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Cost Estimate for a New State of the Art Control Room

Many managers and company executives are focusing on achieving company goals and objectives. The automation system and the control room operators significantly impact the business. Bottom line: control room operators are the first line of defense during abnormal situations, if they detect problems in time, they can reduce costs. How well they perform is dependent on many things like: Situation awareness, workload, following procedures, shift handover, alarm handling, problem detection, fatigue, communication, and training. To achieve excellence in the control room we have to examine human factors, improve situation awareness, and improve the management systems that have an effect on operator performance. Operator effectiveness is linked to equipment damage, product quality, product waste, inefficient energy usage, reduced up-time, and major accidents.

The control room (work environment) has a dramatic effect on operator performance. Think about noise, distractions, data presentation, number of screens, data overload, lighting, fatigue, stress, temperature, eye strain, glare, headaches, neck injury, etc. How an operator interprets data to predict problems absolutely depends on how the data is presented, arranged, accessed, and diagnosed. Operators work in an environment where situation awareness is critical and operator intervention is essential. The most important thing to consider is, operators work long shifts and continued high levels of vigilance is absolutely crucial. Operators, like all humans, make mistakes, take short cuts, and make assumptions but they do the best they can with the tools and the environment that they have. We have to improve the work environment if we want operators to be effective. We often get asked, how much does a new state of the art control room cost, we need an estimate for budgeting. So how much does a new control room cost? – Well you have to consider every phase of the project from project conception to ribbon cutting.

Important: You have to get this right the first time, if you are planning to construct a new building, it is very important to consider all the human requirements and understand human limitations. We recommend you design a control room with an experienced person that has process control room and human factors experience, someone that understands what operators do and what they need, but also knows what their limitations are. Think of the control room as the processor and the environment as the operating system that determines how well the processor will run. The control room is where the success of the automation system is managed, the heart of the operation, it should meet the needs of the users.

Below you will see several phases and the costs associated when building a new control room. This is a very rough estimate, and I want to be clear that the purpose of this paper is to only give you an idea of all the considerations and estimated costs that should be expected when designing a state of the art control room.

Preliminary Project Programming:

First, we need to know how many people will occupy the room and what their roles and responsibilities are. A staffing study will tell you how many control room operators you need, and a work team design will tell you how many supervisors you need during the different modes of operation. If you’re going to design a new control room, you definitely want to make sure it’s staffed to achieve the company goals. We often see less experienced operators that are have a heavy workload and senior operators with very light workloads. In many cases, console positions can be consolidated when we improve situation awareness. In some cases duties are changed to safely balance the workload between the operators. To identify workload you have to look at equipment complexity, interaction with hot feeds, and the automation system restraints. A staffing study and work team design typically costs $50K to 100K. Remember these are estimates.

HMI Design:

Now that you know how many people you need in the control room and what their roles and responsibilities are, you need to identify what the operators need. What are the most critical alarms under their control, what is their operating objectives, what do they need to see on the screens, and what is the best way to present the data so that it provides real information? So we need to develop level one and level two graphics for situation awareness, detection, diagnostics, and intervention. You don’t want to design the room without knowing what the operator graphic requirements are. How large should the overview screen be, how far away are they from the operator, how will it be designed? How many screens does (s)he need on the console and where should the console be placed? Which consoles need to be grouped together for improved collaboration or communications? What technology will be used? The best way to determine screen requirements is a task analysis with the operators. Typically cost $60K (don’t forget you will still need to develop the graphics based on a HMI philosophy document (rules) and a system specific style guide, this may be a separate project but you still have to know what the operators need in regards to the screen technology; required, space, size, and number of screens before you design the control room. This will greatly affect the layout design.

Conceptual Design:

Next you need to integrate technology with the human need. The conceptual design phase with operator interviews will identify the best tools for communication, shift handover, collaboration, and will also determine the best control room layout. The conceptual design and console design phase will integrate all the information from the workload and task analysis studies to determine the ergonomic console requirements. This allows you to look at several different layout arrangements based on number of operators, console size, screen location, number of screens, layout to support communication, and console requirements for work space, breaks, standing, and fatigue mitigation.

