4 Steps to Consolidating Multiple Operator Control Stations

Dec. 30, 2013
Replacing a legacy control system affords the opportunity to consolidate multiple operator control stations. Experience shows some key considerations will increase the chances of success.

As companies plan capital projects geared towards replacing their legacy control systems, it is a perfect time to consider consolidating multiple operator control stations. Many facilities are now realizing some of the benefits of this, such as reduced costs of maintaining multiple stations, improved reaction to process upsets, and better communication and coordination. Based on our experience working in lots of plants, the following four points are among the top considerations to keep in mind while planning for this endeavor.

  1. Pinpoint what and where to consolidate. Start by identifying transitional areas in the process layout. Determine if it makes sense to combine areas where the operators pass control off to another operator, keeping in mind that some areas of the process may require an operator to perform a manual task in the field. As part of the planning stage, it’s critical to identify areas that are too remote or tasks too intensive to consolidate.
  2. Operator input is vital. Include your operator. After all, the workstation is the core of the operator’s job. Forming a master team comprised of operators with different skill levels ensures the collection of a wide array of viewpoints. Giving operators a voice in the decision-making process produces an end result with a team that is more energized and receptive to the changes.
  3. Train everyone. All operators, maintenance technicians, managers and engineers with access to the system need to receive some level of training. The new system design may change the way an operator starts a pump, acknowledges an alarm, or adds additional processes and responsibilities. Technicians will need training on the new set of challenges presented with an open platform. A basic understanding of networking, system administration and other computer skills once reserved for IT is now necessary in order to sustain the system. Training will spur ideas on how to better use the new technology as well. Managers may see this as an opportunity to generate better, more accurate operational reports, whereas engineers can unlock the potential and further optimize existing control schemes or add advanced control to boost efficiency.
  4. Establish intelligent alarming. If your facility is like many others, alarm management was an afterthought once the installation of the control system was complete. Nuisance alarms can bring about several challenges in and of themselves, but coupled with an increased operator workload, unnecessary alarms can spell disaster. A control room filled with alarms continuously going off generates a stressful and confusing environment for the operator and increases the chance of missing an event. This is an ideal time to re-evaluate the current alarming scheme and determine if changes should be made.

The control room is the central nervous system of your facility. Operators perform thousands of tasks from their command center daily, from monitoring the process and making corrective actions, to recognizing upset situations and coordinating maintenance resources to problem areas. A well-organized team is vital to the safe and efficient operation of your plant. Proper planning and attention to the needs of the end users will help to ensure a successful conversion. 

Troy DeHart is project manager at Avid Solutions Inc., a control system integrator headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a certified member of the Control Systems Integrators Association. For more information about Avid Solutions, visit www.avidsolutionsinc.com. For more information about CSIA, visit www.controlsys.org.  

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