current DCS platform. In addition, the program would consolidate multiple area control rooms into a single site control room located outside of the process areas.

The project team visited several sites that had consolidated control rooms and updated their DCS platforms to gain an understanding of Best Practices. The project team attended a number of workshops addressing high performance Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) and situation awareness. One of these workshops was hosted by User Centered Design Services, Inc., and it was very clear that there was a body of research and implementation experience behind situation awareness and value that had been realized.

  • UCDS provided a situation awareness workshop locally for key site leadership, operations, and engineering personnel to establish grounding on the principles that would become the basis for a site control room. This workshop was repeated two years later for console operators and operations supervisors marking the beginning of design development for the site control room.
  • UCDS provided console and field operator workload studies for our site to optimize the number of operator consoles required in a new site control room. This also identified alarm rationalization, high performance HMI, and improved automation in the control system as objectives for operator optimization.
  • UCDS provided a developmental workshop with the site for a current alarm management philosophy aligned with ISA and EEMUA publications. This was followed by an alarm rationalization effort.
  • UCDS provided design consultation in the initial layout of the site control room.

UCDS Staffing and Situation Awareness Workshops helped us develop the value proposals associated with framing the project and obtaining capital funding. Our project is still in progress, but we have confidence that we should see substantial return on investment as soon as we have all areas moved to the new control room."

Driscoll W. Staley
Programs and Projects
INVISTA S.à r.l. – Victoria Plant

The Lake Charles, Louisiana Chemical Complex has seven manufacturing units situated on approximately 400 acres. Its primary products are used in the cleaning and personal care markets to manufacture ingredients for soaps, detergents, shampoos, cosmetics and more. Specialty chemicals used in mild abrasives, thickeners and pharmaceuticals, as well as in the enhanced oil recovery markets, are also manufactured here at this facility.

Company Background:

Sasol is an international, integrated energy and chemicals company that leverages the talent and expertise of more than 32,400 people working in 37 countries. Sasol produces a range of high-value product streams, including liquid fuels, chemicals and low-carbon electricity utilizing commercial technology development and the construction and operation of world-scale facilities.

"Safety is a core Sasol value. This value, coupled with a high-performance Sasol culture, became the driver to implement the safest and most intuitive toolset for the operator. We didn’t have a firm foundation for how we designed the operator environment and needed to develop the framework from which to do so. That is why we hired UCDS.

We utilized UCDS’ world-class experience to guide our team in developing our operator environment. UCDS helped define and develop our site HMI Philosophy which will be used to benchmark existing units and design newly-added units.

Now that we have a working HMI Philosophy, we possess the foundation from which to design the most comprehensive HMI solutions for our operators. It also defines the framework for continuous improvement as technology, people, and the plant environment evolve."

David Smith
Process Control Engineer
Sasol, North America

Console Operator Bill Johnson, a 24-year Sunoco veteran, makes changes in the operations of the new low sulfur fuels unit from the new central control room. The recently finished low sulfur gasoline unit is the first plant to be run from the new central control room. By June 2006, it is expected that all Point Breeze unit operations will be controlled from this centralized facility.

The first phase of the new centralized control room at the Philadelphia Refinery is operational and the refinery is already seeing the benefits through better management of the fuel gas system and higher distillate yields. Located on the Point Breeze side of the refinery, the control room – in a series of three phases over the next several years – will eventually control all unit operations, utilities, and blending and shipping for the facility.

There are several places where a centralized control room can benefit a refinery's operations, explained Mike McKee, Philadelphia refinery Operations Manager. “First, it allows the various operating units to be managed with better continuity, he said. “When you don’t have a central control room, communication among the units relies on telephones, radio and fax. We are seeing better decisions because the people are interacting face to face.” A centralized control room allows the various units to better share resources, such as steam, fuel gas and heat, to ensure that the refinery is optimized as opposed to one individual unit.

Before, the thinking was that if each unit in the refinery was optimized, then the refinery overall would be running at optimal levels, McKee said. However, McKee said, sometimes what may be the most effective operations for one particular unit may hold back rate for another unit that is producing an added-value product in demand in the marketplace. In that case, it is in the refinery’s best financial interest to optimize for certain units knowing that the gains will outweigh the loss of running one unit at a sub- optimal level. To maximize the opportunities a centralized control room offers, the position of console operator supervisor was created to coordinate unit changes and operations.

