Operators Get More Help

Efforts aim to provide insights and tools to boost performance.

By Seán Ottewell, editor at large

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IPS regards this issue so highly that it established an internal consulting group that brings together a core of engineers specializing in alarm management. The group is based at four centers of excellence in the U.K., Dubai, Singapore and North America. “It’s a sign of how much importance we attach to alarm management and are very proud of the group’s achievements,” notes Lough.

The alarm consulting group also is very active in standards groups such as ISA and Britain’s Engineering Equipment and Materials’ Users Association (EEMUA), London.

Lough sees two approaches for retaining operator knowledge, particularly regarding alarm management. The first, and easiest, is to pick the brains of the most-knowledgeable operators and transfer their expertise to a master alarm database (indicating cause, consequence and action needed). This, he says, captures a lot of knowledge and keeps it in the system. The other solution is generic and is coming on to the market now. It starts from the point of view that you want the operator to make the best product possible. “Then you can change the alarm system into an operator support technology by using data mining to find when the best quality product was made. So, you can use this to keep the plant within its best operation boundaries,” he explains.

The latest generation of operators is much more open to the use of new technologies, he believes, adding that this is spurring product launches. For instance, IPS has just introduced the control system on a PDA to a petrochemical customer in Europe. The concept is quite straightforward: it’s very much safer if the operator can keep in direct touch with the control system while out in the field. Wireless holds strong promise, stresses Lough. “We see a lot of opportunities for open-loop applications, too.”

Meanwhile, the ability to simulate customers’ critical processes has led to a boom in training for Emerson. “We certainly spend more time on simulator training now than on building them,” says Jim Siemers, manager of Educational Services.

Another issue driving training is the aging workforce. “Because a lot of mentorship goes on, much of the operators’ knowledge is undocumented. So users are leaning on vendors now to help find creative ways of capturing this in a formal curriculum,” he says. This boom in training also includes much more retraining as customers begin to realize that knowledge erodes quite dramatically over time.

So, hopefully, a followup CP survey on the topic in a couple of years will testify to the results of these efforts.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's editor at large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net.

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