An article that appeared in ControlGlobal.com on 11/10 touched on the subject that operators need to learn and be trained differently in the process industries. A scary statistic was provided indicating a study from the fossil power industry shows “that it takes up to eight years to fully equip operators with all the training and experience they need for context and appropriate situational awareness.” Additionally, the article states “that even after eight years experience, most operators are only up to about 30% to 35% of the situational awareness and knowledge that they should have.”
In today’s manufacturing environment, if that eight year time frame is really representative, then our manufacturing facilities are facing the possibility that they never really do get fully experienced operators going forward in time due to high frequency turnover cycles!
Is it possible that one reason for this situation is that we still expect operators to run a process pretty much the same way they did when automation first came to the process industries? Back then there were single loop pneumatic controllers distributed around the plant. Now we use sophisticated DCS with large, high resolution displays, but in most instances, we still expect an operator (one normally, instead of several back in the single loop days) to know how to properly interact with 100’s or even 1000’s of individual devices to safely and profitably operate a plant.
Today we have automobiles that can park themselves, have the intelligence to slow down by themselves when getting too close to other cars in traffic, have rear view mirrors that automatically dim when light conditions change, and have voice activated systems for all kinds of functions to create a safer driving environment so the car operator doesn’t have to do things themselves. Yet we expect that same car operator to operate a multimillion dollar process controlling nearly everything individually!
Why not automate more and require less of the operator for the actual “control” of the process? The DCS with the large screen displays is capable of doing far more than most companies are requiring of it today. It is capable of managing large sequential operations that can be populated with much of the great operational knowledge that the really experienced operators out there today have. And that knowledge is then captured for all future operators to use. Designing processes with this kind of procedural control can reduce the number of interface items an operator needs to learn about by very large factors. Extending control to full units can reduce the necessary faceplates from 100’s to 1 or just a few. How much might that impact the ability to train an operator and create experience? Plus the methodology also delivers on increased safety and improved return on assets.
This is the very subject under consideration by the many people in our industries involved with ISA106, Procedural Control for Continuous Process Operations. Changing the overall operational control to a State Based Control design may be a key answer to improving operator performance and aiding in how effective training them can be.
What do you think?