At the 2020 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, four industry specialists spoke on how technology can automate operating procedures used in manufacturing facilities.  Industrial procedures in their various forms Industrial procedureshave existed since the dawn of the second industrial revolution.  With the emergence of Industry 4.0, new digital solutions have become available that can enable a new paradigm between automation and manually executed operating procedures.  ​The speakers in this session related their experiences in exploring new technological options to work instructions relative to existing process automation infrastructure.  The session helped attendees reflect on why operators fail to follow written operating instructions, how automation can help eliminate human factors errors, and where Industry 4.0 solutions may enable cost effective alternatives to traditional automation solutions.

The Problem Is Real and the Solution Available

ARC Associate, Mike Williams, opened the session with a short journey through the different industrial revolutions that tied into his own family history, including his own long previous tenure at the Dow Chemical Company.  In doing so, he walked the audience through how industrial procedures were passed on mostly through on-the-job training, verbally, and through written instructions.  Toward the end of the journey he stated, “We still have a disconnect between manual procedures and full automation. There’s still a lot of [manual] activity out there. If you look at a P&IDs, roughly 35 percent of valves have some level of automation. Well, what’s the rest of those valves for, or those motors out there? They’re for startup, shutdown, maintenance and non-continuous activities that happen sometimes on a routine basis, like cleaning in place.  Cleaning the screens on the suction side of a pump is a good example of something that happens routinely.  So, I’m asking myself this fundamental question, ‘Will the Industry 4.0 solutions for digital work instruction become the next breakthrough for human machine performance?’”  

Hard Copies No Longer Legitimate

The fundamental question is, “Will the Industry 4.0 solutions for digital work instruction become the next breakthrough for human machine performance?” According to Mr. Williams, there are over two dozen potential solutions for digital transformation of industrial procedures, from something as simple as Microsoft Word to much more advanced, purpose-built procedural engines. Mr. Williams referenced an ARC Strategy Report, “Digital Transformation of Industrial Procedures,” which articulates a number of technologies available. He pondered, “With all the technology that’s available out there, with all of the operating discipline, behavioral modification type solutions to invoke on our operations staff, why are they not following procedures?”

According to Mr. Williams, there are three stages of a procedure.  It needs to be authored and the content needs to be accurate and version controlled so it can be disbursed properly.  Then the procedure needs to be portable.  Books on the shelf are no longer legitimate.  A lot of procedures are documents sitting somewhere else on a shelf that the operator does not use.  The third item is the asynchronous behavior between executing a procedure manually and all the automation that’s happening around that behavior.

Mr. Williams then walked through the findings of an accident that occurred at a Dow facility in Texas City, Texas involving cleaning a pump screen.  This was done every shift.  In reviewing the events, they found asynchronous behavior  between the execution of that procedure and an advanced control system running around it.  The worker was exposed and unfortunately, he died.  There is technology available both from the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions.  By combining knowledge and the available technology, end users can get an integrated solution that provides a higher level of reliability of human performance.  To solve this problem, manufacturers have to understand what the defects are; why are operators not using procedures; and how to ensure that the procedure is executed properly.” Mr. Williams stated, “You gotta define it before you can digitize. It’s not simply taking a Microsoft Word document and putting it on a mobile device. That’s not digitization, that’s just electronic transfer and display.”

The third thing needed is the ability to translate it or digitize it such that it runs in the real-time world.  And finally, the solution must provide integration between the automation in place to ensure that manual activities are synchronized with the automated activities.

Safety and Regulatory Compliance

Next, Sandy Currie, retired from Dow Chemicals, focused his discussion around the safety and regulatory compliance aspects of procedural automation.  He stated that, ultimately, it gets wrapped up in financial justification. “If you can improve throughput, that’s easy to justify, but how do you justify the minimization of risks? The probability that something might go wrong. That’s something where these automated manual procedures can have a significant impact, but it’s much harder to quantify financially.” Mr. Currie went on to talk about two instances where companies lost about $2 million because procedures weren’t followed properly, and one instance where about 140 people were injured due to chlorine exposure.

One of the many challenges with procedures is that they are written in a way that assumes everything happens normally, something Mr. Currie called the “happy path,” instead of leading the operator through what happens if something doesn’t work properly.  When specifying batch plant operations, more than 50 percent of the work is describing what to do when something breaks. “Most written procedures do not go into that detail.  So, replacing a written procedure from a clipboard to an electronic procedure on glass doesn’t solve the problem.  You have to completely rewrite how you write your procedures, what the procedure contains, and give the operator information on what to do if he encounters a problem in that procedure.  It takes a lot more work, but it is much, much more effective.”  This means that the procedures must be adaptable and software solutions allow for real-time flexibility.  Information, data flows, and actions are the ideal way to define procedural actions.


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Keywords: Digital Transformation, Procedural Automation, NovaTech, Augmented Manual Procedures, Dow, AMP, Linde, ARC Industry Forum, ARC Advisory Group.