“Before a centralized control room, there was not an efficient way to recognize this and communicate the necessary changes to the operators,” McKee said. “Now with both the position of console operator supervisor and the face-to-face interaction, we are in a better position to ensure that the refinery is running in a way that will best capture the market.” The centralized control room also helps the refinery better react to the market because it allows for the business planning group to review refinery operations information at a centralized point, compare that to market data, and communicate changes that are more easily implemented to adjust to the changing market conditions.

The key to running an optimized refinery is the ability to make global changes to such systems as the fuel gas system or distillate production. This is done through greater utilization of automated process control (APC), which is now possible with the centralized control room. The APC allows changes to be made not just on a unit basis but across multiple units for a system-wide impact. And while it is a benefit that McKee hopes to never utilize, the centralized control room allows for remote control and shutdown of a facility during an emergency or evacuation. Although Philadelphia has had a smaller central control room, the real benefit to this new facility is a number of enhancements that are expected to improve not only operations but also the work experience for console operators.

The ergonomics of the new control room – from the lighting to the desk height to the chairs – were researched and selected to provide the console operators with a non- distracting work environment that allows them to remain focused on their responsibilities during their 12-hour shift.

Entering the new control room, the expansive, well-lit room with high ceilings, bright monitors and large observation screens on the walls is in stark contrast to the existing control room with its dim lighting and low ceilings and high banks of console boards which isolate operators from each other. Nobody likes to work in the dark, McKee said, but the old control room has the low lighting because the older CRT monitors are difficult to read in brighter light.

New technology has allowed Sunoco to create a more conducive work environment where operators can have both light and screen visibility. “The need to stay alert is critical to a well-run facility and the new control room, which also features a kitchen and an exercise area, will help operators stay at their peak during the entire shift,” McKee said.

Rio Tinto Fer et Titane is one of the main suppliers of feedstock for TiO2 pigment production, as well as a worldwide leader in the production of high-quality pig iron, steel and metal powders.

Five years ago we started the replacement of old HMI running on an Alpha platform to the recommended High Performance based HMI and also started an alarm rationalization initiative. As we progressed we came to the conclusion that we needed coaching from an expert.

In order to raise the level of knowledge of the engineers and managers, UCDS gave a workshop on alarm management, control room design, and high performance HMI. Together with UCDS we reviewed and updated our alarm management philosophy and wrote a new HMI philosophy. A gap analysis comparing our control room against the industry best practices was also conducted in order to identify areas of improvement.

In the context of a control room reorganization project, we conducted with the help of UCDS, a management of organizational change review (MOOC). The goal of that study was to identify potential safety problems induced by the work reorganization.

Alarm management is now fully established in our process engineering practices. Sectorial alarm committees meet each week to analyze bad actor alarms and find ways to fix them. We now have a HMI philosophy that helps us design an efficient and uniform HMI all over the plant.

In summary UCDS helped us raise the importance of the console operator on safety and productivity of our processes. UCDS has a lot of expertise in all the fields related to control room design and operation; they can help you implement the best methods available.

Marc Jutras
Project Engineer
RioTinto Fer & Titane

The world’s largest CO2 injector partners with User Centered Design to reduce production downtime, reduce emissions and environmental incidents, and to optimize production.

Occidental’s Permian EOR business employ techniques for increased oil production using an EOR technique in which CO2 is injected into oil reservoirs, causing the trapped oil to flow more easily and efficiently. Each year they inject more than 700 billion cubic feet of CO2 into oil reservoirs in the Permian, making Occidental the largest injector of CO2 for EOR in the Permian Basin, and among the largest globally. Occidental is an industry leader in applying this technology, which can increase ultimate oil recovery by 10 to 25 percent in the fields where it is employed.

Alan Bryant has been a project manager for Oxy for many years. He has four years of multi-discipline project management, four years in Oil and Gas production facility engineering, thirteen years in process automation engineering and engineering management, three years in IT Project engineering, and experience in the development of corporate standards, practices, and procedures. Alan’s specialties include project management, process automation, and SCADA.

Alan says; “We are an upstream oil and gas producer. We have operations in West Texas, New Mexico, South America and the Middle East where we produce oil and gas.

At this particular site, we operate two oilfields, three recompression facilities, and one NGL plant. We undertook a project to build a new control room for our production operations in Hobbs, NM to reduce production downtime, reduce emissions and environmental incidents, and optimize production.

