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September 2009

I just heard that we had over 358 visitors this month to our website from 39 different countries and 42 States. We have not seen any hits from Hawaii? Wouldn’t it be cool to have to work there? Can you imagine, sorry love, I have to go to work; we are visiting another refinery, oh! Where, Hawaii! Well we all can dream, still nothing wrong with Salt Lake City, Montreal – Canada, and Atlanta.

We have been working on a variety of projects this month and a lot of new proposals, at last we are starting to see projects starting again. Our work this month has been an assortment of HMI, Alarms and Control Rooms with a little bit of staffing workload assessment.

I had a great trip to Canada and Montreal; I was speaking at the 8th World Congress Meeting for Chemical Engineers. This was a very large meeting of ChemE folks.  I think it was payback from Dave for all the teasing I give him about Chemical Engineers.  I was a lonely Electrical Engineer surrounded by the biggest display of chemical engineering work and research. I have to admit that if I was starting again, I would really consider chemical engineering, it is incredible the range of subjects these folks cover.

It was also impressive to see the work they are doing environmentally, providing alternative energy and the medical research work was life changing.  They are researching reduction in brain tumors using nano technology.  I have no idea what that is but I am sure it would not be out of place on Star Trek.

Oh well, I can’t complain, I have had a good run and done some really interesting things in my career.  I really enjoyed high voltage protection at the start of my career, I have done impressive things with motor speed control during my days at ICI Fibres providing ratio speed control between drawing machines.  I put in the very first automatic weighing and labeling system, for which I was granted a patent.  I also put the first PLC project into the UK, the first Robot Trucks AGV’s and had fun with another Unimate Robot which nearly cost me my job.  That’s another story; you need to read the article I wrote on that. I think it is on the website.

I then enjoyed my time as the Program Director of the ASM Consortium and a Senior Engineering Fellow for Honeywell.  Plus now I get to completely change the culture and operator performance as we design best practice control room, high performance HMI’s and alarm systems that work in normal and emergency operations.  I also got to develop the staffing workload methodology which has become a powerful tool for many of our customers.  So I guess I can’t complain too much!

I have done a few webinars meetings this month and focused on the reliability of alarm systems and people responding to them.  Did you know that in a typical operating room, on average an alarm sounds every 4.5 minutes, and 75% of them are false alarms.

That ATC have systems that produced false alarms 60% of the time for aircraft when they are 25 miles away from the airport.  Also that pilot’s delayed response to ground warnings – GPWS alarms 73% of the time, and that a study of pilots over a 17 year period showed that 26% of the time pilots either ignored, i.e. no response, a slow response, or an incorrect response to GPWS alarms.

Well our industry is actually worse and one study showed that operators reported that only 7% of the alarms produced an operator action, which is a bit scary, considering we have a culture of operating by alarms, responding to change instead of being in the loop and being proactive like a pilot is (I hope).

So this is not just a problem in one sector of industry, the good news is we now have some great solutions to address these issues and we are addressing them on many projects. What a delight it was to see one of our Australian clients reduce their alarms by over 70%, to change to grey-scale high performance HMI and to build a centralized control room with great situation awareness.

They are truly a leader in the industry which is a long way from when we started.  They would have been rated at the bottom and can be proud of what they have achieved. They are a lot safer, more environmentally friendly, they have increased production, improved quality, reduced losses, improved energy and equipment is more reliable.

They have a great expression “Good on your mate”! Which roughly translated means well done, they did a great job, congratulations. I know they have received an industrial award but what they have done is more than that, they have demonstrated to big companies who continue to bury their heads in the sand and ignore a lot of these issues, and are experiencing accidents, incidents and are performing poorly. Woops, I better get off the soap box or we will not get any work from them, sorry!  We are here to help and ready to provide similar solutions.

We are looking forward to September; we have a lot of work coming up and will be launching a major oil refining project in India, one for a major HMI and control room project for a Utility Company and I will be doing some expert witness consulting this month.  We are excited that we will be trying out our High Performance HMI work on a transmission center with one of the biggest Large Screen Displays we have ever done.  We hope to be able to share how this works out with you, if the client is willing to share their experience. I think it will make a great paper and should be published.

My good friend Doug Rothenberg’s (D-Roth Inc – new book will be launched this month, details are available on my previous blog post.  We want to wish Doug well in this endeavor.  Jack Pankoff (Production Excellence, Inc – is launching some new workshops available for customers on-site covering some new innovative ways to achieve production excellence.

As for me, I must now get back to work.  I must not forget, this is paperwork week and a time in the office to tidy my desk and clean the shelves and do the filing. (If anyone needs a quick job this week we can do P.O.’s later you could save me from this task!