Developments in control technologies and field devices, along with robust networks, enable remote process monitoring and control, allowing businesses to place personnel in control centers close to the process or miles away. This new operations, maintenance, production and collaboration facility is now commonly called the Integrated Operations Center or (iOps Center), and the control room contained within is called the iOps Command Center, where operators and maintenance personnel monitor alarms and keep the process operating within design constraints.

In large assets that use remote iOps centers such as oil or gas fields that have well pads, separation units, compression stations and pipelines, there will often be a requirement when control must be executed by operators or maintenance personnel in the field. During a startup or maintenance outage, personnel may be working on a compressor, valve or instrument in these areas; therefore, control will need to be local for personnel and process equipment safety.

The procedures, workflows, authorization and documentation for moving control to and from the field and tracking where an asset is controlled comprise the delegation of the control governance model. Personnel in the iOps Command Center need the ability to delegate control to field personnel and for field personnel to be able to return control back to the iOps Center.

In some process areas, local control rooms may normally have control in steady-state operations but will want the iOps Center to take control when there is an evacuation because of a critical process upset or potentially unsafe weather event. These operations also will require a delegation of control governance model.

Risk management

Process safety management and operational risk management principles for the site should include delegation of control procedures to ensure that best practices are followed in a well-documented governance model. A corporate culture should be established to follow the delegation of control governance models for personnel and asset safety.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard 1910.119 defines 14 elements of a process safety management plan. Delegation of control to the field and back to the iOps Command Center should be part of the process safety management plan. Operating procedures must be defined with appropriate workflows in place. Delegation and reclaiming of control need to be well defined in the emergency planning and response procedures for the enterprise.

Cross-functional governance model

Procedures define what is expected and the required actions to take. The procedure in this case is the delegation of control from the iOps Command Center to the field or from the field back to the iOps Command Center during an event. Workflows provide step-by-step instructions on how that action or procedure is executed and documented. Procedures and workflows should be organized in two different sets of documents. When combined, the two become a governance model that tells employees plainly what to do and how it’s to be performed consistently and safely.

Procedures represent the overall goals and philosophies of a governance model. The procedure should answer when the action should be performed, who is authorized to perform the action, how it affects the business, the risk associated with the action and how it’s documented for optimization analysis and continual improvement.

Workflows should be written based on a company’s business process flows and structure. Training in the step-by-step action of the workflow by all employees involved, such as operators, maintenance planners, field maintenance personnel, production engineers and management, will avoid inconsistency between delegation events. Having the workflow documents available in the iOps Command Center so employees can reference the workflow saves hours of lost production time. Capturing the data around a delegation event of who, when, what and how long can be analyzed to optimize the workflows for future use.

Well written workflows combined with proper training give an operator or a maintenance technician the ability to perform the action with minimal help. Workflows should contain screens shots of the distributed control systems graphics and pictures of the equipment in the field where appropriate.

Operations, maintenance, production

In an iOps Command Center it is likely that operation, maintenance and production of the process units will be organized and grouped together based on the process flow. As an example, an oil and gas company would have wellheads, separators and compression controlled at a console separate from the pipelines, the LNG plant and the logistics terminal.

Each console may have one or two operators controlling the process and monitoring alarms via analytic, situational awareness and process control graphics. The graphics will be based on a standard developed during engineering of the oil and gas asset. These graphic standards should include a method and color scheme for delegation of control. As an example, when delegation of control takes place, changes to operator graphic screens might include a colored border appearing when control is delegated to another location.

When control is delegated to the field for maintenance on a piece of equipment or unit, the corresponding alarms need to be suppressed. The alarms upstream or downstream of that piece of equipment may need to be elevated to a higher priority during the time control is delegated to the field.

Maintenance practices and activities need to account for the possibility of control delegation as a part of the work permitting procedure. If major maintenance activities are being performed on an asset, control of that asset should be delegated to the local operator for safety reasons as well as to aid in maintenance activities by providing the ability to locally test the equipment under service.

Model considerations

  • Track who, when and where;
  • Production considerations:
    • Availability of production assets;
    • Effect on production strategies; and
    • Effect on production plan;
  • Maintenance considerations:
    • Add to work order or work permitting procedure; and
    • Define communications with iOps Command Center personnel;
  • Intelligent handling of alarms:
    • Suppress all alarms except critical alarms when not in primary control; and
    • Acknowledge alarms systemwide to prevent alarm flooding when control is delegated or reclaimed;
  • Delegation of control to the field:
    • Request received from field as part of a maintenance work order; and
    • Communications established and field acceptance of control; and
  • Reacquire control from the field:
    • Send a request;
    • Reclaim upon loss of power or communications with local workstation or mobile worker;
    • Reclaim via administrative rights during abnormal workflow; and
    • Reclaim control in case of critical event.

As technology allows control of a process from ever-increasing distances, procedures and workflows to allow delegation of that control will continue to grow in importance. Any operator, local or remote, needs to assess immediately who is in control of the process. Operators also need detailed procedures for relinquishing or requesting control. Process safety management and operational risk management principles for the site must include delegation of control to ensure that proper consideration is made for this important new requirement.