I consulted with UCDS from the very start during the FEED to plan the project. How many operators will this take? How big is the room? How many consoles? Console layout? How many monitors? Etc. Project scope, schedule, budget. They did an operating philosophy, HMI philosophy, Alarm philosophy, and started alarm rationalization. After the project was approved, UCDS provided an architect to design the building and provide builder oversight. UCDS worked with our operators to do a task analysis, to design the graphic displays. They also oversaw the work of the system integrators all the way through commissioning and training.

With the help of User Centered Design, we were able to consider human factors from the start in the design of the new control room: lighting, layout, ergonomics, high- performance graphics, etc. Otherwise, I didn’t even know where to start. Ian and team really know their stuff when it comes to human factors science. They also have a methodology developed for analyzing the stakeholder needs.”

At Rio Tinto Kennecott, we mine essential elements that make modern living possible. From medicine, food and shampoo, to cell phones, computers, CAT scans and hybrid electric cars, nearly everything you use today relies on materials that we produce.

Our mine has been a fixture in the Salt Lake Valley for more than 109 years. You may be surprised to know that we are the largest private economic driver in Utah. No other private sector operation has generated more production, exports, income and employment than Kennecott. As such, we take our responsibility to be a strong community partner seriously, through strategic partnerships, foundation contributions and charitable giving.


Since 2005 we have been working on projects specific to control room optimization. David and I arranged to have UCDS, a member of the Abnormal Situation Management (ASM) Consortium, to perform a Gap Analysis to measure our control room against the ASM accepted standard. Once completed, and at my suggestion, we put together a steering committee comprised of plant leadership and advisory staff to identify the main issues that should be addressed to raise the standard of our control room performance and management’s expectations. The steering committee then identified from the Gap Analysis the projects we should initiate to begin the process of closing those gaps. These decisions then led to a series of work performed by UCDS to guide us in our endeavors.


We committed to develop a new standard for smelter graphics using the ASM standard for gray-scale graphics that utilize color only to highlight abnormal conditions. We then appropriated the help to develop our displays and objects using a unique library of graphical objects and their expertise on graphical development. We utilized Control Room personnel to develop the graphics pages to pass on to our graphics development contractor following a rigid quality control standard. We chose to use the control room personnel in this project as suggested by the ASM consultants and to ensure that we followed a user driven and accepted design.


UCDS had a lot of issues with our existing control room, mostly due to the environment it was in, which they felt would not be conducive to good ergonomics. We had UCDS develop a report to assist us in identifying the location of a new control room as well as the detail of the specific requirements for a “best practice” control room. We gave them 3 locations for a new control room; they then developed layouts along with a general cost for each to assist the steering committee in the decision of where to build the new control room. With this, the steering committee along with the SLT identified the location for the new control room. UCDS then developed a detail design for the new control room that was used as a guide for construction.


UCDS developed a document to lead us into Alarm Management that we used to develop a Smelter Alarm Standard and Philosophy and to guide us with managing the performance of alarms on our consoles. As part of this effort, I completed my first two Six Sigma projects to bring Consoles 701 and 702 into a “stable” performance. The Smelter Alarm Standard is written into a Standard Operating Procedure that identifies the appropriate method for rationalization of alarms based on criticality and time to identify the proper priority and response. We have maintained these consoles at a “Stable” performance since the rationalization and will continue with a full rationalization now that we have completed the migration to Delta V.


Once completed with the graphics and migration, our focus turned to the most important assets we have, our people. Human Factors is a science that is quickly becoming an important part of the cultural changes necessary to successfully and safely operate a plant such as ours. Most of this science is about relatively simple habits and behaviors used by the Control Room Specialists using the tools provided by management to make good decisions following established procedures that reduce our risk of making errors that contribute to unsafe conditions.


UCDS performed a staffing assessment which we used as a basis for the development of personnel once we had completed most of our initiatives. As we improved in our ability to operate more confidently because of these initiatives, it enabled our Control Room Specialists to perform at a much higher level. Using the information from the assessment aided the Smelter in determining how to set up the plant consoles and area designations for reducing the number of Control Room Specialists to operate the plant to a total of 4. This reduction then allowed us to put field operators who were performing double duty at the consoles and in the field back into the field full time to provide greater operational support to the teams.

