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March 2015 news

The months are ticking by already, and we are working on a variety of projects. I am busy working on Large Screens Display projects both here in the USA and in Trinidad. Dave continues to love working in Canada and everyone else is working on a variety of projects from alarm management to High Performance HMI, and control room renovation. All of which are focused on Operator Effectiveness.

We launched a major focus on Operator Effectiveness starting with a new book, Operator Effectiveness and the Human Side of Error paperback (ISBN 9781508477891) which has whet the appetites of many customers who now want to know more about improving operator performance. Based on the response, we may have to turn this into a full book in the future.

Chris and I will be leaving for Sweden for a few days with CGM, participating in their control room of the future workshop. It is good that people are open to talk about how we seize the new technology like Microsoft VR and the HoloLens ( and how it may be incorporated into the control room environment.

I recently presented two papers at the Lin & Associates Workshop in Scottsdale, AZ. One on Alarm Management Revisited and the other on the High Performance HMI revisited. Like the term ASM™ Graphics, the High Performance HMI is getting a bad rap due to incompetent organizations selling it as solution without a complete understanding of what it is. Like ASM Graphics, people think just giving something a grey background and reducing the number of colors is the solution and they produce ineffective graphics that operator’s don’t like. If it is done correctly, the operators will love them, the first indicator of a successful implementation.

I have also observed that many companies have made the investment in Philosophy documents only to treat them similar to procedures. Once complete, they sit on a book shelf and never refer to them, and due to this lack of activity they never comply with them also. Hence, they are not getting the desired results. When I have been asked to review many of these Philosophies, I understand why they are put on the bookshelf. They are worthless and not worth the paper they are written on.

Alarm and HMI philosophies are the rules, based on human factors, that should be incorporated into training and referred to during all graphic and alarm discussions.

Many vendors promote that they are experts in both these fields, but when it comes to application they are inexperienced and worthless. You have to walk the talk and have the background experience to truly implement the correct solution.
So what is that experience? Well, a solid foundation of plant experience and an intimate knowledge of the best practices and latest standards and guidelines development are essential. Also having the practical experience as a controls or chemical engineer is really essential. I see people doing control room designs who have never worked in one or they have no in depth knowledge of operations and the operations practices that go on and how to make them successful.

Every year is different for UCDS. We, as consultants, go through peaks and valleys with workload and it is difficult to predict what the industry is responding to. We expected a drop in workload with all the strikes going on but instead we are seeing an upsurge in work. Will it catch up to us later in the year? Hard to say! What we are seeing is many companies wanting to improve many of their traditional management systems and a focus on preventing accidents and the whole Zero Harm Culture.

I guess the timing of launching our Operator Effectiveness initiative is meeting our customer’s goals and is in line with what their investors, stockholders, and managers are wanting to do this year.
“Do we have the right number of engineers and maintenance employees?” I still keep getting asked if we can quantitatively identify maintenance workload, the workload of Control Engineers, and the Process Engineers similar to what we do for operators and Supervisor positions. I don’t believe this is a simple solution. It has a lot more variables than operations. I would like to offer a Research Program using our Center for Human Factors and Ergonomics research firm and work with several customers to identify a solution. Which is what I did when first faced with the operator workload solution.
When we were asked to first provide operator and controller workload, we already had a basis for the solution from work done by my old employer, Imperial Chemical Industries, which I was intimately involved with. I was also working with Shell to find a solution. They had a well-established methodology based on inside/outside operators that worked reasonably well and was excellent for identifying how many operators would be needed to run a new plant.

The Shell system stopped working when they evolved to dedicate inside and dedicated outside operators. The two roles are very different and the way they interact with equipment is very different. For example, the equipment which generates the most workload for inside console operators is the equipment that makes the changes to the raw materials, like reactors, furnaces and distillation columns. Whereas, pumps and rotating equipment and storage and line ups is more work for the field operators, while the large transformation equipment is little workload once they are up and running.
The challenge comes in benchmarking where an organization is with maintenance and Controls Engineering. Is the equipment well maintained and reliable or is there a lot of backlog and catching up to do? How much project work is predicted compared against just maintaining status quo?
I believe we first need to develop a benchmark and grading system that will allow us to understand what effort is required for a specific plant, and how do we get them from highly reactive and firefighting mode to predictive and reliable.

There is obviously a big need for this. I have been asked for this for over 10 years and I have been reluctant to do this because our focus as a company was strictly on operator effectiveness. But as we continue to grow, perhaps this is one of those growth areas. To be successful in this, we need to understand first where the plant is and how much workload is required as a base line, then understand the impact and duration of projects. Big projects are not so important, it’s the small ones that end up being an additional resource and require the maintainers to do their 9 to 5 job and then fit in this additional workload to complete minor projects. We have to look at how much workload is involved with incidents and keeping the management systems up to date. As you can imagine, implementing upgrades to alarm management HP HMI design can be a significant additional workload on the local resources.

When doing alarm management, many companies forget there is a need to get maintenance to correct faulty installation work or out of service instrumentation. No one identifies the additional resources required; instead they concentrate on the rationalization team who get frustrated when they can’t resolve bad actor alarms due to the backlog of maintenance work.

I am grateful that in my early days working in the Petrochemical industry I acquired a maintenance background. In my early days as an Engineer, I extensively did project work and I had a lot of fun doing it. I was promoted into an Area Engineer position where I got experience in looking after a facility and supervising a maintenance workforce and the budget responsibilities and then moving to the Computer Application Section Manager position doing a variety of tasks. Upon moving to the USA, I gained experience in research and development and running the ASM Consortium. Currently, I have my own business with a good group of employees providing services to help improve operations.

Our Human Factor experience has come over 20 years of working in this field and has allowed us to take a leadership position world-wide as experts in our field of control.

I believe we can find a solution to this challenge and I invite those who would like to invest in this to contact me. Our contact details are available on the website. I wonder who will be the first vendor who wants to work with us to fundamentally change the way we staff plants. Who wants the assurance that they have the right number of personnel to meet the demands of a modern facility that supports the reliability goals set for these modern facilities?

Ian Nimmo
President UCDS Inc.