Conquering complexity

CHARMS gets THUMS up in Rijswijk!

Emerson Process Management held a press conference at Rijswijk, their Netherlands’ headquarters on the 18th November 2009. It preceded the Innovatie Middag user meeting held on the 19th November.

The meeting started with a focus on customer usability.  They introduced a new technology to improve the usability of automation systems products helping to increase operator productivity.

Bob Sharp

Bob Sharp, Emerson Project Managements new President in Europe

Bob Sharp was introduced rather alarmingly as the new “President of Europe” but he assured us that it Herman van Rompuy need have no worries.

He made a presentation on a topic troubling us all in this time of startling change. Firstly The combination of leaner staffs and loss of experience creates a knowledge void. Two things are happening here. Staff with automation experience are fewer on the ground now and people are being moved out of the plant into the safe area. The figures are stark indeed, as reported recently in InTech, the American Petroleum Society estimates that 40% of their workforce will have reached retirement age by next year (2010). As this destaffing is occuring plants are becoming larger and ever more complex. For example most transmitters these days have more computing power then the first DCS controllers.

A major plant accident in a Texas (US) petrochemical plant was attributed to “operator error.” The investigation into the accident discovered that the unit’s engineer and the operators in the control room at the time of the accident had all been on the job less than one year.

These paradoxical happenings – more complex plants, less experienced and fewer staff, have major implications for companies such as Emerson Process Management.

So how is Emerson coping with this dilemma? Like the virtually every organisation they did not have the expertese to understand fully, never mind solve, the problems that the new fast approaching reality was starting to present. So they trawled the various – and few – institutions and finally established a relationship with Carnegie-Mellon Human Computer Interaction Institute (CMU-HCII). Basically and very simply the result of their research and study since 2004 is to concentrate on the HUMAN side of HMI. Since there will be less people with the qualifications to run a complex system then the complex system must be capable of operation intuitively.

Signalling an important change in technology trends, they are making process control technology easier to use with its introduction of their Human Centered Design Institute. This announcement culminates more than five years of customer work-practice analysis, new product development re-engineering and organisational training. The goal is simple: make products that are not only reliable, compatible and cost-effective, but also bring about a significant improvement in ease-of-use and workforce productivity. In short “Reversing the Master / Servant relationship between technology and people will reduce product complexity and improve productivity”

So the idea is to concentrate on the customer, the human, the guy or the gal working the system from early conception, through design, construction, testing, handing over and finally operating. Sometimes it is better to emphasise what something isn’t in order to stress how it is different. HCD Designs are NOT: Based on traditional customer interviews or focus group research; Feature/function driven; Just focused on screens.

So how does HCD manifest itself in our industry? Well according to Bob Sharp and Emerson there are three ways. It elliminates unecessary work processes, removes the complexity of using technology and embeds specialised knowledge. This embedding enables the system to tell the opeartor “There is a problem!, the problem is here and this is how you fix it!”

Tabulation of presentation (pdf)

Brief resumé of Bob Short's presentation

Peter Zornio

Peter Zornio

The table 2 discussion
During the group meal prior to the event Peter Zornio took issue with us on our report (in the EtherNet Book), about the ISA Expo where we said that the ISA 100.11a standard did not appear to have any input/co-operation from Emerson. He pointed out, and indeed we can confirm, that Emerson were indeed participants in the discussions and on the committee which eventually came up with this standard. It was however a standard which “owed more to the work undertaken “in-house” by Honeywell than to the more open and non-exclusive formula adopted in practise by Emerson and others, which two years ago culminated in the launching of WireLessHART.” There were three words he used to emphasise which standard will be finaaly accepted. Those words were interoperable multi-vendor product. WirelessHart has had a two year headstart on ISA 100.11a and has a proven record out on the field. ISA 100.11a is only three months old he continued. Having said that he also mantained that in the event that the ISA 100.11a standard was accepted in the market place then of course the company would provide equipment compatible with it.
See also:
ISA100.12, WirelessHART Convergence Subcommittee
NAMUR Confirms WirelessHART for Process Applications

See also Patrick Raleigh’s editorial, ISA100 wireless claims dismissed as “good marketing” and related articles! (Process Engineering)

OK! So that’s the philosophy done but what do they suggest to exemplify this philosophy and how do they express it practically in their offering?

