Many skilled people in the process plant workforce are now reaching retirement age

Many skilled operators and engineers in the process plant workforce are now reaching retirement age, just at a time when the different levels of technology used on these plants has created a need for historical, as well as current device experience. Alongside this the lean staffing levels that meet current economic constraints mean that there are fewer people available to cover the holes in the available experience. Incidentally, InTech magazine in the USA recently reported that the American Petroleum Society estimates that 40% of the workforce in their industry reach retirement age by the end of the year. Add to this the investigations, such as those reported by CSB, into some recent petrochemical plant accidents, where the cause was attributed to “operator error”, and it was realized that the relevant engineers and operators in the control room had all been working on the job for less than a year.

These factors have major implications for the suppliers of the control systems, that have to communicate with these engineers and operators: Emerson presented their approach to this late last year, as reported in the current issue of Read-out magazine, As a new area of research for them, Emerson trawled the few institutions which study this problem, and finally chose to establish a relationship with the Carnegie-Mellon Human Computer Interaction Institute. Working on the problem since 2004, the answer is to be found in concentrating on the human side of the HMI, and make the systems capable of operating intuitively.

Read-out advises that Bob Sharp, President of Emerson Process Management in Europe, considers that new specialized knowledge is embedded in the control system, enabling it to say: “There is a problem! The problem is here, and this is how you fix it!” The objective is to bring about a significant improvement in ease of use, and workforce productivity.

Since the initial launch, Emerson have released various new products in support of this concept, the DeltaV S-series, the THUM adaptor, to convert any HART device to wireless, and this week, the Device Dashboards, as have been reported this week. Working in the AMS Suite: Intelligent Device Manager software, the dashboards provide, in one glance, a clear view of everything that users need to evaluate, diagnose and configure a field device. Each dashboard features embedded expert guidance to streamline the most important and frequent tasks performed by plant operations, engineering and maintenance personnel, in the same format whether the information comes from wireless, fieldbus or HART protocol communications, with shortcuts to the most often used tasks. Plus these new features are backwards compatible with existing installations.

The Sick Group

This review of the Sick Group arose from a presentation to the First Friday editor’s meeting in January 2010, and was submitted for use on the Processingtalk website on January 18th, but publication was not permitted, as it was not quoted to be of “sufficient interest”. I found it of interest, so have placed it here.

The Sick Group, based in Germany, but with half their employees in other countries, is quoted to be one of the world’s leading producers of sensors and sensor solutions for industrial applications. Over the past year Sick has placed a strong emphasis on the development of the business of their process automation division, which even a year ago was approaching 20% of the whole business, with a process turnover of 136Million Euro.

Dr Robert Bauer, Chairman, explains that “Innovation is the central element of our corporate mission statement”: this is confirmed by the figures, where 10% of the yearly sales value is typically invested back into R+D, a sum on a par with the annual company reported earnings. So when faced with the recession at the end of 2008, the probably typical Sick response was to announce the “Sick Innovation Marathon for 2009″, a publicity generation campaign and worldwide sales offensive, promising one new sensor solution each week, aimed at increasing production efficiency for the users. This has now been completed, with 52 new products or product ranges released, up to around the time of the 100th anniversary of Erwin Sick’s birthday, the founder of the company in 1946.

It was at PPMA in September last year that Sick launched their Industrial Instrumentation division in the UK, with pressure, level, flow and temperature measurement sensors: this week they expand their pressure sensor portfolio with a simple, compact pressure switch (Link). The PBS is suitable for process applications, as well as hydraulic and pneumatic systems, machine and plant engineering. The neat design incorporates a digital display of the analogue pressure reading, plus LED indicators showing the PNP/NPN switch output states, all within the 38mm diameter housing. Once screwed into position, the electronic connections and display can be rotated to suit the operator and cabling, without compromising the IP67 housing. Sick seem to have met their objective, providing an innovative quality instrument based on the best technology plus efficient and economic production.