“What does Operational Collaboration Mean for my Modern Supervisory System?”
Last week I travelled to Western Australia, a state where there is a significant mining boom, and a challenge of how to operate it’s plants with a 3 way changing market:
· The need to be agile to maximize production, which drives a push towards streamlining “Value Generating Assets”.
· The shortage of skill sets and experience
· The changing demographic of the workforce to a younger more “digitally native” aware personalAs I spoke with people in the industry from engineering to operations, the topics I have been discussing in this blog over the last couple of months were confirmed. It does require a different thinking on how to put a system together, and not just different technologies but also an awareness in the design of the system of the constraints these new dynamics bring. This is calling for a rethink of operational practices and collaboration in real-time, to enable the “Flexible Operational Team Work” required, this goes beyond “Operational Centers” it is a new level teamwork, which will require a new thought pattern when designing the operational systems.
In the past we have run our plants and systems in a isolated or independent way with planning looking across them, but this was at best a daily evaluation/plan but if we are to really get the full agility, and performance many leading companies across the world are looking at the industrial production capacity in a more holistic manner. This we started to talk about with the concept of “Federation” but will expand on in latter blogs.
The skill shortage and especially experience shortage continues to come to the surface when I discuss directions in companies thinking, and constraints which effect how they run, and therefore the changes needed in their operational practices. The fact that experience cannot be assumed so intuitive learning online, and access to experience in knowledge, people etc, we have covered this at length in earlier blogs.
So we are seeing a different thinking from operational execution across a plant or plants. Companies are looking at “Operational Centers” which span multiple plants assets. In refining we have seen this huge operational centers started appearing in the last 10 years, but when you look at “transport” such as airports, and railways we have seen them for a while also in the water utilities industry. If you walk into the Barcelona Airport control center it is a very large control room with huge screens in front, and then operational work stations covering every aspect of the airports operations. This is instead of many control rooms in plants or terminals. At the back of the room their “collaboration rooms” used to discuss situations with experts, where operational people can be drawn into discussions with experts, and it is only a couple of steps to get access to information, and other people. We have seen the same in Power in Eskom’s (South Africa’s ) power utility looking across their 22 power plants.
But when I really speak to teams, and customers, and people step back, the “Operational Center” is only a stepping stone to a new operational paradigm of the “Flexible Operational Team” the diagram starts to illustrate this. This shows from the Operational Center which is permanently manned but this person or persons become the “quarterback” call the plays, and aligning the people across the team into execution of activities. Utilizing the user interfaces below in the plants which traditionally were manned but now are moving to transiently manned.
Also the introduction of the plant team being “active/ roaming” so they have personal devices for notification and interaction, and the ability to go to a local UI maybe a machine or plant room, and “take on control” in a smooth safe manner, to execute the task/ activity and move then pass back control to the Operational Center and move on.
This is a dynamic/ flexible team; able to do more jobs, and respond to different situations, but to achieve this system must incorporate “exception based awareness”. Conditions in the plant must “pro-actively raise awareness” to Operational control room, it must provide operational procedure recommendations to the operational center and to the team members. An alarm is one form, but to understand a developing condition and trigger an automatic investigation, and procedure so awareness all the way to the experts is key so as an operational person comes aware, these people are already aware and active.
An import concept in this “Flexible Operational Team” is the harnessing of the external experts, these could be local or remote and these experts have different skills and expertise, which the operational center can call on naturally, and have them actively interact with the plant or other experts. Providing expertise/ experience on hand, today this hard to pull together but as we move into this new operational paradigm the interaction and sharing must become a natural act. The different team members are naturally aware of which expertise is online, their capability, and the ability share, interact at a point of click. The foundation to this “Flexible Operational Teamwork” is the concept of a “Real-time Virtual Situation Room” (will expand in the coming weeks) the expert is probably automatically interacting or aware of the developing situation, they are able to access, see the situation over plants, with focus, and context in what ever state they are in (roaming, desktop, web etc).
The concepts here are not new, as we co-ordinate across these teams today but they must become more active and real-time. While technologies and product are evolving to make this more possible, infrastructure like bandwidth is allowing the experts to be anywhere, the full advantage will only be realized when people start designing this flow, and interaction naturally into their systems.Food for thought as we evolve our systems, and the concepts of a Real-time Virtual Situation Room and Operational Innovation will become common concepts, we will discuss in the coming weeks.