They have enhanced their PlantWeb architecture with the new DeltaV S-series. A change that essentially eliminates the need for a physical path from signal source to controller. Instead new single channel CHARacterization ModuleS or CHARMS relay I/O information via the Ethernet backbone to any controller and provide single channel integrity and flexibility down to the channel level. Secondly in their AMS Suite they have introduced what they call Device Dashboards.

On the plant floor they have concentrated first on the wireless side of things with the THUM (The HARTWireless Upgrade Module) which converts any HART device to wireless thus enabling new measurement points. They have also introduced the unique Wireless Valve Position Monitors which again delivers previously unavailable equipment data.

Travis Hesketh

A rather forlorn Travis Hesketh wanly defends the conventional!

Duncan Schleiss who victoriously presented the I/O on Demand case!

Dale Perry assists two of the editors as they compare the old with the new!

“Arguably the best entertainment at the
Rijswijk press event, even after the Hesketh-Schleiss double act, was to be had by simply observing the cream of the European
engineering press corps working out how to use the Yoropen ZII ballpoint pen presented to each newshound as a memento of the event. One colleague, who had better remain nameless, failed to heed the stern warning to “Please Read This Manual First Before Using” and took a full two minutes simply to work out how to remove the
cap. Not only did the manual included two easy
to follow diagrams showing how to complete that task and one how not to, but a further four showed how to hold the pen and yet another four how to change the refill. With ‘Conquering Complexity’ the theme of the presentation, who says American companies don’t do irony?”
Andrew Bond in his incompearable report in Industrial Automation Insider.

Because some of us had shared albeit virtually or maybe vicariously some of the Emerson Exchange 2009 presentation the fame of the next presentation demonstration of the old versus the new in competition had assumed somthing of a cult status and so people were most anxious to see this. Basically Peter Zornio, Emerson’s Chief Strategic Officer pitted the European Director of PlantWeb, Travis Hesketh as the champion of the conservative or conventional approach versus Duncan Schleiss’s modern I/O on demand of the new Delta V Series S (Which Peter claims stands for “sleek and sexy” and who are we to argue!). He set four tasks to each side and despite his best efforts the result in all four competions saw Travis conventional, and for more than thirty years the only, solution lost out to the new, simpler I/O on demand which has so transformed DeltaV that they have changed it’s logo. This was an entertaining and educational way of getting this message across.

A second presentation, moderated by Dale Perry, Pressure Marketing Manager with Rosemount, also cleverly demonstrated the simplicity of the new AMS Device Dashboards versus the more conventional systems by pitting two editors against each other one conventional and the other using the newer more simple and intuitive system.

The second half of the event featured lots of news about Smart Wireless in use throughout the globe.  They introduced customer applications, sharing their stories of innovation and business value, as well as launching above of significant new technology for even more robust, reliable wireless installations.

Reports from various publications:
Human Centred Design Drives Emerson’s New Technology Development (Control Engineering E&ME Feb 2010)

Many skilled operators and engineers in the process plant workforce are now reaching retirement age. (Nick Denbow’s ProcessingTalk Jan 2010)

HART info get wireless THUMS up (Process Engineerting 7/12/2009)

Emerson Overturns 35 Years of Industry Thinking on I/O (Andrew Bond in ControlGlobal e-news 2/12/2009)

Client pres event Rijswijk, Netherlands (HHC Lewis PR people for Emerson 2/12/2009)

Emerson targets costs, workload and complexity with new automation platform (Process Engineering 19/11/2009)

Editors visit the demonstration area set up for the Emerson User Group meeting

By the way if you think you heard any of this before that’s because you probable read some of the material which emanated from the Emerson Exchange 2009 held in Orlando in early October. However since we were only there virtually this current European abridged version had the additional impact of face to face interaction. So please bear with us!

3 Responses to Conquering complexity

  1. […] itself was way down in the ratings in 16th place. The next most frequented page was the report on a press event hosed by Emerson in the Netherlands in December. This report was narrowly pipped at the post by 4 visits by the […]

  2. […] Zornio speaks #PAuto Peter ZornioSome time ago we put up an article “Conquering complexity” which discussed the concept of humanising control systems as championed by Emerson Process […]

  3. […] it follows the same principle as the Emerson THUM adapter (INSIDER, December 2009, page 2 and also Conquering Complexity on this blog) but claims a “small footprint” as it is indeed a smaller package and antenna than […]

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