Human Centred Design Drives Emerson’s New Technology Development

06 February 2010

Five years ago Emerson Process Automation established a research institute to design its next generation automation and control systems. The emphasis was placed on driving simplifications that are badly needed if automation systems are to adapt to the demographics of future users. Peter Zornio, Emerson’s chief strategic officer, described the vision at his company’s office in Rijswijk, The Netherlands.

Peter Zornio and Robert Sharp
Peter Zornio and Robert Sharp

Robert Sharp, the newly appointed president of Emerson Process Management Europe, said the current situation in the process industries was a dilemma, for two reasons: demographics and the environment. The industry, like all engineering disciplines, is struggling to attract new talent and must make do with fewer skilled persons in the workforce. It is mainly for this reason that Emerson began to look at concepts to improve the usability of its instruments and control systems, and founded the Human Centred Design (HCD) Institute.

Emerson began the programme in co-operation with Carnegie Mellon University, and has now trained 60 of its employees in the development area. HCD, Mr. Zornio stressed,  is not simply interviewing customers, or doing focus group research, but looking at the whole control concept to eliminate unnecessary work and reduce the complexity of using technology.

He compared it to the situation with personal computers in the early days of that technology. Virtually the only people who knew how to work them and configure them were specialists, or in the contemporary vernacular, “geeks.” But today, many people are obliged to used PCs, and many of them are not specialists. They are people who say, “I don’t want to know how it works. I just want to know that it works.”

“We’re not geeks anymore,” Mr. Zornio said, identifying himself with the men and women who must run the control systems in the industry. “Automation systems need to be made so non-specialists can work with them. It’s like PCs — they used to be for geeks only, but now everybody needs to use them.”

The disappearing geeks

“Workforce demographics are a new and real challenge to our industry,” said Mr. Zornio. He quoted figures from the Society of Petroleum Engineers, which projects 40% of its workforce are at retirement age in 2010. The economic downturn has increased the amount of skilled employees leaving companies, for their own reasons or for retirement. Traditional organisations and jobs are changing to become less specialised, and more generalised. Unmanned oil platforms are a good example of this — entire operations are being run without any people involved at all.

And in many parts of the world, Africa and the Middle East, for example, there are not many specialised workers.

All of this is in contrast to what is happening in the industry. Plants are getting larger and more complex. “Today’s petroleum plants are twice the size as the ones built in the past,” Mr. Zornio said. petroleum plants have become petroleum complexes. Process automation technology is accelerating, trying to keep up with the pace of development. “Today’s transmitters have more computing power than the first DCS controller,” he said.

The result is a “productivity paradox” for the process automation industry. There are fewer incoming workers and more retiring workers. There are larger, more complex processes, and more inexperienced workers and fewer specialists.

Mr. Zornio says Emerson’s customers have told them

“If it requires high maintenance and high technical skills, it is less attractive to us.”

“We don’t want our operators to have high levels of training and expertise.”

“The issues these days…is that there is too much information from automation and control. How should we manage it? The system should take data and convert it to information that leads to knowledge that allows for decision making and execution.”

And this chilling story: When an ethylene reactor exploded at a petrochemical plant on the Texas Gulf Coast, an investigation found 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. The accident was attributed to operator error.

HCD Institute

Considerations such as these, Mr. Zornio said, led to the establishment of the Human Centred Design Institute five years ago, in co-operation with Carnegie Mellon University.

The process, he says, begins and ends with Emerson’s customers.

“It is not based on traditional customer interviews or focus group research,” he said. “And it is not just feature/function driven, or focused on screen development.”

It is a multi-disciplined undertaking, he explained. User personas, stakeholder maps, along with intensive observational research, usability testing and heuristics analysis are key elements of the practice.

Job “Personas” and Stakeholder maps, he explained, provide insight to functional roles and information needs, which guide interface design strategies for “uncluttered At-a Glance” field device status and frequently used task shortcuts.

Over 100 customers were interviewed to “get inside their heads.” HCD developed Personas and Stakeholder Maps to define the ecosystem of a plant, including how users interact with technology, and how the design of products affects their productivity.

“They provide the insight to blend the disciplines of industrial, graphical and human interface design into products which are easier to use,” he said.

“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,” said Mr Zornio.

“Process control technologies have come a long way in the past 40 years. But the industry has invested almost exclusively on feature and technology enhancement, instead of designing around how people actually use the technology. We believe it’s time technology began serving people, instead of the other way around.”

He said his company has demonstrated its commitment to the concept and reduced product complexity with the announcement of its new  DeltaV™ S-series digital automation system hardware,  and more than 50 new field Device Dashboards.

Emerson uses this drawing as a logo to represent electronic marshalling.
Emerson uses this drawing as a logo to represent electronic marshalling.

“We observed that customer project engineering and design processes across the industry put too much emphasis on locking down designs very early in the project, often before the process design was complete,” he said.

“Not only does this increase FEED and Detailed Design cost and time, it also exposes the project to increased labour and potentially significant change order costs during construction. Additionally, the existing wiring processes were time consuming and laborious…and ripe for an innovative approach.” 

