Improving operator efficiency - unleash the potential of your process with Alarm Adviser

This post follows the article I published focused on Alarm Management and Digital Transformationearlier this year and takes a closer look at how effective alarm management plays a critical role in improving operator efficiency.

The costs of inefficient operators

It is well documented that the industrial automation industry loses approximately $20 billion globally due to unscheduled downtime and poor quality. The interesting fact is it is estimated that almost 80% of this loss is preventable with over 40% primarily the result of operator error.

With more and more of the process being automated today one can confidently deduce that operator error is on the incline. The underlying proponents for the increased automation are well understood and welcomed by many organizations – to increase operational efficienciesmaximizing profits in today’s tough market and to reduce production costs whilst improving quality! Easy, right?

At the center of all this chaos is the knight in shining armor – the humble plant operator! The role of the operator can often be characterized by long periods of inactivity with intermittent short bursts of highly stressful action. It is essential that operators are not inactive that they maintain high levels of alertness with a clear and sharp mind during these slow times of the production cycle. When action is required during the high intensity bursts, they need to be proactive and agile inmaking the correct decisions, taking the appropriate immediate corrective action dictated by the most trying of circumstances.

Operators may be well versed when managing steady‐state (normal) plant operations, but struggle when dealing with abnormal situations which may arise unexpectedly. For example, scheduled and unscheduled shutdowns and start-ups occurring at infrequent intervals.

All too often, the information operators need in order to make quick actionable decisions, is not readily available within their operational systems. This in turn forcing them to juggle between phones and other system interfaces at the precise moment that the process demands their undivided attention.

We must not forget the human aspect. Most of us (irrespective of occupation), want to enjoy ourselves at work. Our mission is to work on projects and be part of organisations where our role has meaning, where we are empowered and encouraged to contribute and hence become valued employees with purpose. Operators at the core of their psyche are problem solvers and troubleshooters. When confronted with unforeseen problematic circumstances their response to an issue is the difference between chaotic or smooth running operations. Having such a powerful impact at the heart of their organizations’ operations can quench their thirst for self fulfillment and purpose.

In practice, the role of the operator in dealing with abnormal situations can be very complex. As illustrated below, the response may involve several different types of tasks executed in a logical and methodical manner.

However, research shows that operator attention, reaction and effectiveness are often overlooked areas that can improve the performance and safety of control systems within plants. Yet operator effectiveness is one of the key elements for running a safe, efficient, and profitable plant.What is the biggest challenge that operators face?

Per a recent survey conducted by ARC Advisory Group, managing alarms is still the biggest challenge that operators encounter on a daily basis. This is also heavily compounded with the need for interconnectivity and interoperability across devices in a modern world undergoing digital transformation. Although the benefits on offer are vast and enticing they do however come at a cost – information overload leading to operator hindrance!

The dilemma that organizations are faced with is how to keep increasing the level of automation without it causing a counter-productive situation. Special consideration needs to be given to ways that will reduce the total alarm count, remove the unwanted “noise” from the operator’s peripheral vision and most importantly arm the operator with all the relevant, contextual information needed to empower them to effectively diagnose and resolve critical issues.

How to overcome these challenges?

According to the industry analysts, reading through the standards literature, approximately 75% of all alarms are noise. By noise we mean nuisance alarms that in many cases serve no immediate purpose and do not require any operator action. An incoming avalanche of such alarms can negatively impact the operator by reducing efficiency, dramatically slowing them down and resulting in loss of productivity. To assist with improving operator efficiency it is therefore important that the software the operator uses can cut through this noise and instantly identify the unwanted nuisance alarms. Typically, such a tool would be used during an alarm clean-up round when the total alarm count is excessive and the operators are significantly swamped with multiple alarm annunciations.

Alarm Adviser is one such tool that can significantly reduce the noise and simplify the alarm management process to greatly improve operator efficiency.

As our leading scalable web-based alarm analysis software tool, Alarm Adviser was designed in accordance with the world’s leading alarm management standards to easily and rapidly identify this unwanted noise. By using the powerful built-in analysis charts and reports, the alarm rationalisation process is streamlined making life so much easier for engineers and operators. With more timely identification of critical vs nuisance alarms, operator productivity increases, operator stress and risk of distraction is reduced, and therefore mistakes, system downtime, and catastrophic events are minimized.

Reducing the unwanted noise to “acceptable” levels although crucialis nevertheless only one step in the pursuit of operator effectiveness.

At a time when many organizations are confronted by challenges of an aging workforce and high staff turnover, the software and systems we create need to be more stable and have the ability to present data in context, as well as deliver actionable alarming. Actionable alarming is one of the areas in which many implementations fail and systems that are delivered do not perform adequately. Improvements and investments in this area have a high ROI, since investment costs are relatively low and the return rate is high in gained operator productivity.

To learn more about how actionable alarming combined with situational awareness concepts can significantly improve operator effectiveness and maximize productivity, I strongly recommend reading a whitepaper written by my colleague Rob Kambach, (Product Manager System Platform and Operations Management Interface, Aveva) called “Actionable Alarming, Make Alarms & Situational Awareness Your Closest Allies to Maximize Productivity and Minimize Downtime.

Experience Alarm Adviser 2017 for yourself in our free online demo here.

How will you cope with the overwhelming flood of alarms and empower your operators to make critical operational decisions and contribute to the overall efficiency of your operation? The choice is yours!

I hope you enjoyed this post and would love to hear your feedback in the comments. Be sure to look out for my next article focused on Alarm Management and the importance and value of alignment with industry guidelines.