May 9, 2012

LSU engineering and construction management students and faculty aided the Center for Operator Performance in Dayton, Ohio, an industry-university consortium, in conducting a series of studies to determine how many alarms a processing plant operator can handle—a common question that process plant managers often ask.

Dr. Craig Harvey, associate professor, LSU Department of Construction Management and Industrial Engineering, along with Beville Engineering David Strobhar helped commission the studies. The studies were conducted to determine whether or not the guidelines that industrial plants already follow were correct and have been recently published in Chemical Processing journal.

The first study involved LSU engineering students using alarm rates of one, two, five and 10 alarms in a 10-minute span on a pipeline simulator. No difference was found in response time with one, two, five or 10 alarm rates. The response time significantly increased with 20 alarms in 10 minutes. These implications were significant enough to prompt a second study involving actual refinery operators and pipeline controllers.

The second study found that real operators were about twice as fast as the students and therefore illustrated the value of a well-trained person.

“The industry has pushed to create standards for how many alarms an operator could handle,” Harvey said. “However, there was no existing empirical evidence to support or disprove alarm standards. These two studies begin to establish a scientific basis for establishing alarm rates an operator can handle but also raise further questions on how to improve controller performance through better displays.”


Article written by Eric Camaradale, communications student worker. For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, College of Engineering, or (225) 578-0092.

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