So, what do operator do? Ultimately, an operator’s job is to optimize the process, maintain product quality, intervene when needed, ensure safety and production goals are met, while complying with regulatory requirements.
We must think of operators with the same value and respect that we give pilots. In fact operators are much like pilots, they must be prepared for the unexpected. That means we have to provide them with a user centered solution. If we want to change the culture, we can start by changing our perception. Operators are an underutilized resource; they can improve the way you operate and help you achieve production goals.
We’ve seen operators working in poor work environments like low lighting, poor ergonomics, dated procedures, very little knowledge on complex processes, alarms and displays that are overwhelming to say the least, yet they somehow get by. But is getting by, good enough or can we get more value out of them? We can, if we treat the control room as not a place for operators but as the operating system of the business.
Operators have a unique job and require a unique set of skills and tools. We have worked with over a thousand operators, we know that, if you improve operator performance you can improve production, quality, and reduce unplanned downtime. So a control room upgrade should be considered an opportunity to improve operations, but you have to include the Displays and make sure the workload is manageable during both normal and abnormal situations.
Control room design is so much more than screens and furniture, in fact the screens, furniture, and even the operators chair must be strategically placed in a specific way to reduce glare from overhead lights.
A control room is a place where operators receive safety critical information. If the operator displays are not integrated into the design of the room, I can guarantee they are reactive – not predictive, meaning – the operators are sometimes the last ones to know what is going wrong!
Operator response is critical, yet we still see control rooms designed by large screen technology providers, furniture vendors, and architects that have no idea how to present information to the operator in the most effective way. They don’t know what is important to the operator so they don’t know what needs to be on the large overview displays. That means they don’t know what size the screen should be or if it should be a video wall, an LCD screen, or built into the console.
Many of these vendors do not understand how operators navigate during an abnormal situation and why some screens require analog objects and trends. They don’t realize how much data will be crammed onto screens, and in some cases, they will just add more screens. Vendors will provide as many screens as you want. We have seen up to 25 screens on a console. This is a complete failure to recognize human limitations and is the opposite of situation awareness.
Operator displays should be broken up into levels 1-4 – using a “Navigation Hiarchy”. When your displays are designed for abnormal situations and situation awareness, this graphical “hiarchy” is critical to the operator. Your Level 1-4 displays require different screen sizes, some operators require large screens and others require multiple large screens. The number of screens, size of screens, and placement of screens have to be integrated into the design of the console and the control room. The screen layout and display design should be an integrated solution that achieves situation awareness, it is critical to the design and layout of the room and lighting. firstname.lastname@example.org / www.mycontrolroom.com