In process plant modernization, change is not only inevitable, but it is the goal. The issues are the degree of change that should occur and the ramifications of that change. What may seem like hardware changes, such as changing control systems, can or should have a profound impact on the operators. For example, upgrading a distributed control system at a refinery raises questions such as consolidation of unit control, board operator skill requirements, control room design, and how to tap the capabilities of the new system to enhance operator performance.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to carefully research and evaluate the consequences of the changes that will be made prior to making the changes. Unfortunately, it is difficult to envision the possibilities of a modernization project unless you have experienced several firsthand. Without this knowledge, it is possible to miss out on opportunities for simple, yet significant, changes that may go hand in hand with certain facets of modernization.
Of course, there is also the potential to make a change that can severely affect the workload, attitudes, and safety of the workers. These errors can be costly, due to missing potential money saving changes or due to expenses caused by safety violations or operator dissatisfaction.
Process plant modernization almost always impacts people due to the complex and interactive nature of the man-machine system. Operator performance is the result of numerous variables that are all connected and interact, as in the figure. Altering any one variable typically necessitates some change in one or more of the other variables. It can also enable/facilitate change.
Getting the most out of modernization is accomplished by using the interactive nature of human performance. Once change is created in one dimension, the momentum of change can be harnessed to alter the other dimensions and multiply the benefits of the modernization. Opportunistic changes can be readily implemented as a result of the interactive bonds being broken for the primary goal of modernization.
Plant modernization analysis involves answering three basic questions:
"Where are you?" entails a detailed assessment of the operating characteristics of the plant. How are operators utilized? What are they doing? What is the culture of the plant? How much change can be accepted? What is the existing infrastructure? What are the plantís strengths? What are the plantís weaknesses?
These questions are answered through operator workload evaluations and interviews with plant personnel. Those closest to the operation have most of the answers to these questions, however, they often have a hard time articulating them, lack objective data to support their opinion, and/or they move too quickly to tie a solution to a problem. Beville provides systematic methods to capture and structure the corporate knowledge so that it can be understood and objectively evaluated.
"Where do you want to be?" is the domain of plant management. What is the vision for the refinery? A clear direction for change is needed if the change is to be successful. The vision must be articulated, or (1) the effort will be unfocused and/or (2) personnel changes will cause misdirection. The vision for the future must reflect plant performance parameters, but not be tied into short term market justification. The modernization is for the long term and needs to reflect operating characteristics more than better production of a single product.
"How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?" involves an understanding of the bottlenecks or barriers to change. Often certain operations, conditions, or characteristics will limit the modernization at a refinery. Comparing the future state vision to the existing operating characteristics helps define the bottlenecks. Understanding where, why, and what functions operators are performing provides a framework to determine if automation or reallocation of the functions to other operators, departments, etc., can remove the bottleneck.
Beville also offers a free handbook to help guide you through your consolidation / modernization project. Email us for a copy of our Control Center Design Manual
RELATED EXTERNAL MEDIA
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The dates for this year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be announced soon. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!
The 2017 Spring meeting for the Center for Operator Performance was held April 3-5, 2017 in Lake Charles, LA. Please contact Lisa Via for further details.
David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.
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