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Warning: Non-Process People are Designing Control Rooms

Let’s talk specifically about control room design for a minute. We continue to see major problems in the control room, from poor lighting, number of and placement of screens, screen sizes, room layout, traffic flow, noise, and distractions. One of the biggest issues is screen stacking and too many screens.

These problems continue to happen, even with new control rooms, mostly because our industry uses console vendors, building contractors with architects, and control room design companies that offer products and thought it made sense to throw in control room design services, but do they really understand the process and what the operator has to do during a 12 hour shift? Do they truly understand what is important to the operator and what is not?

Companies with products to sell, use words like ISO 11064 and Human factors and promote turn-key solutions, however most of them know nothing about the operator’s roles, responsibilities, and tasks. They have no idea how to read a P&ID and the best way to display that information to the operator. The rooms are very nice, no doubt, but when you have an operator, working a 12-hour shift, and the room is filled with blue light at night (which is proven to cause health issues for shift workers), reflections, screen glare, incorrect screen height and screen placement, dark or bright foreground and background contrast, the operator becomes miserable and disconnected.

Another major issue, is room adjacencies – we’ve seen people walking through the control room to get to a meeting, restroom, or break area. So operators, turn off lights, lock doors, lean forward into the screen, and ignore the screens that are too far away or too high, they can’t see that data anyway. Whoever is deciding where and what screens are needed – should understand the data that is on those screens.

Operators suffer from eye strain, headaches, and fatigue so they don’t use the large screen displays and engineers think it’s because they don’t work. This is a major issue! If the content displayed on the large screens is not designed correctly, it’s too small, or the screen is too high, operators will ignore them. Large screens can change the game, but you need to understand what the operator absolutely needs to see and the best way to present that information. That’s key (the best way to present that information) do use an analog object, showing operating and alarm limits, or do you use a trend or both?

The operator has to be involved in the design of their environment and displays, using a specific set of questions and a set of objects, they can be guided through the design process. A properly laid out level one display will allow an operator to know if anything is going out of bounds with a 3 second glance. Incorporating displays into the design of the room and into the console is not as simple as it sounds. There are more than 6 variables that need to be considered when your simply deciding where to put the screens in the control room.