Involving Operators in HMI Design
On a project I did a long-time ago (back when dinosaurs were still roaming the earth) was one to re-purpose a plant area that had been idle for several years. The "new" operators had bid on this job thus they came from several different plant areas, brought different DCS backgrounds and different HMI experiences, and a variety of opinions about what the new graphics should look like, navigate, etc. Now this was a decade or two before NAMUR & EEMUA guidelines so we decided to use a low-tech solution to involve the operators in the HMI design. We held a short training session to explain the systems HMI capabilities and features. Then we bought some large white boards on easels and a few rolls of different colors of transparent plastic (this we used to determine background color). We also bought sheets of the plastic that sticks to smooth surfaces but is easily removed and cut-out a whole library of the systems graphic library symbols, faceplates, deviation bars, etc. We set it up in a room adjacent to the control room where these operators were assigned until the plant area retrofit was completed. One shift of operators would put together a graphic; other shifts would edit it (sometimes starting over). It took awhile for them to work through the first couple of graphics but eventually they reached agreement, took a photo, printed it out and started creating a story-board of the graphic hierarchy. Each graphic was accompanied by 5x7 note cards with any descriptions they felt they wanted to communicate. We implemented the “operator designed & approved” graphics, user-keys, alarm groups, etc. almost verbatim. I can honestly say that “Start Up” was made much easier because the operators were working with “their” HMI. Thus, to the question, “When is the best time to involve operators?” I would answer, “EARLY, VERY VERY EARLY!” But I would add this one caveat, when you involve the operators do it to make the project better. If you are involving the operators because someone said you should, the operators will know it’s a sham and they will find a way to torpedo some part of your future.