Even expert engineers continually update their skills and knowledge to stay on top of evolving challenges in engineering, it’s the principle of continuous personal development –the same goes for the plant, systems and other assets deployed in production environments…
Production continuity may directly and quickly equate to business continuity. A pronounced disruption of production can soon jeopardise an operator’s long-term viability and threaten engineering service provider organisations far sooner – particularly if they are responsible for an area of operation but not responsive with remedies and mitigations.
Key to responsiveness in many production environments are: the alarm systems that alert engineers and operators to emerging problems, and the control room environments in which operators take appropriate actions to respond to alarms and other inputs.
Industrial systems are increasingly complex and require similarly complex control systems with carefully thought out alarm systems. Alarm systems are an essential part of the fabric for ensuring the safe operation of large modern industrial facilities. As well as warning operators of situations that need attention, alarms systems provide vital support to the operators as they work to prevent, control and mitigate effects of abnormal situations. But not every alarm needs instant attention. Prioritisation for action is not something that operators should be expected to do on the fly when some events cause hundreds of alarms to trigger at once. The alarm system should be designed to present a manageable load to the operators with the priorities for action being obvious or pre-determined.
The internationally acknowledged leading source of guidance for alarm systems is EEMUA Publication 191 Alarm systems - a guide to design, management and procurement. Developed by users of alarm systems with input from the UK Health and Safety Executive, the publication is aligned with both of the international standards for the management of alarm systems for process industries, ISA 18.2 from the International Society of Automation and IEC 62682: 2015.
Optimising human performance continues to be a vital ingredient in maintaining the safety of processes and preventing major accident hazards. Industrial processes and activities in facilities such as chemical plant, power stations and oil refineries are overseen by operators via a human-computer interface (HCI) system. The design and implementation of HCI systems has to take account of human strengths and weaknesses to optimise human performance in centralised control room environments.
The control room design itself, and the design of the control building should be seen in the context of the tasks to be performed there. The design should consider issues such as physical aspects of the control room, working environment, control system graphics, console design, screen display format and display hierarchies, security (including cyber-security) and devices used outside of the control room.
The objective for control room designers should be to make the plant operation consistent, efficient and able to avoid abnormal situations, and be able to better manage irregular situations when they occur, such as during start-up and shut-down. EEMUA Publication 201 Control rooms: a guide to their specification, design, commissioning and operation provides the information and practical guidance that engineers and managers in both user and contracting organisations need to accomplish this objective, which directly serves efficient and safe production continuity.
Managing ageing electrical assets
State of the art in alarm systems and control rooms may not be lasting. Industries change, practices alter, and standards are refined. It is not usually possible in industry to finance repeated decommissioning of successive alarm systems and control rooms in their entirety, only to replace them with brand new ones of the latest specification.
Managers, operators, engineers and designers need to deliver efficient and safe production continuity by striking the right balance between all new facilities and keeping existing systems effectively up-to-date and in good condition. The challenge is to keep on top of current good practice as well as managing the rest of the daily workload. Watching industry trends, sorting the wheat from the chaff, to put in place continuous improvements towards the all-round best for your plant is not a minor task.
EEMUA 191 and 201 are kept up-to-date with comprehensive guidance to help in evaluating and improving existing systems, and to help development of new facilities as well as modifications or refurbishments. Part of a broader portfolio of industry resources, EEMUA’s electrical engineering and control guidance is supported by timely events with experts sharing the latest the latest good practice.
In today’s business climate, extending the life of existing assets is more and more common. There is an expectation that doing so is feasible and cost-effective – the engineer’s challenge is to ensure that it is both whenever possible.
Electrical equipment that is well looked after can last for a long time. A key factor is how to achieve that ‘looking after’, which may assume even greater importance where electrical equipment is required to work far beyond its design life. The next EEMUA Webinar: Ageing electrical assets: Switchgear and when to retrofit is free for all in the industry and live online on 8 December 2020. It will explore the main issues for safely extending the efficient life of electrical equipment, versus replacement.
As well as effective plant, efficient and safe production continuity for the business requires people to keep up-to-date, flexible and work effectively with each other. So, training for this is not just about personal development. Improving appreciation of colleagues’ specialist engineering disciplines, roles, tasks daily, and responsibilities in emergency situations can lift team morale and effective interaction at work – contributing to efficient and safe production continuity and potentially obviating dangers, perhaps even saving lives.
It is easy to see the operational value of improving team understanding but achieving it can seem a distant goal that is tricky to achieve without intense and lengthy training to fully understand each team-mate’s specialist engineering discipline. The obstructions can make the objective seem ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘essential value’. Cost and time constraints may be prohibitive even when getting just one new team member up to speed. Those resource obstructions are multiplied when training a whole team at once to appreciate the work of multiple different specialisms within a team.
Training set at the ‘awareness’ level may, however, be all that is needed to achieve the desired improvement to team understanding and working. Connected Information Technology can be used very effectively and quickly, especially at the ‘awareness’ level, to help achieve the objective while diminishing associated costs – and can be conducted on-site, avoiding the cost, time and scheduling overheads associated with off-site training for large teams.
E-learning and live online training that adapts and enhances the experience of courses based physically in classrooms has become increasingly popular, and essential, during 2020. By making good use of special technology platforms it can match the ease of now familiar video-conferencing packages while surpassing their performance for effective learning.
Continuous Professional Development Accreditation
It is worth making some effort to select the right courses – trusted industry bodies are a good starting point – because even inexpensive e-learning should have good provenance. Training should be based on real-world experiences, focus on up-to-date practice by expert engineers in the industry, and encompass the latest regulations. Ideally it will also be certificated by an industry or learned body – to enhance the immediate and long-term gain in continuous personal development, and perhaps point to the next career challenge for emerging talent, as well as help ensure efficient and safe production continuity for the business.
By Edward Kessler, Technical Executive at the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association.
EEMUA is an international, non-profit membership association that exists to improve and promote efficient and safe use of industrial engineering equipment and materials – to help engineers as they contribute to making businesses, the environment and everyone’s future prosperous and safe.
EEMUA shares know how contributed ‘by industry, for industry’ as practical aids for engineers in their work, delivered the ways engineers can best use it – wherever they are, whatever time they can afford – as training courses (online, blended, in-house and classroom-based), seminars, webinars, forums and good practice guidance publications and more, all in EEMUA’s online Knowledge Centre.
For over 70 years EEMUA’s collaborative approach has enabled engineers to leverage the practical experience of colleagues across different disciplines, geographies, generations, technologies, industries and changing times – now helping new industries face challenges of safe and efficient design, maintenance, storage of hazardous substances, management of ageing equipment (and many other matters) that traditional industries have already addressed.