How We Work-Human Centered Design for the Project

Emerson’s Tom Wallace completes his series of posts on the impacts of a human-centered design (HCD) approach. In today’s guest post, he explores its impact on automation projects.

Field devices cost is a small part of overall project cost, however they are typically installed late in a project and can make or break the project schedule. As such, they can have a significant impact on project success for both the end user and the engineering contractor. There may be 100 or more different device types on a project, and often there is no opportunity to bring in specialists familiar with all device types. This means existing resources must deal successfully and efficiently with all device types, even if they’re not familiar with some device types.

Project startup and first production can’t proceed until most or all field devices are installed and operational. Delays may lead to a contractor needing to pay late completion penalties. Early completion may bring a contractor a bonus, and the ability to move resources to other projects, improving the probability of schedule success on those projects as well.

For the owner, a late project increases project cost as capital money has been spent but production is delayed. Conversely, an early project completion can lead to highly profitable early production. The profits on early production can be much higher than normal production because fixed costs such as facility depreciation have not yet started. The financial impact of faster, trouble free instrumentation installation and commissioning can be a significant percent of the cost of the instruments themselves.

Successful project execution depends on knowing a device is functional and the correct device for the application. Then it must be configured and set up correctly and in minimum time. If problems exist, guided troubleshooting is important to determine the nature of a problem, and the proper fix. Finally, status at a glance is again important to verify device operation, and to ease startup issues.

Status at a glance. Device status may be determined in an instrument shop prior to installation or in the field after installation. In either case, the instrument technician will want to know the device is fully operational. Having a default-landing screen for the device user interface that provides complete status at a glance can reduce the time and improve the success of determining device status.

In this example, device status is clearly shown as good. The device is shown as in service, the process variables are verified as good. This device is functioning and ready for configuration and setup.

Device information. Field devices come in many different ranges, types, materials of construction, etc. A device may be operating properly, but be the wrong device type, or have the wrong ranges or materials of construction for the application. It’s important to know if any of these conditions exist. You can see three shortcuts toward the bottom of the image. One of the shortcuts provides single click access to device information. Within device information, the technician can verify device type, range, materials of construction, and other parameters needed to determine if this device is the correct device for the application.

Guided configuration / setup. Traditionally, different devices have different configuration parameters and processes. Since configuration is generally done once for a device, the variety of device types, configuration options, and configuration processes, provide high potential for human error. Incorrectly configured devices can appear to be operating correctly, but be giving incorrect information. This can result in delays to startup, and compromise process performance. The obviously incorrect process variable is actually the easiest to correct since it is the easiest to detect. Process information that looks approximately correct but is not is more problematic.

Guided configuration eliminates many configuration errors by providing a step-by-step configuration process where success in the current step is required to go to the next step. This step-by-step process should do two things. The first is to make sure the proper steps are done in the proper order, and that no steps are accidentally skipped. The second is that steps that require human action or decision-making are guided in order to minimize human error.

Configuration is done step by step with each step presented in the proper order. Users select from a drop down menu of appropriate choices. Optional steps are noted. The point is automatically placed in operating mode.

Guided troubleshooting. In projects, troubleshooting will typically take two forms. The first is during initial device installation and setup. In this environment, the process is offline. The primary advantage to guided troubleshooting is increased productivity of instrument personnel, and reduced time to complete tasks. The second is during project testing and startup. In this environment, a device problem can prevent successful startup, or cause a piece of process equipment to trip. The impact of errors can propagate well beyond the initial cause. It can impact engineering and other functions. In this case, the primary advantage to guided troubleshooting is a reduction of startup time, and improved productivity of a potentially large number of people.

In the upper left, you see the failure. Click the “troubleshoot” button for diagnostics. In the upper right, you see help including possible causes and corrective action. In the lower image, you see verification the repair was successful.

Leverage productivity across devices and communications protocols. Traditionally the user interface layout and functionality is different from one device type to another. In addition, different device communications protocols have different functionality and data structures. This led to different user interface layouts and functionality for different communications protocols, even for the same device type. The net result is the engineer or technician dealing with devices needs to successfully use hundreds of different looking and acting interfaces.

Project Connections. Instruments and valves can directly and strongly affect overall project execution. Fortunately, there are easy, low cost, or even cost-saving ways they can improve overall project execution.

Projects come in many different forms. They can range from plant turnarounds, to upgrades, expansions, or grassroots facilities. In most cases, there are dozens of different device types, and hundreds, or thousands of instruments. Usually they are configured and commissioned late in the project, and are on the critical path.

Human error in configuration or commissioning can lead to project delays, a slower startup, a more difficult ramp-up, and a lower ultimate operating point. Consequences can range from increased labor costs, to delays leading to lost bonuses or penalties. They can also reduce customer satisfaction with the overall project and the performance of the operating plant. Finally, they can divert resources needed on other projects, extending the cost, schedule, and risk beyond the original project.

Project cost and schedule. This section is intended to help you estimate the cost and potential return from reducing or eliminating human error in instrumentation activities.

Human error in device commissioning and setup can delay project schedule and increase project cost. Field device configuration and setup usually occur late in a project. Upstream delays usually place device configuration on the critical path. Delayed startup costs money due to delayed first production. These factors lead to devices having large overall project consequences.

  1. How often is field device commissioning and setup on the project critical path?
  2. How often are device commissioning and setup resources in short supply?
  3. How often are you missing expertise on specific device types, and therefore suffer project delays?
  4. What is the overall cost per day of project delays?

Project risk mitigation. This section is intended to help you estimate the cost and potential return from reducing or eliminating human error on projects.

Human error in device commissioning and setup can increase project risk. If a device is incorrectly set up, incorrect process information can be delivered to the host system. Process equipment can be at risk due to equipment stress. In addition, incorrect reporting of pressures, temperatures, levels, and flows can delay start-up and ramp-up as errors are found and corrected. The net result is incorrect field device commissioning and setup can increase risk to cost, schedule, and project performance.

Project commissioning, start-up, and ramp-up.

  1. How often is start-up and ramp-up delayed due to device commissioning and setup issues?
  2. What is the daily cost of delayed start-up and ramp-up?

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