CALL NOW: 512-630-3401

February 2009

The economic turndown is widespread; we have seen a few postponed projects this month.  Fortunately for UCDS, we have picked up some urgent projects that need immediate attention in the Power Sector.

This month, I did a webinar on our new High Performance HMI book for over 50 customers.  The webinar, sponsored by TiPs, was received very well.  We offer these free webinars because we believe that the HMI is affecting plant safety and that what we have installed in many of our plants today is not working and is actually contributing to many abnormal situations and accidents.

Rusty has been in Ohio doing a MOOC study with a refining customer.  We continue to keep enhancing our methodology to make it easier for customers to implement.  I have been doing multiple HMI workshops for a range of customers and Dave and I are working on several new control rooms.  We are currently working on one that has an 80’ wallboard, which has many challenges as operators and managers struggle to squeeze all the information required to keep the bid picture in view.

We have heard from our good friend Jack Pankoff, recently of KBC.  He has just launched a new adventure, Production Excellence Inc.  We will be posting his press release in the next few days.  We wish Jack well with the new company and look forward to renewing our close working relationship with him.

We have met a few challenges this last month with customers who are struggling with control room designs.  They initially involved either an architect or a company with Psychologists and they do not understand why they did not get the right control room design and one that meets today’s challenges.  It is not that these companies do not do a good job, they do. But, a successful control room design is not just about the building or the people.  It is about these things and the operations and how they are conducted.

Our success in this area comes from our unique understanding of operations.  Each of our consultants has many years experience as users.  We have control engineering experience and have captured the human factors knowledge to apply these skills together to provide a unique solution.

I have found it is not easy to train individuals to do this job.  The person must have the knowledge and skills to understand every aspect of the job from HMI design, alarm management and how to deliver good Situation Awareness, to physical things like how to manage permits and reduce distraction, how to eliminate bad acoustics, what materials and products can be used.  How to address lighting and temperature, how to understand stress reduction and dealing with fatigue countermeasures.  When to allow exercise equipment or how to deliver entertainment, what should be allowed in the way of relaxation? Should an operator be able to play on the Internet, listen to the radio, watch TV, or read a novel?  We address all these issues and many more; we consider shift handover practices, tool box meetings, safety meetings, all communications and collaboration.

We have researched special speakers that contain sound field distribution into a tight radius.  Moving from conventional speaker technology for communications such as radios, speaker phones, and music, to new airborne parametric arrays.  These allow many operators in a control room to work together.  The big problem today in control rooms, especially ones laid out in conventional console patterns such as circles, is that they interfere with each other through sounds coming from adjacent consoles.

You can only understand console adjacency if you know the process and what communication and collaboration is required for successful operations. This is not something someone who has not worked in the industry will comprehend.

So often with control room projects there is a tight integration between the control system HMI, the design of the screens, the console and the layout in the control room.

Today, not many people understand what should be displayed on a Large Screen Display or video wall.  Trying to show conventional P&ID information is often a waste of time and is not useful to operators.

One important issue that many customers are facing is staffing, as budgets get tighter and we continue to lose employees through retirement, attrition, and re-organizing.  UCDS is helping customers understand how many field and console operators they need, what is the maximum, minimum, industrial average and pacesetter.  Our methodology is not just a one-off exercise.  Many customers keep their model up-to-date, as they introduce new equipment or changes.  We often update the model for free, unless it is a significant amount of workload.  All we often need is updated P&ID’s; at worst case a couple of days on-site interviewing employees.

When times get tough, it is through some of our initiatives that customers can make some significant savings, improve safety, environment and quality and always we aim to impact production in a positive manner.