With the ever-increasing advances in connectivity and data collection, facilities may become swept up in costly upgrades that might not fit their needs. At the Automation Conference & Expo this week in Chicago, Keith Dicharry, director and principle expert in process control and automation at BASF, gave advice on projects that truly add value:
- Use operator-designed high-performance human-machine interfaces (HMIs) to reduce unnecessary distractions, making plant operation safer and more efficient. Start with a team of experienced operators to develop graphics that work for them. “Show them every way to visualize the piece of data,” Dicharry said, and determine what graphics allow them to watch different operations and react faster to abnormal conditions. Request operator feedback once process control engineers develop new graphics.
- Break the task of documentation and rationalization (D&R) for alarms into smaller components. When an existing alarm does not add value, people might avoid eliminating it for fear of (often unjustified) consequences in the plant. Though it is time-consuming to determine the action behind every alarm, it’s important that each alarm serve a purpose. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Dicharry explained. While you’re implementing one section, perform the D&R for the next section. “Operators will see the difference and feel motivated to work on the next section. The people that live with the alarms start to push the process.”
- Evaluate your existing systems’ capabilities before purchasing new data analytics tools. “Often, you identify a need and immediately look for a new product. But it’s rare for companies to fully utilize the applications they already have,” Dicharry said. When BASF sought to provide manufacturing management with visibility into key performance indicators (KPIs), they were able to develop dashboards with existing systems. “There are simple things that add immediate value that only cost in engineering time.”
- Don’t fall victim to Dicharry’s Everything/Everywhere Syndrome, described as the desire for all data to be visible everywhere and for every “thing” to connect (people are now adding remote control capabilities to this wish list, too). Companies have to stop and evaluate whether these advanced capabilities are truly beneficial for their situations. “People are excited about tablets, but are they useful enough to add to the tool bucket, HART communicator, etc., that the technician carries up seven flights of stairs?” Dicharry asked. “Define the use case. Don’t just see what the Joneses have at the other plant.”