Plant operators have been isolated in remote control rooms for decades. They tend to lose intimate knowledge of their processes as they monitor computer screens in these isolated rooms. The sounds and smells are gone. Everything is theoretical.
This system has worked. But, is it the best, most efficient, most effective use of human intelligence?
Not likely. Technologies and work processes are joining to allow plant managers to change all this.
Tim Sowell, VP and Fellow at Schneider Electric, recently shared some more of his prescient thoughts on this issue–spurred as usual by conversations with customers.
He asks, “What is the reason why users have been locked to the desk/ control room, why has this transition not happened successfully before? It is simple, the requirement to be monitoring the plant. A traditional control room is the central place alarms, notifications were traditionally piped.”
Diving into what it takes to change, Sowell goes on to say, “The user needs to empowered with situational plant awareness, freed from monitoring, shifting to the experience of exception based notification. As the user roams the plant, the user is still responsible, and aware, and able to make decisions across the plant he is responsible for even if he not in view of that a particular piece of equipment. Driving the requirement for the mobile device the user carries to allow notification, drill thru access to information and ability to collaborate so the dependency to sit in the control room has lifted.”
Two streams join to form a river. Sowell continues, “The second key part of the transformation/ enablement of an edge worker is that their work, tasks and associated materials can transfer with them. As the world moves to planned work, a user may start work task on a PC in the control room, but now move out to execute close action. As the user goes through the different steps, the associated material and actions are at his finders tips. The operational work can be generated , assigned and re directed from all terminal.s and devices.”
The first generation of this thinking formed around the rapid development of mobile devices. Before plant managers and engineers could come to grips with one technology, the next popped up. Instead of careful and prolonged development by industrial technology providers, these devices came directly from consumers. Operators and maintenance techs and engineers brought them from home. Smart phones–the power of a computer tucked into their pockets.
Sowell acknowledges it takes more than a handheld computer. “It requires the transformation to task based integrated operational environment where the ‘edge worker’ is free to move.”
The information must free them to navigate with freedom, no matter the format, no matter where they start an activity, and have access to everything.