OK – that title sounds a little grandiose like I’ve come up with some brilliant new ideas that no one has ever thought of before. These ideas aren’t necessarily new (or even that brilliant); they’re really more like practical common sense. But, they can have a huge impact on manufacturing quality management and can really make things on the shop floor a whole lot better when it comes to managing quality.
When too many alarms turn our control rooms chaotic, the problem is often of our own making, but so is the solution. Here are practical tips on launching an alarm management program.
In our daily lives we are sometimes called upon to manage chaotic situations, as anyone with children can attest. The more children one has the more frequent and chaotic the situations are likely to be. Also the more likely that most of the screaming isn’t even real. Soon you treat the chaos like car alarms in California; they’re always going off so everybody ignores them. Of course that means that if someone really is breaking into a car no one tries to stop the thief. I even heard one talking alarm that warned, “Step away from the car,” if you got too close. Of course, that just caused people get close to the car to hear it talk.
As you’re launching a new project, ask yourself a tough question: Can you justify what you’re doing for solid business reasons, or are you simply captivated by a cool technology?
Over my career, I’ve seen a lot of projects make a lot of mistakes. One of the most insidious mistakes is when a project gets focused on the technology being implemented and not on the business. There might be a lot of valid reasons for emphasizing the technology, but when technology gets more important than the business, there will be some serious consequences. There’s just no way around it, there can be lots of consequences of running a project that’s focused on the technology and not the needs of the business.
Please don’t talk to me about technologies and work practices that can improve my plant performance. I can’t stand the idea of disrupting my current situation with anything new even if it is better.
fine – adj. – Satisfactory; acceptable
If finding an alarm on your HMI is like playing Where’s Waldo, you might want to reevaluate some of your operator display graphics. A process upset is no time to try and remember what a flashing light means.
Do you ever get the feeling that trying to find what’s an alarm on your HMI graphics is a bit like playing the “Where’s Waldo” game? There are so many things blinking and so many colors on the screen that you can’t tell which one just went into alarm. Is it an important alarm? Could be, but how can you tell since five alarms just came in at about the same time? Conventional wisdom suggests that people work by pattern recognition and can easily spot what just changed on the screen. There is some truth to that, provided they were looking at the screen when it happened, but if several things changed at the same time, they may not figure out quickly enough which one is the most important.
There is a scene in the screen adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” where a struggling businessman comes to speak with the protagonist, Hank Reardon, in his office and the following exchange takes place:
You will be surprised when you install the latest version (v21) of the Rockwell Automation ControlLogix programming software and see you can’t find RSLogix 5000 icon anymore. If you look under the Rockwell Software program folder you will see a new program “Studio 5000”. New icon, splash screen and the Studio 5000 Logix Designer, but in version 21 once you select your project you are ported over to our old familiar friend RSLogix 5000. Studio 5000 is the product. Logix Designer is the first capability of the product.
As a card-carrying member of the control engineering community, I’ve never understood the level of disdain some industries have for automating their processes. I started my career in an industry that understood they could no longer operate their plants without a robust and effective process control system. They realized a long time ago that manual operation of an 880 MW coal-fired power plant is just not an option. After almost 10 years in the utility power industry, I switched to working on control systems for industrial manufacturing customers. To say that I was surprised at the lack of controls in manufacturing would be an understatement – I was appalled! My first project was a new multi-fuel boiler and turbo-generator for a paper mill. The bulk of our control system was focused on drum level control and fuel-air ratio control. Of course, being a paper mill, much of the fuel for the boiler was bark and other waste being burned on a grate. This meant that the whole “fuel leads, air follows” paradigm I was drilled in with utility boilers was really only in place when we were burning oil or pulverized coal in suspension. Anytime we were firing with waste fuels on the grate, we really weren’t worried about a flame out causing a boiler explosion.