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Control Room Design

Control Room Design – UCDS continues to help customers with their control rooms.  We have been working on a wide range of control rooms from different industries, different sizes, and minor changes in style.  We have been working with one customer who allowed their architect and Engineering contractor to build the control room.  We are now helping to make it twice as big and still trying to squeeze in more consoles than the room is designed for.  It really pays to do up-front human factors conceptual design. Having to remove walls, move cables and adjust ceilings and floors is no fun after construction.

We celebrated with Northeast Utilities at the EPRI conference in Nashville last month as we presented their new control room to the audience.  Tim Nurse, the new Control Room Supervisor, shared their vision for the building and how they captured the vision to design for “Situation Awareness” which involved the room, support room adjacencies and details such as the console design, number of screens and a new HMI design to High Performance and ASM standards.

I was delighted to share with the audience our methodologies which are based on ISO 11064 standards and industrial best practices.  If you email me, I will send you a copy of the PowerPoint slides.

I also had the privilege of talking to the AGA pipeline team on Management of Change and the impact of the new PHMSA Regulation.  This was very well received and I have been invited back to do a big session at the next conference.  Steve Maddox joined me as he navigated the road works around downtown Dallas.  We do admire these customers as they tackle many new initiatives and often are also coping with major changes to their automation systems.  We are pleased to complement their learning with our industrial experience and background in HF/E required by the new standards.

I have to confess that it was not all work last month, our good friends Mark & Marie Green from Human Centered Design in Norway joined us for some technical exchanges and also sightseeing in Arizona.  We jointly visited an Australian customer in Las Vegas and learned of their challenges in HMI design and shared our joint knowledge and experience.  We went from there to beautiful Sedona and sampled some very nice wine, thanks to Marie, and some fine dining as only Sedona can provide.  During our stay we spent a day walking and talking around the Grand Canyon and invested some well spent time photographing the changing landscape as the day progressed.

After a refreshing time with Mark & Marie, they headed to San Francisco to a Stephen Few workshop on Information Dashboard Design and how to design tables and graphs. I know it was good because Mark sent me three incredible books, thanks Mark.

As for me, I went to Seattle to do some consulting on HMI design and an introduction into the High Performance HMI with some new friends and their customers.  It has been a very demanding year for our “Situation Awareness” Workshop and the “High Performance HMI” Workshop.  It is exciting to see customers and in particular their operators embracing the new paradigm shift and understanding the why’s and the benefits which will help operators health and performance.

Dave has been doing lots of Staffing Studies and is now full-time with the team again.  Welcome back Dave, we missed you!  Harry has been doing a variety of work, including a lot of HMI Philosophy and Style Guides.  I must congratulate the guys as we have what I consider to be the best and most professional documents that meet all the standards and best practices.  Many years’ knowledge and experience has been put into them, and with Harry’s Microsoft Word skills and good technical writing skills we are benefiting customers from a whole range of businesses with our combined solution. Thanks Mark Green for your continued support and willingness to share your knowledge with us.

We have been able to take an even bigger step with our HMI solutions.  We have developed a formal gap analysis methodology and charts that allows customers to use the Guidelines to benchmark their own HMI graphics and designs.  The result is a very practical and useful step towards achieving good situation awareness and high performance from operators.  Who knows, maybe one of the control & automation publications will seek out our knowledge and experience for an article, they need some fresh stuff.  I am getting bored with the same old stuff that we are telling customers does not work anymore, there is a better way.

When we look at the demons for situation awareness, the stuff that is still in the magazines is right on track for failure. Things like misplaced salience, over use and poor choice of color.  Automation not being used effectively causing complexity creep and over use of the operators Short-Term Memory (STM).  Attention tunneling and the lack of good overview displays.

I like what Mica Endsley said when she described the basic problem with our design concept being technology focused rather than user-centered design, this has led to complexity creep, an over emphasis on automation which has caused operators to become “out-of-the-loop” and no longer proactive, the result being an over dependence on alarms which has led to operator overload as they have become overwhelmed, reactive, and ineffective.

These poor practices have contributed to a control room that at best can be described as adding no value just a place where the technology and people come together.

User-Centered Design should revolutionize this paradigm and impact all of these issues and not just the HMI, I tend to funnel them all into a broader topic of “Situation Awareness” which is the driver that enables operator decision making.  We have observed a very profound model that uses the three dominant phase of situation awareness which comprise of:

•    perceiving the current situation (detection),
•    comprehension (diagnosis), and
•    corrective action.

Each of the components mentioned above contribute as a whole and must never be allowed to be out of balance, as they are today.  We must strive for harmonization between all these systems and be aware of human limitations and to anticipate these limitations (human reliability models) support and strengthen them, and then the human contribution to be exploited. That is the heart of User-Centered Design!

Our customers are fast-tracking their solution by utilizing our partners to provide compliant objects for graphics, display designs and building services with some unique tools straight out of HP HMI principles.  This has been so well received.  Steve Maddox is hosting a 3 day workshop in Austin, Texas at the Marriott Courtyard hotel:

Workshop Dates: Nov 16th, 17th, and 18th, 2011

Agenda: 3-Days

Situation Awareness and best practices in Control Room Operations
Introduction to UCDS Inc.
Situation Awareness
Human Factors Research
The Control Room & the HMI
Industrial Trends in Alarm Management
History & Current Status of the HMI
High Performance HMI Fundamentals & Best Practices
The Principles of High Performance HMI
The Development of HMI Philosophy & Style Guide

This next month will be a very busy travel month for me.  I will be in Edmonton – Canada, then London-UK meeting with Robin Brooks with PPCL, and then I will be travelling to beautiful Wales and Cardiff.  I am looking forward to seeing that old Castle again and one of our longtime customers.  I will be in the Northeast for a long weekend and then back to London for several meetings and visiting IET at the Savoy Place and the Kelvin Room and finally to Mansion House for a special dinner in the Egyptian Room.  I can’t wait!