Emerson’s new DeltaV S-Series of hardware gives customers and engineering contractors more flexibility in I/O engineering thanks to a new concept he calls “Electronic Marshalling.”

“Hard-wiring each device as a unique connection from field to controller and every contact in between is eliminated, which translates into less engineering up front and fewer change orders later in the project.

“This could revolutionise I/O and project engineering,” he said.

Emerson has also turned its attention to day-to-day operations, focusing on the repetitive tasks operators and maintenance staff perform and how they interface with field devices.

“We evaluated device interfaces across the industry and found a common problem,” said Mr. Zornio.

“Routine steps which operators and maintenance personnel perform frequently were cumbersome, confusing and illogically laid out. It’s an endemic problem throughout the industry. Based on user input, we have overhauled Emerson’s Device Dashboard designs to improve speed and accuracy of confidently performing these tasks.”

Wireless communications is an example of new technology that reduces the complexity of automation, he said. It was one of the first programmes of the HCD, and one of the results is THUM, an upgrade module that converts any HART instrument to a wireless device. It makes possible new measurement points.

Wireless valve position monitors also deliver previously unavailable equipment position data of valves, sliding-stem regulators, safety relief valves, and safety showers.

DeltaV S-series

“Automation’s goal is to enhance production, not get in its way,” said Mr. Zornio.

The goal of all projects is to get from beginning to end on time, on budget, and safely with a quality project.

There are many things that get in the way: design refinements, on site realities, and changing requirements during the project, to name a few.

“We need to learn how to focus on the task to be done, rather than the project,” he said. It is similar to the “lean manufacturing” approach.

Getting just one I/O point installed takes a tremendous amount of engineering and labour. And there is much interdependence, which cause delay when changes occur.

It was for this reason that Emerson developed its new DeltaV S-series, to streamline the engineering of the system. The control and I/O subsystems have been redesigned to yield what Emerson calls “I/O on demand.”

I/O on demand, as Mr. Zornio explains it, is an “automation breakthrough” to eliminate the intensive pre-engineered work associated with I/O.

“I/O on demand is what you want, when you want it, where you want it,” he said.

With I/O on demand, users decide what type of I/O they want – Wireless, Foundation™ fieldbus, HART®, AI, AO, DI, DO, DP, T/C, or RTD.

Then they can decide when they want the I/O, whether for late project changes, during start-up, during operation, or temporary installations;

Finally they can decide where they want the I/O, whether in a rack room, remote locations, hazardous areas, safety systems, or harsh environments.

Electronic marshalling

Electronic marshalling is perhaps the most talked about feature of the new I/O concept.

Mr. Zornio boasts that it is “a powerful new technology that streamlines design and installation for users.”

The THUM module adapts to any HART transmitter to make it wireless.
The THUM module adapts to any HART transmitter to make it wireless.

The approach is said to eliminate two-thirds of the wiring and connections needed by today’s conventional marshalling cabinets. All this comes about with the new single channel CHARacterisation ModuleS (CHARMS).

CHARMS relay I/O information to a DeltaV controller via an Ethernet backbone. The electronic method eliminates the need for users to wire I/O to specific controller I/O cards, yet provides single channel integrity and flexibility down to the channel (not I/O card) level. This makes projects simpler and easier to engineer and implement.

Mr. Zornio says another significant benefit from electronic marshalling is dealing with change.

“Whereas traditional project engineering requires major time and cost in changing rack-room I/O wiring and terminations, as process design is refined during project execution and construction, electronic marshalling makes changes easy and eliminates re-wiring,” he says.

“Simply terminate the field wires, insert the CHARM and electronically marshal the signals. It dramatically simplifies the I/O and marshalling design process.”

He says the electronic marshalling concept allows process manufacturers to shorten project schedules. It makes it easy to make late project changes.

All the CHARM modules are identical. An engineer can carry a pocket full of spares.

Emerson will build intrinsic safety barriers directly into the CHARM modules and make them available by the end of 2010.

Wireless for control

If electronic marshalling simplifies I/O wiring simpler, wireless networking, by eliminating the wires altogether, makes it even simpler than that.

The big question on everybody’s mind is, Can wireless really replace wired networks?

It is a huge opportunity for work reduction and simplification, but will the industry trust it — that is the big question.

Mr. Zornio thinks Emerson has the answer, and it is positive.

“Over the past three years, wireless has proven to be robust in process environments,” he said. “Thousands of customers have tested wireless in the toughest applications…where even wires didn’t work.”

Up until now, wireless has been an add-on after the project is finished. But that may change soon.

It is readily deployed for monitoring applications, but for full industrial control it needs to have redundancy. For this reason Emerson has released equipment to provide this function.

Full redundancy protects the wireless network from any single point of failure by allowing primary failover to ensure that data are delivered in the event of a malfunction. 

The new hardware include redundant Wireless I/O, power and communications and a redundant Smart Wireless Remote Link. The Remote Link can be mounted in class zone 0; it links the wireless field network into a DeltaV system which makes an optimised PID available for wireless control.

