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DCS Skill Degradation with Advanced Control: Implications for training


It has been widely speculated that increasing amounts of advanced control have resulted in a degradation of skills for board operators, although this author has never seen any objective data to support the perception. However, a similar phenomenon has been seen and measured in pilots with advanced aircraft controls. A proposed solution for process plant operators is to simply take the plant off advanced control for some period of time to enable the operators to train and regain key skills. However, running without advanced control is done so at a cost, which begs the question as to the cost-effectiveness of such training.

Typical advanced control benefits on major units (crude, reforming, FCC) range from $5,000 to $30,000 per day ($2,500 to $15,000 per shift)2 .

How much time with the unit being off advanced control would be needed for the operator to “regain” their skills? If all operators rotate through the board positions, how many shifts per month would the unit be off advanced control? Consider a four-person crew where each operator works the board. Even at only one day off advanced control per operator, that is still 12 shifts total at a cost of $30,000 – $180,000 for one set of refresher training. How many times a year would this need to occur? How would you know if one shift per month is “enough?” How would it be known that it was needed again? Obviously, you would not want to do it sooner than necessary.

While the skill degradation is widely recognized, it is rarely defined. What specific skills are degrading that need reinforced?

Perceptual skills associated with monitoring and detection, motor skills associated with control output and speed of process response, and/or diagnostic skills associated with process interactions can all be impacted. Without defining what has degraded, correcting the problem will not be as efficient as possible and potentially unsuccessful. For example, at what point has the value of having the advanced control turned off returned the skills to the desired level (presuming a desired level has actually been established and acquired through initial training/experience)? What alternate methods to enhance the skill, either alone or in combination with the advanced control off strategy, would provide the greatest improvement at the lowest cost?

Cost-effective training requires a more behavioralistic approach to solving human skill/knowledge problems, which is basically the systems approach to training used by the Department of Defense.

1. Define what behaviors or skills are degrading.

2. Determine appropriate means to measure the performance level of that behavior/skill.

3. Develop training to improve the skill.

4. Test that the training has the desired effect.

5. Measure job performance to determine transfer of training. The result would not only be improved performance, but a system to ensure that the most cost-effective training is being applied.

2 “Special report: Advanced Control and Information Systems 2001”, Hydroprocessing, Gulf Publishing, Houston, September, 2001.

Copyright © 2002 Beville Engineering, Inc., All Rights Reserved


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