Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The importance of the operators in a plant

The design of an industrial plant determines its production capacity. Operators must be aware of the production capacity of the plants where they work. Operators control the process to achieve the goals set by the business, so operators play a key role in achieving the business objectives.

Plant operator

To achieve these objectives, the operator must monitor the system and take actions such as opening or closing the valves, or starting and stopping motors, these actions are previously analyzed by the operator to ensure the safety of workers, equipment and the environment.

I have the opportunity to work in control rooms along with the operators in commissioning processes and start-ups, it is very important that always the engineers keep in touch with the operators, they have a lot of experience of how the process works. The engineer must inform the operator of the commissioning task that is planned to confirm that it is safe to do, at the end the operator oversees the good operation of the system.

To control the system, operators must be well trained in the process. This trainings can be perform in plant simulation environments like OTS, where it is simulated different scenarios and the operator needs to take the actions required to meet some amount of production, also It can simulate dangerous process conditions and the operator must find a quick solution to avoid an accident and to recover the system.

Also a good practice for the preparation of the operators is to place them at the beginning in basic tasks, they are assigned initially as an assistant operator, with the objective that knows the process little by little before handling it. In this way, different levels of operators can exist within the operations team of the plant.

After several years the operator acquires a good experience, with these knowledge of the plant, they can help to make improvements to the process. They can also coach other beginner operators.

Depending on the size of the plant, operators can operate one or more areas, ensuring that the operator's work is not saturated. The operator and the managers must be aware that the operator should not be saturated with multiple tasks as this could cause losses.

We must never underestimate the work of the operators, they have a lot of experience and knowledge of the process, during commissioning engineers must try to be in contact with the operators.

It is also advantageous to invite the operators with more experience in the design and modification of the control system, in the end they are the ones who are operating every day and know how the process behaves and what improvements it needs.

To facilitate the work of the operators, the control system engineers must program the system to be as friendly as possible. A system can be very efficient, but if its control or graphical interface is very complicated, this can generate errors of operation and to be reflected in a decrease of the production. Engineers should always configure the system thinking from the operator's point of view, looking for the simplest yet effective way to operate it.

Operators should pay special attention to the alarms generated by the system, hence the control system must have a good rationalization of alarms. On many occasions, I have noticed that there are systems with many high priority active alarms, this causes a lack of interest on the part of the operator when alarms get active, since it is normal to find active alarms. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the system alarms well, to avoid redundancy of alarms and to disable alarms conditionally depending on the use of the equipment.

The work of the operators is of great value for the fulfillment of the objectives of the business, to ensure the safety of the people, a good operation allows the equipment life to be extended, besides a good operation not only makes more efficient the production, also the stages of commissioning and start-up.