Cluttered user interfaces are like rain on a car windscreen, obscuring the most crucial information. As part of the drive to improve this issue, User Experience (UX) has replaced the term User Interface (UI) to describe visualisation methods which support users in decision-making with efficient and effective visual information.
The result is a better-informed user who can make decisions faster and more accurately.
There are countless historical examples of overloading operators with information, resulting in uninformed decisions with catastrophic results. Ineffective control panel graphics, which did not provide overviews of critical systems, partly caused the fire and explosion at Texaco Milford Haven. Additionally, the site’s alarm systems were ill-equipped to deal with an emergency and displayed excessive alerts, which negatively impacted the operators’ ability to respond. The issues created by a cluttered control panel compounded mechanical failures at Three Mile Island, a nuclear power plant in the USA, to disastrous effect.
Recently, a set of standards and guidelines have sought to improve the presentation of information to operators. The end goal of the EEMUA standards is to reduce the likelihood of cascading events and catastrophic consequences with UI best practices.
There was a tendency to pack more and more data and information on each screen as operator interfaces, SCADA, and HMI became more potent through the 80s, 90s and early 00s. Screens would be animated and awash with counter-intuitive colours, resulting in an overload of information thanks to a flood of real-time data presented in intricate diagrams. Complex navigation hierarchies presented in this manner meant separating critical information from noise more challenging.
Yet there is good news. Modern UX design now follows a trend towards more uncomplicated operator displays. Reduced clutter, intuitive navigation, unsaturated colours and optimised alarm management can be easily implemented to improve existing UIs.
Migrating can often be an iterative process that tackles the most inefficient and cluttered displays, intending to impose structure and order on what can otherwise be unintuitive. To understand whether your system might benefit from a modern approach to visualisation, the following can be considered:
- Does your system have many standing alarms that have been present for some time with no resolution?
- Do your user interfaces seek to mimic process and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs)?
- Do you need more than a single click to get important information?
- Do you or your operators ever deal with more than six alarms per hour from their control systems?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you may benefit from reviewing your control system visualisation strategy. Astec has implemented numerous systems in line with the latest standards and guidelines.
The result of making such simple changes is vastly improved operator efficiency. A reduced workload and vastly improved availability of information mean faster response times. In turn, powered by better data to drive accurate decision making, the root cause of issues is also better understood, ensuring rapid and lasting resolutions to operational issues.