Capture Operator’s Knowledge Before it's Lost


Believe it or not, an industrial plant regularly depends on the skills of a single human in the execution of manual procedures. Or, if you're lucky, your site might have a small group of operators wherein quality, success and safe operations depends on the group of key individuals, rather than a single person. As long as the key men or women are around and know how to perform specific procedures, having a group of operators will not be a problem. With that being said, however, it is becoming more difficult to find replacements with the aging workers and demographic issues that we face - and this type of dependence is becoming ever more perilous. 

Lack in Skilled Workforce

In a new report titled ‘Global Advanced Process Control Software Market in Chemicals Industry 2016-2020’ Technavio’s market research analysts predict that the global market in Advanced Process Control (APC) software for the chemicals industry will grow steadily, at a CAGR of around 7% during the forecast period. The rising investments in the US chemical industry are expected to drive this market growth during the forecast period.

Because APC technology is manpower intensive and requires extensive technical and domain knowledge, the lack of a skilled workforce is a serious challenge that could influence market progression negatively. As Technavio describes: the lack of skilled workforce that can develop and operate statistical and optimization models, and integrate APC software with legacy automation systems.

Workforce related challenges are not limited to chemical industries. According to an Ernst & Young study, one of the common challenges all verticals within the oil and gas sector currently face is, planning for the sustained availability of a competent workforce over the next five years.

Procedural Automation to the Rescue

The loss of experienced personnel goes beyond the scarcity of skilled labor and poses many challenges related to the loss of knowledge. Knowledge retention is a key factor in maintaining operational safety, sustained productivity during everyday operations, efficient start-ups and shutdowns, and training the next generation. An advanced solution that partly mitigates these challenges is what Yokogawa refers to as ‘Modular Procedural Automation’ (MPA). MPA is a consultative methodology to document and automate procedural operations in continuous processes. MPA is a proven methodology that captures, documents, and implements procedural knowledge gathered from the operational staff before it is lost (due to one or several reasons).

Through automation, MPA enforces consistent operation of the process resulting in improved quality and higher throughput. Operators are able to operate with fewer errors and delays creating maximum utilization - procedural consistency contributes to safe operations by reducing the opportunity for operator error - having well-documented and automated procedures greatly improves personnel transitions. Automating procedures assures adherence to procedures, increases efficiency, which turns out to be a great tool for knowledge retention too.

Capturing Knowledge of the Retiring Workforce

By capturing existing “best practices” from experienced operators and then automating and integrating those best practices into the control system infrastructure, mistakes can be drastically reduced by providing operators guidance in real-time.

Capturing this operational knowledge is very important for dealing with a skilled workforce that is diminishing. MPA provides a methodology for documenting captured knowledge. MPA can be used to distill collective knowledge into best practices, and implement them as reusable and repeatable procedures. Without this ability, captured knowledge is not well managed and simply becomes information on a shelf that is not utilized. Or worse, the knowledge is not captured at all and, in turn, is lost when the operator leaves or retires.

Mitigating Industry Challenges with MPA

MPA can be used to semi-automate or fully automate your procedures and mimic your operators' best practice operations. 

If you are you interested in learning more about how MPA can help your plant become more efficient through an advanced form of automation - or if you are concerned about your senior operators retiring and losing crucial knowledge - download our MPA eBook for free by clicking the image below, and learn how you can better prepare yourself for the future!