In addition, operations monitoring tools give control room personnel the ability to analyze and act upon information associated with multiple boundaries affecting operations, and determine the plant's current state relative to its safe operating limits. Each boundary corresponds to at least one of multiple hierarchical levels associated with different levels of criticality within the process. The tools allow operators to compare process variables against various configured limits and filter out certain types of limits to de-clutter the view. Thus, operators can choose whether to stay within one set of boundaries while violating another less-critical boundary.
Imagine if operators were presented with boundaries indicating environmental limits, equipment design constraints or economic efficiency. This information might show it's better to operate in the bottom third of the range between alarms. Perhaps the weekly plan suggests ramping up production, which means moving out of the ideal operating range. Operators would have enough information to decide whether or not to sacrifice efficiency — by using more fuel, for instance.
When just running the process to alarms, operators may believe they're doing the right thing. However, they inadvertently are shortening the life of equipment or prompting earlier maintenance work.
Software applications also are available for maintaining an electronic record of the occurrences during a plant shift. They enable operators to automatically capture all excursions and enter comments as to how they dealt with the deviations. These data are crucial to communicate during shift handover to help the entire operations staff maintain situational awareness. Plus, they are valuable to process engineers charged with addressing recurring problems.
Electronic logbooks are equally useful for managing a site-wide task list because they can indicate status updates such as pending, deferred, overdue and complete. Authorized users view tasks assigned to them and mark the work as complete; otherwise, they reassign, reschedule, defer and change their duties.
Finally, planners can utilize operations management tools to create daily or weekly instructions for operating strategies that have been validated against multiple proven boundary limits maintained in a single location. This ensures processes will not be run outside of the safe operating envelope.
Thanks to continued development in operations management technology, plants can better track their operating performance against targets and highlight problem areas. Improved operations monitoring also helps to determine the causes of downtime and production inefficiencies.
By learning from operations history, plant personnel more efficiently can manage and control a wide range of processes. This leads to less spending on equipment maintenance, greater asset reliability and fewer safety incidents.
Through better information and decisions, today's operations management strategies enable reduced operating costs, improved yields and increased production. They also help ensure compliance with increasingly demanding regulatory standards. Plants ultimately achieve optimal use of capital improvements.
CHRIS STEARNS is a Hudson, Ohio-based senior product manager for Honeywell Process Solutions. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.