Improving Usability for Maintenance Technicians

Emerson’s Adam Lund has a great article, Human Centered Design Supports Improved Job Performance, in the February edition of Maintenance Technology magazine. Adam highlights some reasons why human centered design is growing in importance for process automation suppliers.

The rapid advancement of technology is breathtaking. Those like me with an affinity for gadgets follow the latest developments in Engadget and Gizmodo. While very cool and fun, Adam points to rapid technology advancement’s downside for process automation professionals:

Years of professional analysis of industry work practices show that personnel are often overwhelmed with multiple systems and user interfaces, making it difficult to find critical information, especially while on a job in the field.

Technology’s increasing capabilities and associated complexities are further heightened by the:

…demographic challenge as knowledgeable maintenance veterans retire and their places are taken by less experienced personnel.

Adam describes the human centered design (HCD) concept as being:

…aimed at identifying the information most needed by plant personnel and getting it to them in an easy-to-use format. This requires understanding the tasks frequently performed by end-users and presenting helpful information in a consistent fashion.

He describes the process in improving usability in the AMS Device Manager software and Emerson smart devices with familiar brand names such as Fisher, Rosemount, Micro Motion, CSI, DeltaV, Ovation, etc. Device dashboards in the AMS Device Manager were redesigned to:

…give workers an instant view of the critical items they need to evaluate, diagnose, and configure each device. Expert guidance is also provided to streamline the most important and frequently performed tasks by plant operations, engineering and maintenance personnel.

With the most common task performed by maintenance technicians identified, the software screens were reorganized into 3 primary areas: Overview, Configure, and Service Tools. This reorganization provides a quick glance when devices are working properly or not–and when not–highlights a path to quickly diagnose and troubleshoot the problem.

Much HCD work was performed on the smart device side to provide the same appearance to information coming from devices with different digital communications protocols including HART, WirelessHART, Foundation fieldbus, and Profibus. The device description (DD) varied widely among suppliers and different products within a single supplier. Emerson’s Jonas Berge noted in an email to me that the IEC 61804-3 EDDL standard reduced this variation since the standard incorporates standard graphics. You can learn more about EDDL at the EDDL.org website and its email list.

Creating this common look and organization by task helps reduce complexity for maintenance technicians and allow them to:

…use the same procedures to manage devices regardless of communication protocol.

Beyond the Emerson brands mentioned in the article and this post, Jonas also noted the most automation suppliers support the IEC 61804-3 EDDL standard on the smart device side and the asset management and/or process automation system side.

The article describes how Emerson partner with Carnegie Mellon University to set a forward path in HCD. This work was the precursor to Emerson’s creation of a Human Centered Design Institute. Adam describes it:

Emerson’s new Human Centered Design Institute was established after more than five years of work-practice analysis, new product development re-engineering and organizational training. The Institute’s goal is to bring about a significant improvement in ease-of-use and workforce productivity products that are reliable, compatible and cost-effective. User work practices and improved task completion (usability or workforce productivity) are at the heart of every new Emerson product.

The path going forward for all the technology developments across Emerson Process Management is to apply human center design concepts to reduce complexity and provide rapid discovery to its productivity-enhancing capabilities.

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