Matt Martin
Superintendent — Production Control

Borregaard’s pulp & paper operation in Sarpsborg, Norway, was originally established in 1889. Over the years, significant investments have been made in the facility, including a new pulp-drying machine; new cutting, baling and, reeling equipment; and conversion of the bleaching plant to sulphite pulp. The original digester house, built in the early 1950s, was completely modernized with new stainless steel digesters and a new chemiwasher. As a result of this, the entire pulp line has been either rebuilt or refurbished, which makes the Sarpsborg site the most modern sulfite plant in the world.

In 2001 Borregaard started on the route to gather operations from all its different process units into one centralized control room with a common Human-Machine Interface (HMI) for all operators. At that time, the company purchased a new DCS to operate a new recovery boiler. The plan was to operate this boiler, together with oil/electrical boilers, an SO2 boiler, and water/wastewater treatment systems, from a common control room and operator interface. Experience gathered from this pilot project, together with the challenge of reducing operational costs, caused Borregaard to undertake a reorganization of all its operations.

This included upgrading their legacy automation systems to a new DCS and upgrading their PLC based systems to a common automation platform. In 2002, Borregaard installed two new systems at the Sarpsborg facility in order to standardize control systems for its water treatment plant, boiler house and recovery boiler. This was the beginning of a five-year project focused on centralizing process automation under a single control center. The goal was to reduce complexity and increase productivity throughout the production operation.

The key project requirements included:

  • Ability to standardize on a platform that afforded flexibility and increased reliability and efficiency
  • Centralized control room with common operator interface
  • New state-of-the-art automation system to reduce the number of required resources
  • Enhanced HMI to help operators perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively

They started, Karlsen said, in 2001 with a project to re-design the eight control rooms in their former paper and pulp mill and see what synergies and combinations could be achieved. By 2008, they were ready to propose to management that they combine the eight control rooms into one. They proposed this would require fewer console operators, improve training and simulation with less administrative overhead, and produce a uniform organizational focus on production.

Right away, Karlsen said, they knew they needed to start with cultural change. They even negotiated a pilot agreement with the union to permit them to try new methods and modes of operation. They also knew from the start they needed to institute a rigorous MOC (management of change) procedure. “You can ask me about migration" Skjeltorp quipped. “I know a lot about that now.”

One of the consultants they worked with was Ian Nimmo of User Centered Design Services in Phoenix, Ariz. Nimmo helped them put together a design plan for a consolidated central control room. The Borregaard engineers produced a control room design with eight control stations, one for each plant unit, and a video wall that was intended to replicate the analog “panel wall” of the 1960s – to provide the situational awareness that operators need. “You have to do the design of the HMI first,” Skjeltorp said, “because it is very easy to buy the wrong stuff when designing the consoles.” The Borregaard management’s dream is for the control system to consist of two buttons: “start” and “stop” with an option to remove the “stop” button. “We’re not quite there yet,” Skjeltorp said.

The mill’s process control network employs a Distributed Server Architecture (DSA) to consolidate operator consoles across their multiple systems. It enables global access to points, alarms, interactive operator control messages, and history data across the different systems, eliminating the need for database duplication and gateways.

Borregaard’s new centralized control center utilizes HTML as the native display format to provide access to process graphic displays. The use of an open, industry standard file format reduces engineering time while allowing displays to be reused between systems.

As part of the enhanced HMI design based Abnormal Situation Management (ASM®) Consortium guidelines (founded by Ian Nimmo) level one overview displays provide operators and operations management with a view of abnormal operating conditions (often as large screen displays). Level two overview displays contain the positions control room personnel frequently use in specific operating situations (e.g., startup/shut down or normal stable production). Level three displays include traditional PI&D graphics showing every detail of the process and related instrumentation. Level four detail displays, faceplates and pop-ups provide the details of devices, group starts, etc.

Our new Digital Video Manager (DVM) installation includes 100 analog cameras connected to 14 different matrixes. Camera signals are converted to digital streams, which are then distributed through the Local Area Network (LAN). The consoles not only show live video from locations throughout the mill, but also provide the ability to switch cameras, and pan, tilt or zoom the camera to focus in on a particular area. This allows the mill to extend its remote monitoring capabilities and integrate video stream and analytics with process control applications. Additionally, it enables operators to observe hazardous or inaccessible areas from a distance and detect events beyond traditional sensor capabilities. They can even monitor workers and validate potential environmental and safety incidents.

