What is a Field Operator Expected to Know?

The role of process operator requires both knowledge and skill. The field operator is the eyes and ears of the console operator, who is typically located in a centralized control room away from the process units.

So exactly what do field operators need to know to operate their units safely and efficiently? The field operator should understand the process flows and equipment in their units.

Do they know:

  • How feed flow gets from point A to point B?
  • How to walk the line and verify lineups?
  • What types of pumps are in the unit (centrifugal or reciprocating)?
  • What product is flowing through the shell side and tube side of the exchangers?
  • Whether the tower is distillation or absorption?

When the field operator possesses a strong understanding of unit equipment, they can execute effective rounds and troubleshoot potential problems. While in the field conducting rounds, they can use their senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, and touch to identify potential issues which could lead to equipment failures and process upsets.

But, there is much more for the field operator to know than just flows and equipment. Knowing the normal operating parameters for temperatures, pressures, levels, and flows helps field operators to recognize abnormal conditions more easily.

Safety and hazard recognition and accident prevention are critical competencies for all field operators. Company policies and procedures are designed to reinforce safe work practices and protect the workforce and the plant from incidents and accidents. There is a direct correlation between process/equipment knowledge, experience, and hazard recognition. The more you understand about the unit, the better equipped you are to recognize potential hazards and take appropriate action.

Constantly asking questions enables process operators to have a better understanding of their unit and stronger ability to safely react to abnormal situations. Answers can be found in operating manuals, vendor books, and from discussions with fellow operators, engineers, and supervisors. Learning from experienced operators, and sharing information with less experienced operators, builds the team’s unit knowledge and skill level.

Process operators acquire the knowledge and skills they need when there is consistent, reliable, and sustainable training in place. Maintaining a structured approach to unit knowledge and skill requirements is part of ensuring your process operators can perform their duties—from routine to emergency—confidently, safely, and effectively.

Look at your training program and ask these questions:

  • Does your training accurately reflect the tasks the operators perform?
  • Does your training provide operators with opportunity to practice and master the tasks before qualification?
  • Is your training structured to make the operator responsible for their training?
  • Is hazard identification and risk awareness reinforced in your training?
  • Are your operating manuals and other knowledge content available in easy to find, and easy to use, formats?
  • Are your senior operators trained to be effective mentors?

If you would like a more thorough review of your training programs, please contact us. From equipment and process knowledge, to rounds and shift handover, Systran helps organizations improve their training programs to ensure field and console operators have the knowledge and skills needed to perform their jobs safely and effectively.

Reacting to Alarms – How to Stop Swinging from High to Low

Some console operators are content with allowing a level or a flow to swing from high alarm to low alarm, then making adjustments when they get the alarm. Technically the unit is running, but ask yourself these questions:

  • What is causing the flow or level to swing?
  • How is the flow/level swing affecting product quality?
  • How is swing affecting the next unit downstream?
  • Is there an upstream unit with an operator that doesn’t know he/she is impacting you?
  • What other problems go unaddressed or masked while you are focused on chasing alarms?

The operator is there to make moves the automated systems can’t react to effectively. Sometimes, placing a valve in manual to stop the swing can improve your unit’s operation and reduce impact to the downstream unit’s production and quality. Then you can begin working to understand and correct the cause of the problem.

At Systran, we work with your console operators to increase their knowledge, skills, tools, and resources to understand the big picture. This helps your console operators recognize and control situations before they cost you, and your customers, money.

Written by: Gary Sproull, 37 years as an operator in the petrochemical industry

Interested in ways that Systran can help take your operators from good to great? Visit our Operations and Training Simulator Center page to learn more.

No Alarms, Everything On-Spec

To some console operators leaving at shift change with no outstanding alarms, and all the trends appear to be straight lines, is the hallmark of a good shift handover to the next shift. They consider themselves a good console operator.

But, the next shift comes on and the console operator sees that the bottoms temperature is a little higher than usual and the pressure differential across the tower is starting to climb. Knowing the unit, the console operator realizes that the added heat in the bottom is sending more vapor up through the tower. This is causing the pressure differential to increase that, left unchanged, will eventually send the tower off-spec.

Knowing your unit means you understand the normal operating parameters of critical process variables and the consequences when they deviate. Using the tools built into your DCS, you can monitor key process variable trends and address a situation before it becomes a problem.

The previous good console operator could have waited for an alarm and then fixed the problem when the alarm sounded, but the great console operator, using their unit knowledge, proactively addressed the problem and saved the company and downstream units from dealing with off-spec product. No alarms—just knowledge of the unit and a developed skill of being proactive.

Can your company afford to have good console operators, or should you strive to have great console operators? Dynamic process simulators, coupled with goal-driven curriculum, and experienced instructors can develop your operators to increase their knowledge and skills.

Let Systran work with your console operators to increase their knowledge and skills, to use their tools and resources to understand the big picture, recognize and control situations before they cost you money, or worse, a customer.

Written by: Gary Sproull, 37 years as an operator in the petrochemical industry and current Operations Specialist at Systran, Inc.

Interested in ways that Systran can help take your operators from good to great? Visit our Operations and Training Simulator Center page to learn more.

It’s Not Just Your Unit

A lot has been written about the need for better Console Operator Training. With today’s units and plants being integrated and interconnected, console operators need to know and understand more than their own unit—and more than ever before, they need to know and understand the big picture.

    not your unit

  • An upset at an Olefins unit in one plant disrupts the hydrogen supply at a refinery 20 miles away
  • A refinery in Texas loses an LPG treater and a pipeline controller in Oklahoma gets a low flow alarm

We work in a highly integrated operating environment where upsets in one unit, not only affect others in the same plant, but may impact downstream plants and customers miles away. The need to know, understand, and control your unit has never been as important as it is now. A console operator that is proactive, instead of reactive, can save their company and its customers millions of dollars. But it’s not just making moves and silencing alarms; it’s about understanding those moves and their larger impact.

Seeing a valve going open, but the flow staying the same, indicates that something is happening that needs attention. If it is missed, and the valve goes 100% open, the flow cannot be controlled any longer. Having the right knowledge and skills is the difference between identifying an issue and fixing the problem, versus losing the unit and affecting a plant downstream. If your unit goes down, it could be hours, if not days, before every unit downstream gets back to running on-spec.

A good console operator knows their unit. A great console operator knows more than their unit, they understand the impact their actions have on downstream customers, and proactively control situations before they become an upset.

We don’t tell you how to run your units better, we train your team to be more effective operators. We work with your console operators to increase their knowledge and skills, to use their tools and resources to recognize and control situations before they cost you and your customers money.

Written by: Gary Sproull, 37 years as an operator in the petrochemical industry

Interested in ways that Systran can help take your operators from good to great? Visit our Operations and Training Simulator Center page to learn more.