As engineers, we strive to improve the world through the application of science and technology. Unfortunately, our ambition sometimes blinds us to the magnitude of the problem. In process industries, board operator performance during upset situations is a major concern. However, many of the "solutions" being developed appear to be too one-dimensional to actually solve a very complex problem. Consider an analogy:
World hunger is a profound problem. It might be thought that the development of a drought resistant crop would alleviate or solve the problem. However, as most of us are aware, world hunger is not largely a problem of inadequate food, but of the inability to get food to those who need it. This inability is a problem of transportation/distribution and political will/image. A better type of grain would not likely solve the world hunger problem.
Similarly, a better display engine or software to process information is not likely to solve "operator error" problems. Itís too one-dimensional. Why would a single expert system or means to process data be the "solution" to operator performance problems when existing aspects of the man-machine system (selection, training, alarm management, display configuration, organizational structure) are often so poorly configured? If we canít do something as basic as choose the correct alarms for the operator, what makes us think the answer is in a sophisticated set of software?
Should we do nothing to improve operator performance? Of course not, but the solutions will come from a variety of efforts and be incremental in nature. Drought resistant grain is worth developing. So, too, are better ways to process and display plant information. But let us not kid ourselves or get caught in the hyperbole. The "solutions" are in climbing onto the shoulders of giants, with each of us adding to the height of our knowledge.
Copyright © 1998 Beville Engineering, Inc.
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The dates for this year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be announced soon. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!
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David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.
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