Understanding the overall spatial requirements of the Control Room and its required supporting spaces (i.e. The Control Suite), is a critical step in the process.  Server rooms, break rooms, printer/libraries, supervisor offices, conference/war rooms, alertness recovery rooms, permit areas, restrooms are often spaces associated with the Control Room.  The quantity and floor area of these rooms obviously adds to the overall cost per square foot of the control building, so getting it right has a tremendous impact on total project cost.  Hiring an Architect that knows how to design a building to keep the weather elements out is one thing… hiring an experienced Control Building Architect that knows the right questions to ask regarding the operations of your command and control environment is critical. Missing the boat on this decision can end up costing you more in the long run for items both seen (remodels due to poor programming) and unseen (lost operational profit due to poor design decisions). Typical cost for the conceptual design stage is $50K.

Detailed Design Specification:

With a majority of the emphasis on the operator’s integration with the physical building space thus far, the keys to a successful building are often found in the details.  Choosing the right products and finishes for the job have a direct effect on the lifespan and success of the control room.  A consultant with extensive Control Room design experience will be able to suggest the quality and grade of finishes to be incorporated in the design.  Items such as computer flooring, cabinetry finishes, appliances, carpeting, paint, Operator chairs, and interactive technology all have various levels of quality.  Even HVAC, power, UPS systems, Controls, system redundancy, and lighting have the opportunity to be introduced in the project at this early stage.  Early planning for such intricate systems will save time and money in the long run.  Detailed design specification can run about $50K.  A lighting design and concept study can determine the best lighting for everyone in the room, how it should be configured, managed, and illuminated to support the human circadian clock. A lighting study typically cost $10K.

Construction Documentation:

In order for the new building to be permitted from construction, licensed engineers and architects (Design Team) are hired to create the construction detailed design documents.  These design professionals often charge between 4% and 7% of the estimated overall construction cost.  For a scenario of a $2-6MM building cost, the design professionals will cost $100K.  The design team will take the conceptual design efforts to the next level to allow a General Contractor to bid and construct the new Control Building.  This passing of the ‘design baton’ often creates opportunities for the established project vision to be led astray.  To combat this, companies often hire a ‘Representative’ to ensure the vision established during conceptual design is carried through when a design is handed off to an Architect and contractor.  This is usually the same person that was involved with the design stage. Having an Owner’s Representative will assist with the daunting task of navigating the many decisions that often steer the vision off course during detailed construction documentation and construction process.  Typically $30K for consultation throughout the build.


Mission critical facilities have an overall higher cost per square foot to construct than normal office buildings.  Rough estimates for control building construction costs can range from $200 to $500 per square foot.  A scenario where a 10,000 sf building is constructed, the cost would be$3MM at a cost of $300 per square foot.  There are many variables that affect the price including site location, building envelope design (e.g. metal building, masonry, etc.), types of interior finishes, etc.  A building that is design for blast resistance can often raise the overall construction cost an estimated 10% to 20%. On top of building construction, site design must be factored in.  A good estimate for site construction can roughly run 10% to 20% of total building construction cost.


A large portion of the costs are related to the Process Control System – which includes DCS, SCADA, PLC, etc.  These costs are very hard to estimate but you should consider estimating some numbers for new fiber optic routing to the building, consoles, large screen displays, computers, servers, racks, CCTV, communications, radios, public address systems, etc. Operator Consoles can typically run $2k to 3K a linear foot, not including control hardware and LCD’s. It’s critical to staff the control room correctly, ergonomic consoles can be expensive.

Other Costs to Consider:

On top of all the design fees and typical construction costs, there are some items a bit more difficult to solidify.  Internal Project Management costs, downtime due to transition to the new building, and office fixtures, furnishings and equipment (FF&E), land purchasing, availability of infrastructure (water, power, sewer) are a couple of other costs to consider when constructing a new building.

Below we have put the estimates together based on a recent project. For the purpose of tying all of these numbers together, here is a rudimentary cost example for a new 10,000 sf blast resistant control building.

Building construction cost (@ $300/sf):$3MM
Blast resistant construction (20%):$600K
Site construction costs (20% const. $):$600K
Design and Consulting Fees:$500K
Instrumentation (Consoles & DCS)$4MM
Internal engineering costs:$1MM
Rough Estimate Total:$10.2MM

Size, existing space versus new construction, equipment, and finishing’s will have a major effect on total costs. Their on so many variables to consider so we are often called to create a budget estimate based on the customer’s circumstance, this is very affordable and smart place to start the process.

The intent of this paper is to give you some idea of the considerations and costs associated with a new control room. The most important thing is to get it right the first time, most control rooms have a 25 year life before management will consider a remodel or new building. The conceptual design options, discussions, and planning goes a long way. Set expectations and identify the user requirements, it is absolutely critical to the success of business.