Don't overlook control room upgrades when you modernize

By Mina Salama | May 25, 2017

Control rooms are the nerve centers of any plant operation. Whether local or remote, they’re critical for monitoring and controlling any plant or facility. They host a number of systems and tools that operators rely on to make good, reliable decisions about their work.

As technology advances, processes become more complex.  Systems evolve and become more connected and integrated. Control rooms need to keep up with these changes. But in many cases, the upgrades that plants are willing to consider focus only on capturing technological advancements. Why not take this opportunity to make other changes and adjustments that will not only improve the performance of the control room, but make these places better, safer, and more hospitable for the operators working there?

Control room modernization projects cannot be useful or effective without a thorough understanding of the existing design and conditions. So start there. Once you’ve thoroughly evaluated what’s in place now, move on to consider the needs of the employees—the people who are the primary stakeholders in these environments. Ask the operators what they’d like to see in their workplaces. Is the furniture ergonomically correct for the nature of the work they do? Is it placed in the best location and most efficient manner? Are the monitors and gauges appropriately laid out for the operator’s line of sight? Do they have the tools they need? Are the air quality and lighting optimal?

Next, see if modern technology can make it possible for different pieces of equipment to be situated in ways that are more conducive to the work flow of the control room. Can monitors and measurement tools that were spread around the facility be moved to places or in ways that will improve safety or make them easier to access?

What can new advances in architecture and visualization offer? Can the room be adjusted to actually see operations more easily? Or does it make more sense to use electronic tools and displays to visually track things you once had to open a window or walk the floor to see?

Of course, the best way to collect all this information is to conduct detailed site visits. These allow for direct conversations with the stakeholders, firsthand observations, and thorough analyses of the control room that’s in use now.

Take all the information you gather and use it to generate a comprehensive list of gaps and deficiencies. Prioritize items based on severity, the risks they pose, and the impacts—actual or potential—on operations. Along with industry standards for control room designs and human factors, use the gaps you identify to guide your decision-making regarding improvements. Let them be the basis for the upgrades you want to suggest. The feasibility and practicality of new modifications can then be discussed among the multidisciplinary stakeholder team and agreed upon.

It makes sense to approach control room modernization projects with more than an operational lens. By taking the human factors and ergonomic perspectives into consideration, you can help to mitigate risk and future redundancies.

At Hatch, we work with our clients to understand their unique requirements and processes. This way, we can help them provide state-of-the-art control rooms that do far more than enhance operators' ability to monitor and control the plant efficiently. They can be safer, healthier, more comfortable and more optimized work environments.