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, http://www.read-out.net. 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.

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