Human Factors Research from the Center for Operator Performance
In what began as an ad hoc discussion of the need to address the human factors in process control at a National Petroleum Refiners Association meeting in the fall of 2005, the Center for Operator Performance (COP) has identified and funded numerous pre-competitive research projects to enhance the safety and environmental performance of process industries through the improvement of operator performance.
- Color Use Projects (200702 and 201003S) suggest that while misuse of color can slow down information processing, the specific presentation of the information given the decisions to be made directly affects performance, and probably more dramatically than color. However, the use of red for stopped and warning showed that it took 25% longer to find alarms when red was also used to indicate motor/valve status as when it was used for alarming alone.
- Display Content I (200903) investigated how the information operators need to make decisions should be mapped to operating graphics in order to make recommendations for display redesign.
- Display Evaluation Toolkit I (201001) analyzed human performance of two interfaces at different levels of workload. The analysis examined previously established metrics of speed and accuracy and additional measurements that influence performance (situation awareness, eye movement, and subjective workload ratings). The work continued in Display Evaluation Toolkit II (201201) that tested several human factors techniques on old and new style graphics to show how performance differences can be measured. Some of the techniques are simple paper-and-pencil, while others utilize the Center’s eye tracking software.
- Optimum Pump Symbol Size (201105S) suggests maximum discrimination and information transfer are obtained with a symbol 0.48” for normal viewing distances.
Topic: PROCEDURES AND JOB AIDS
- Decision Aids (201002S) found that, the use of checklists, procedures, and/or line demarcation can reduce the probability of an improper valve line-up from near 50% to less than 5%.
- Knowledge Management Projects (200901P and 201004) developed software that can read procedures and convert into a tabular format. The Procedure Analyzer can be used for procedure automation or creating easier to use procedure modules.
- Large Screen Performance I (201203S) found that information on a larger screen placed further away can result in longer response times than when the data is closer. Further, the information in the upper left and lower right sections of the large screen took the longest to process.
- Alarm Rates Projects (200801 and 200904) suggest novice operators can handle 10 alarms in ten minutes as easily as lower rates. Expert operators respond to alarms twice as fast as novices, but only at high (20 alarms / 10 minutes) rates. At low rates, their performance is similar to the novice. Learn more about these projects in the December 2011 Chemical Processing article How Many Alarms Can an Operator Handle?
- Event Prediction Projects (200902 and 201103) provided identifying precursors that lead up to an unplanned event and suggested guidelines for developing displays and navigational aids to support operators.
- Expert Operator (200601P): Nature of expertise in control of continuous processes suggested automation can diminish expertise by inflicting three levels of damage: (1)disable the expertise of those who are already skilled, (2) slow the rate of learning, and (3) teach dysfunctional skill that will actively interfere with the ability to achieve expertise, by (a) limiting operators ability to understand relationships and identify data shifts, (b) hindering the ability to understand how process works by making it invisible, (c) not requiring the operator to form their own assessment by removing them from the process and only providing recommendations and alerts, and/or (d) hindering the ability to spot anomalies and patterns by removing variance from representations.
- Effectiveness of Scenario-Based Training and the DMX Train the Trainer Video. If you want operators to be good decision makers, then they need to practice making decisions. That is the purpose of Decision Making Exercises (DMX) (200703) adapted from the military for console operators. The exercises can be done in an hour, allowing training to occur before or after the normal shift, not requiring the operators to come in on a day off.
- Experts Use of Display Cues Projects (201101P and 201104) found that use of trend data was critical to expert decision making, raising issues of those locations that do not use trends.
- Mental Models (201102P): Causal Mental Models of Plant Operations demonstrated graphically how experts use deeper layers of mental model to troubleshoot process.
- Simulator Survey (200701): Effective Simulator Usage Research has shown that neither (1) high fidelity nor (2) high user favorability ratings guarantee transfer to actual job/task.
Topic: JOB DESIGN
- Fatigue Data Mining (201005) found that, at eight continuous days worked, the probability of making a mistake doubles. At 11 days in a row, it increases by orders of magnitude.
Complete reports and raw data available in the Members-Only section
Alarm Formatting (201302): Drs. Craig Harvey and Laura Ikuma of Louisiana State University will be evaluating current methods of presenting alarm information and making recommendations of new approaches that will improve alarm identification and operator response
Display Content II (201204): Dr. Chris Hale of Georgia Tech continues development of techniques for the determination of display content and hierarchy structure.
Display Design Handbook (201202): Dr. Lesley Strawderman of Mississippi State University developing Guidelines and Decision aids for turning raw data into meaningful information
Event Prediction III (201304): Dr. Thomas Edgar of the University of Texas will continue research to assist operators in early event detection and mitigation
Hand-helds (201303): Dr. Subhashina Gunapathy of Wright State University, Hand-helds, will be assessing the presentation of intelligent information on mobile devices and the applicability of this technology in process control
Large Screen Performance II (201205S): This will be an introductory study that will experimentally quantify differences of performing a process control task (e.g., maintaining tower temperature) with information spread across two small monitors versus on one larger monitor.
Training Methods (201301P): Drs. Beth Blickensderfer and Kelly Neville of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute will be assessing training processes in the petrochemical industry and comparing to DoD standards
- Data Mining for Troubleshooting process operations
- Integration of non-control data for console operators
- Enhancing the use of large screen monitors
- Creation of human factors scorecard for plant operation
View the Research Proposal Submission Guidelines (202KB PDF)