Effective Shift Handover Is No Accident

A successful handover between shifts heavily depends on the organizational skills of management and the effective use of the communication tools available. Learn what these tools are and get the most out of your operators.

By Ian Nimmo, User Centered Design Services, LLC

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The tactical section should cover the threats, limitations and potential opportunities. The meeting should address staffing issues, ongoing maintenance repair, preparation for maintenance, lockout and tagout, test results, special permit preparation and implementation. Shipping and material movement plans may be presented. Shift monitoring requirements should be periodically reviewed for operator coverage.

The strategic element, which follows, should address complex issues. These include: training and education needs, planning and preparation for future work, updating and reviewing procedures, safety and environmental education, research and development, process testing, changes in sampling, vibration monitoring testing, product inventories, interactions within the corporate venue, planned outages, and  long-term goals.

As with the handover meetings, items requiring detailed discussions should be held in a later sidebar meeting. If possible, for a complex production facility, it is best to summarize each product, briefly, by subject: safety, environment, quality, production and reliability — leave the details for a separate meeting. It is especially important that minutes be prepared for the shift team meetings. Whenever possible, these minutes should be widely shared within the facility (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Information flow for successful shift exchange.

Figure 2.  Information flow for successful shift exchange

Developing a shift monitoring plan

The console operators should have a say in establishing a monitoring plan. They have the best understanding of how the process is operating today and how it has operated in the past. They acquired this knowledge from interactions with the process controls and following laboratory analysis. The console operators should not be an untapped resource. However, they require direction from management.

Today, many of your operators have their own routines, which may have been handed down to them from other operators, or may have been developed through operating experience. A better approach is to provide clear guidance and a strategic approach. Managers should review the performance of their best operators and develop general procedures that address the most critical plant issues. If possible, the best operators should help in developing training. This training can then be passed along to less-skilled and future operators. The most elegant approach would be to include their knowledge in a dynamic simulator or emulator.

Training is often limited because of lack of resources. Sometimes, even operating instructions, the basis for an operating manual, aren’t current. If this is the case, bringing them up-to-date is the first step towards developing a shift monitoring plan and improving training. A poorly organized, or outdated, human-computer interface (HCI) can drastically encumber training. For the best results, the HCI should be hierarchical with an overview of all units under the operator’s scope of control. Next, the HCI should have a unit view and finally the ability to display detailed and diagnostic information, i.e., an alarm page.

If possible, detailed or critical procedures should be imbedded in the controls: before the operator can make a change on the screen, instructions must be acknowledged. Caution is required to ensure that these instructions are read.

The best systems log alarms using an historian for future reference; these systems are available for reference not only by managers but by operators. The monitoring plan depends on the field operators carrying out their assigned duties when they need to be carried out.

Field operators will have an assigned schedule that cover s sampling routines and equipment checks. They will receive assignments from console operators to take manual actions such as starting pumps, opening or closing valves, but they should also conduct more focused inspections.

Field operators will be guided in this preventative maintenance by information received at the shift handover. This work usually keeps them busy during first shift but may be ignored, or brushed aside on the back shifts. Sometimes, operators are borrowed for other duties such as loading and unloading of trucks, which have nothing to do with their responsibilities to the unit. Again values and beliefs need to be aligned with the production goals — management must enforce these values.

Pro-active operability

Some companies have embraced a dynamic strategy of continual improvement. This approach involves autonomous field operators applying predictive and preventative maintenance tools to the restoration of plant equipment and maximum production potential. The strategy also involves console operators who analyze production data to maximize product quality and managers who direct the operators to achieve plant goals.

Today, hand-held computers are available for operators to track and record equipment health conditions. The field operators’ role is changing to more of an equipment specialist and if they are not outside with the equipment, they are monitoring and analyzing data to predict equipment failures or operating costs.

Using this new strategy, console operators are no longer waiting for alarms before they interact with the control system. They are trending processes and setting up monitoring strategies — detecting problems before the alarm initiates. This strategy requires revisiting old methods. Pattern recognition was a technique used by operators in the 1950s to 1980s and with the introduction of digital data the analog charts and trends became less popular.

Today console operators are going back to using this method, and HCI developers are utilizing some new techniques such as polar plot diagrams or linear profile charts with trends to monitor lots more process conditions than previously observed.

A powerful tool

One of the most important tools we have for managing the changes that occur throughout a shift is the shift handover. If the shift handover is managed well, operators will be equipped to deal with dynamic process changes. They will be able to manage equipment changes confidently, from a more in-depth perspective. Replacing equipment following pre-determined maintenance schedules will be transformed into pro-active, predictive maintenance. Lastly, having a better understanding of what people do and how they do it will allow better decision-making when people changes are proposed.

Ian Nimmo is president and founder of User Centered Design Services, Anthem, Ariz., a firm that specializes in abnormal-situation management and other control issues. E-mail him at inimmo@mycontrolroom.com.

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