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The Control Room of the Future

Control rooms have come a long way over the years, and there remains ample room for improvement. Fortunately for operators, though, a significantly improved control room of the future might be closer to reality than they think.

Years ago, control rooms were dominated by large mimic panels covered with gauges and dials that provided a limited view and inflexible means of interacting with the process. Today, the modern control room includes sophisticated graphical user interfaces, and specialized furniture in purpose-designed spaces that make careful use of lighting and ventilation. The layout of the control room is arranged to accommodate the movement of people and to abate excessive noise. A control room may have a range of adjoining facilities, such as a kitchen and even gymnasium equipment, to help operators keep healthy and alert. Of course, not all control rooms are like this, but a state-of-the-art control room can provide operators with an environment that is, at least superficially, a pleasant and comfortable place to work.

Although these advances have certainly improved conditions, several important areas could be further improved. Today’s operator console, a key element of the control room, is effectively an isolated island from which operators can rarely escape. Operators have difficulty moving away from the console to take brief breaks or work with others in the control room without losing critical situation awareness. Display layouts tend to be inflexible, often hamstrung by having to display information across multiple small screens, making it difficult for operators to access necessary information. The operator is also confronted with a multitude of devices such as keyboards, mice, radios, and telephones, and it is difficult for operators to work efficiently when constantly switching between devices. Additionally, consoles are difficult to scale from single to multiple operators and are typically engineered to cope with the maximum number of operators required for startup, shutdown, and turnaround operations. On top of this, the console’s physical arrangement does not allow operators working 12-hour shifts to get and stay comfortable. The result is that life for operators might be compared to traveling in economy class on a long, overnight, intercontinental flight while being asked to make rapid and critical decisions throughout the flight. The odds are stacked against the operators when they are uncomfortable and tired in environments that do not fully accommodate their basic physical and task-related needs.

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The Control Room of the Future

Jason Urso, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Honeywell Process Solutions

01 December 2013

Volume: 65 | Issue: 12

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