Ergonometrics, Better Operator Ergonomics Increase Plant KPIs

Author photo: Craig Resnick
ByCraig Resnick
Industry Trends
It is important for process and discrete manufacturers and suppliers alike to focus on tools that improve the interaction between systems and operators. It is also important for manufacturers to capture the knowledge of their skilled operators well before they retire, as they will not all be replaced, and the skill levels required of those who are replaced will focus more on knowledge of industrial internet of things, virtualization, big data, cloud, analytics, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality/virtual reality, with less focus on understanding the manufacturing process itself and the vast amount of legacy assets still critical to production.  In spite of a softening economy, it is getting harder for manufacturers to recruit new operators with this vast skill set.   People need a stimulating work environment and are not typically attracted to a dark, noisy, and stressful old control room. “Ergonometrics”, Increased Ergonomics Leads to Increased KPI and Metric Results Maximizing operator effectiveness is essential to minimize the risks of accidents, eliminate unscheduled downtime, and maximize production quality. The global process industry loses $20 billion, or five percent of annual production, due to unscheduled downtime and poor quality. ARC estimates that almost 80 percent of these losses are preventable and 40 percent are primarily the result of operator error. There is also direct money to be made in the control room. ARC expresses this as “Ergonometrics” or where increased ergonomics leads to increased KPI and metric results. Existing issues persist in many older control rooms. Many older control rooms in plants still running 20-30 year old DCS systems do not provide the operator with a good overview of the process. The ergonomic environment is not always optimized for the operators, leading to fatigue and poor working conditions. Older, pre-ISA 101 specified Human machine interface (HMI) displays are often not large enough to be easily viewed, leading to eye strain. Live video and other external applications are not integrated with the displays, resulting in control rooms with many different types of terminals and interfaces with unsynchronized data. Enhanced Operator Ergonomics Are Critical There has always been a need for a good visualization overview of the process, with large screen displays focused on the ergonomic environment. The ergonomic focus must be on the operator tasks, not on the technology. Large screens must be interactive and close to the operators. The operator area must be secured from outside visitors. All furniture must be ergonomic and adjustable for individual needs. Lighting and noise level must be optimized for the operators. All non-essential computers must be removed from the control room. Break areas, meeting areas, and even exercise areas should be integrated in the control room when possible. It is also important to integrate applications, as synchronized and appropriately contextualized information is necessary for operators to make fast and correct decisions. One single uniform environment minimizes the need for operator training. All information can be presented on any screen at any time, such as live video information, documentation and operator instructions, and maintenance and production data. Single Unified Environment In a world where operators may be visualizing on multiple platforms, ranging from flat screens, PCs, smart phones, tablets, wearable devices, etc., it is critical to have a single unified environment for the presentation of information to the operator as well as the ability to present information in context to the right people at the right time from any point within the system. Operational excellence requires systems that provide operators with a good common overview of the plant operation, with online KPIs and continuous improvements, as well as operator training and simulation tools. All information should be available to the operator in one common easy-to-use environment. Context-sensitive navigation should provide operators with quicker access to data, presented in an ergonomic environment based on human factors. Systems should support multiple devices designed for both remote and mobile connectivity. Systems should also provide synchronized alarm notification and management, built-in documentation management, tested and verified solutions, asset optimization tools, and live video capability. Conclusion “Ergonometrics” demonstrates that increased HMI ergonomics and design have a positive impact on operational performance, as well-designed HMI screens enable operators to be more effective. Manufacturers should provide operators with the opportunity to participate in the design and implementation of both HMI and control rooms. Benefits to system operators should go beyond the operations functions to include personnel benefits. Design and implementation of control rooms and HMI should include ergonomics and change management. Stakeholders should develop a common understanding and solutions. Management should guide the development process by providing clear directives and coaching on objectives. Suppliers should promote these practices, collaborate with their discrete and/or process manufacturing customers, and propose solutions and implementation approaches that include resources with ergonomics and change management skills.

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