The full redundancy devices are based on the WirelessHART standard and deliver 99.9% reliability because of the self-organising nature of the network. Devices that conform to the specification can sense measurements at update rates up to once per second. For network efficiency WirelessHART allows exception reporting: devices only communicate a measurement value if it has changed significantly since the last communication or if the time since the last communication has exceeded a required reporting time. Exception reporting is done to optimise battery life.

Emerson cites two recent installations that have demonstrated the effectiveness of wireless control.

At bioprocess technologies supplier Broadley James, WirelessHART pH and temperature transmitters control a single-use disposable bioreactor. “We conducted batch runs using mammalian cell culture,” said Scott Broadley, president of Broadley James. “The observed pH and temperature control using wireless measurements was equivalent to that achieved using wired transmitters.” 

Similar results were seen at another installation at the University of Texas where Stripper and Absorber Control is done using WirelessHART transmitters. Column pressure control and heater stream flow control using wireless transmitters provided the same dynamic response and comparable performance to that achieved using wired transmitters.
Both installations use an enhanced PID algorithm for wireless devices. The algorithm is claimed to deliver high accuracy control in an exception reporting environment.

THUM™ wireless adapters

Makers of HART instruments never get tired of saying that their instruments have rich diagnostics and process data, yet “…this valuable information goes unused because legacy systems are not equipped to receive HART communications.”

Enter the THUM adapter. It installs on existing HART® field instruments to turn them into wireless instruments which “frees up diagnostics and process information that had previously been inaccessible in wired legacy system installations.”

Dashboards give an "at a glance" overview of important process parameters.
Dashboards give an "at a glance" overview of important process parameters.

It can retrofit most two or four wire HART devices, without special power requirements. Such adapted devices operate as any other WirelessHART device in the network.

While it is often too expensive and complicated to access this data through traditional wired means, upgrading devices with the THUM adapter is an easy and cost-effective way to “see” the valuable diagnostic and process information.

Emerson is positioning its THUM adapter for predictive maintenance applications, through its AMS™ Suite software. “Industry experts estimate that 75% of control valves are unnecessarily removed from service for maintenance.

The Smart Wireless THUM Adapter with AMS ValveLink® software can enable Fisher digital valve controllers with added capabilities including in-service valve testing, alert monitoring, and valve position trending.

At the Chevron Phillips chemical plant in Sweeny, Texas, USA, the Smart Wireless THUM adapter is enabling extra capabilities for Micro Motion® Coriolis flowmeters that are used in fiscal accounting of product transfer between Chevron Phillips and an adjacent petroleum refinery.

“The required proving for fiscal transfer flowmeters is time consuming and a big expense for the plant,” said Stephen Fair, Instrument Measurement Planner at Chevron Phillips.

“To ease this issue, we plan to confirm our ability to extend the time intervals between meter provings by trending data from the Micro Motion meter verification tool against data from proving reports. Adding to the extended interval savings, use of the Smart Wireless THUM adapter on the remote flowmeters is making it possible for us to launch meter verification from the plant control room rather than making trips to the field. The adapters will also act as repeaters for other devices being added to the wireless network.”

Fieldbus power

Another area Emerson has been actively involved in is the simplification of fieldbus wiring.

Even though fieldbus networks such as Fieldbus Foundation have managed to reduce the clutter of I/O wiring, there is still a lot of work to do in installing the networks. For example, power supplies have to be sized properly and the power distribution engineered, due to limitations in each fieldbus segment.

Power conditioning must be designed and provided in redundant configurations. Troubleshooting is complex, with third party software and diagnostics involved.

Emerson’s idea of simplifying this is to incorporate the fieldbus power conditioners into the H1 card. This eliminates the third party power conditioners, bulk power supplies for H1 networks, and as a result, many cabinets and much engineering.

As an example, Emerson cites a large fieldbus project it recently worked on with its new equipment. The project had 2,501 segments that required 5,002 H1 power conditioners. The equipment required 32 cabinets.

The S-series H1 cards eliminated all H1 power conditioners, all cabinet drawings, all cabinet wiring, all cabinet factory acceptance tests, and special training and equipment for segment diagnostics.

The integrated power management lowers the costs and the engineering required to install the fieldbus networks, and the built-in diagnostics eliminates the need for special tools.

Device Dashboards

Another recent product of the HCD is a family of “Device Dashboards” for Emerson’s AMS Suite.

The dashboards are interfaces that are designed to provide, in one glance, a clear view of everything that users need to evaluate, diagnose, and configure a field device.

Each dashboard, Emerson says, has embedded expert guidance in them to streamline the most important and frequent tasks performed by plant operations, engineering, and maintenance personnel.

The new displays elevate traditional device interfaces to the human-centric dashboard. 

The dashboard are intended to streamline operators’ routine scanning of plant assets.

All landing screens follow a similar format, including red-yellow-green device status graphics to alert users and enable a direct link to graphical diagnostic and troubleshooting help. The same screens show a graphical display of the primary variable of devices; and shortcuts to most often-used tasks.

If desired, more experienced users can access manual set-up data and more detailed information.

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