Since 2001, Borregaard has gone through various installation phases of its automation system upgrade. The company established a mill-wide standard that handled continuous upgrades and defined a vertical migration strategy enabling it to implement new technology without any production loss. More than 20,000 control loops are currently managed from the mill’s centralized control center, while the number of console operators has been reduced from 12 to 6 per shift with the potential for further reductions. A stepwise transfer of operators into the new control room proved to be effective. Operators with pilot training quickly became accustomed to the new surroundings and adapted to the updated control system. There is increased interaction between personnel who have a better process understanding of the entire plant, and managers now have quick access to mill operation status. They have plans for future improvements, focusing on alarm management and using new graphical objects for problem detection so operators can predict problems before alarms activate.

Holding 8 or 10 ounces of boiling coffee in your cupped hands is tricky. Using a thick stoneware mug is easier, but you still have to be careful. Likewise, sturdy tools and finesse are needed to consolidate several control rooms into one, especially if you're going to triple production at the same time.

These were just two of the countless jobs facing engineers at BHP Billiton Worsley Alumina (www.bhpbilliton.com) when they and their many colleagues renovated and expanded their huge bauxite mine and alumina refinery a few years ago. Located near Collie in southwestern Australia, the company's operations presently refine about 3.5 million tons per year of bauxite ore into metallurgical alumina for later processing into aluminum. When the mine and refinery first started running in 1984, more than 50 operators managed production from five control rooms, and produced about 1 million tons annually. The initial control system was Honeywell Process Solutions TDC 2000 analog distributed control system (DCS).

To carry out their overall Advanced Process Management (APM) project, BHP Billiton's managers and engineers agreed it should include the new central control room, advanced controls, alarm management and a partial control system upgrade to Honeywell's newer Experion DCS, operator stations, software and other equipment. The new controls also had to make room for and coordinate close to 4,000 process signals and more than 300 drives that were migrated from the old plant equipment to new systems, and do it without hindering operations.

However, elevating production performance in a refinery is a challenge because it hinges on an operator's ability to be proactive and act on information appropriately. BHP Billiton's engineers realized that one catalyst to improving performance was to use advanced automation and user-centered design to replace some of the operators' current tasks, allowing them to focus more on production goals. "Following an extensive review of our process management, we knew we wanted to implement advanced applications and improve our production control," stated Angelo D'Agostino, BHP Billiton's senior process control engineer.

“Our operators are conservative and always adjust the set point lower than maximum capacity. If we can find a way to set the set point closer to the maximum process capacity, the difference is money. The management loved that explanation. So we got approval to implement advanced process control on spent liquor and increased efficiency by three times, saving a huge amount of money. We also reduced by 80% the number of moves the operator has to do every day—an unexpected freebie.” Another freebie was in multi-variable control of the plant’s fine-seed process. “There have been only three events leading to a change in pump seals, with huge cost savings. Abnormal situations, that are not managed in time, turn into process upsets, some minor and some major.

We know there are many consequences associated with Process upsets like: Equipment damage, product quality, plant availability, energy costs, product waste, environmental excursions, and of course safety concerns. The biggest issue, preventable upsets that were not managed in time by the operators and the end result was an unscheduled shut down. We are always looking for ways to increase production and reduce costs and process issues are a major problem. Operators can manage process upsets if they detect the problem in time, but early detection can be a major problem during most situations because of fatigue, data overload, and poor situation awareness. That is why we brought Ian Nimmo in, to identify where we had gaps and provide real solutions that change the way we operate. Ian helped us change the culture and our operators have fully embraced the changes we made.”

Angelo D'Agostino
Senior Process Control Engineer

The Navajo Refinery is located in Artesia, New Mexico and has a crude oil capacity of 100,000 barrels per day. The Navajo Refinery can process heavy, sour and light, sweet crude oils and runs a predominant slate of Permian Basin crudes that are gathered in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico. The refinery can also source a variety of crude oils from Cushing, Oklahoma including Canadian crudes. The Navajo refinery serves markets in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Robert Boans is the Operations Manager at the New Mexico refinery, he’s in charge of training and Operation Excellence.

“We used UCDS to perform a staffing study. Prior to bringing them in we had added several process units and we wanted to make sure we had the right people to the correct task and to make sure we had not overloaded any area. They helped show the load of each operator in all the process areas, that information was used to restructure manpower in different areas. Also with this information it showed areas of improvement for our console operators. We were also able to balance our workload in the field. We will also be able to use information to staff future projects. I am very happy with the work that was done. I would recommend them based on how well they did the job asked of them. I feel they went out and gathered the information needed and put the facts out without any bias."