Can DCS HMI Impact Operator Performance?

So asks one of the liveliest conversations going on the Process Automation Usability Project site. The thread begins with an observation by the Putman Media staff:

Many recent accidents have clearly identified the contribution of bad alarm management practices as a major contribution. Action has been taken by regulators, standards bodies and customer forums to provide good guidance on alarm improvement, targets have been set through organizations like EEMUA who have effectively raised the bar in all industrial sectors. However, many struggle still with alarm management, especially alarm floods, and will continue to, until they address their HMI issues.

The observation continues with points about incidents caused by loss of the big picture, data overload, missed information or alarms. It closes with:

What we have today does not work and has proven that it exposes us to unacceptable risk.

Currently the forum thread has ten responses. ARC Advisory Group’s Larry O’Brien observes that with many migration projects a lot of energy is put into preserving the “old way” of doing things.

Emerson’s Aaron Crews, whose expertise we featured several times on this blog, added:

I have done migrations where the exact layout and overcrowdedness of the graphics is preserved but the colors have moved towards the grayscale look. That just doesn’t get it done.

I think that the operators should have a lot of input in what the new graphics look like, but I would start with how they operate the plant, which units go down together, which numbers they constantly watch, and what the common problems and complaints are and go from there. The results are well worth the investment, in my experience.

A responder to Aaron’s comment echoed the importance of the operators in the process, but that the engineers need to share some of the capabilities that new technology brings to see beyond the current operating paradigm. And, each industry has its own performance criteria and this impacts what the most relevant information should be.

I shared a summary of some research performed by the Center for Operator Performance from an earlier post. Putman’s Keith Larson shared a link to an excellent overview of HMI design article from a recent Control magazine.

The thread closes with operator feedback on grayscale-graphics and how function follows form:

If you want operators to optimize process performance, give them process performance information. If you want operators to optimize process economics, give them economic data.

For this single forum-based conversation, there were perspectives given by industry analysts, editors, project engineers, process automation professionals, researchers, etc.

If you have thoughts on aspects of process automation usability, join in and share your viewpoints.

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