Collaboration Picks Up Speed

Industry and academia pull together harder.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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The COP already has completed research projects on a variety of topics such as alarm actuation rate, color usage in process-control graphic displays, effective use of simulators, and decision-making exercises (DMX). (For insights from the first project, see "Build Operator Expertise Faster".)

"The most important benefit for us so far has come from the use of DMX, particularly with our young engineers," says Ike Brackin, process control engineer, Flint Hills Resources, Corpus Christi, Texas. "So we now offer scenario-based training that is developing around activities such as general fractionation and boiler operations. It really helps to enhance troubleshooting skills — for example, to show the operator that what was thought to be a temperature problem is in reality a pressure problem."

Since DMX has been implemented the company has gained a much deeper insight into its how its operators function, notes Brackin. "We now know what areas they need help and training in. For example, we found that one operator didn't understand compressor errors quite as well as he thought. DMX really helps us to focus individual training."

For Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas, the most important research projects so far relate to alarm actuation rates, display design and display mapping. "These started out with an initial pilot project and are now into their second stage of research. Other projects that are underway, specifically knowledge management and data mining, will tie in nicely with both alarm- and display- related research. We are already incorporating some of the research into our next release, DeltaV v. 11, which will be released in the next few months," says Mark Nixon, who leads DeltaV research efforts.

Emerson's education department is evaluating how best to apply DMX both to classroom and online training situations, Nixon notes.

The COP has three pending projects: human factors performance metrics, naive realism in graphics, and data mining of near-miss incidents. "'Pending' here means that lots of discussions are taking place back and forth between the members about these," explains Strobhar. "Different companies might have quite different focuses — for example, what Marathon wants out of the research might not be exactly what Chevron wants. We are currently going through this discussion phase with the naive realism project."

Naive realism will be a key technology, believes Nixon. The basic idea here is that what users want — displays that visually represent the plant — actually degrades performance. "Although much has been published recommending not using P&IDs [process and instrumentation diagrams], most plants today continue to mimic their plants through the P&ID representations. What has not been published is scientific material supporting alternatives to what has become the standard in most facilities," he says.

Biorefinery Project
Meanwhile, one of the biggest collaborative efforts ever seen in Europe began in March with the launch of the four-year, €23-million European Multilevel Integrated Biorefinery Design for Sustainable Biomass Processing (EuroBioRef) project. This aims to bridge the gap between agriculture and the chemical industry by integrating the whole biomass chain in a multi-feedstock, multi-process, multi-product, commercial, viable and adaptable approach for a sustainable bioeconomy in Europe.

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