Center for Operator Performance Seeks to Improve Operator Effectiveness

I just received my November copy of Automation World magazine. In it is an article, Improving Human Effectiveness. Given the fact that I’m human and always seeking to improve my effectiveness, I had to give it a read.

The article is about the work of the Center for Operator Performance, a consortium from academia, engineering and automation suppliers and process manufacturers. Current members include Emerson, ABB, BP, Flint Hills Resources, Marathon Pipeline, Nova Chemicals, Suncor Energy, Wright State University, and Beville Engineering. The Operator Performance website is described as:

An alliance of academic and process companies to research generic issues in human factors and process operator performance. The goal is an open and low-cost forum for the identification, analysis, and dissemination of research in such areas as selection/training, interface design, decision aides, automation, procedures, and control room design.

Duane Toavs, a director of Emerson’s Ease of Use Center was interviewed for the article. I know Duane from way back when he put one of the first Foundation fieldbus-based systems for a major oil producer on Alaska’s North Slope in 1997. I can assure you from personal experience that it’s not a fun to visit in mid-December!

In the article, Duane notes that operating companies outnumber the automation suppliers in the consortium by design, since they are, “…the experts in how well overall projects go.” The intent is also to have these companies drive the research in the areas that will deliver the highest business benefit.

The Center’s first research project looked at military combat decision-making exercises to perhaps use some of their ideas and apply it to decision support for plant operators. That’s always one of my favorite tactics–to borrow good ideas from completely different areas and apply them to the problem at hand.

The study has revealed some surprises such as the most difficult units in a plant did not necessarily have the most expert operators. It seems that advanced controls apply this expertise. Also, there was not a correlation between operator age and experience. Some of these findings suggest that advanced control can help mitigate some of the expertise being lost to retirement.

Some of the future research ideas include early event detection, alarm actuation rate, simulator usage, and effective use of color/shape coding in graphic displays.

If you are looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of your operators, you may to join or visit their site from time to time. I’ve had a chance to speak with some members from the Center for Operator Performance team and suggested they start blogging to help interested parties better keep up with their progress. I have my RSS search enabled waiting to notify me if/when they do!

Posted Wednesday, November 28th, 2007 under Operator Performance.

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