The world is moving more and more online, we have witnessed a digital transformation in all aspects of our lives. The same Digital Transformation that is affecting our personal lives has revolutionized control room operations across the globe. Your capacity to stay on top of this wave of change will ensure that your organization is on the right track to capitalize on the advancements that technology and innovation are bringing forth.

To properly understand how progressive technological advances have transformed the industry it is critical to see how it all started. We will explore the key milestones that changed the industry and transformed control room operations.

Join us in this short history walkthrough and gather insight on how the control room consoles of today got to where they are and let’s chart a path to understand where they might be going.

  1. The Beginning of Control Rooms: Control Consoles Before Computers
  2. The Rise of Digital Computers
  3. The Changes In Process Control and Control Room Operations
  4. Operator Productivity, Boosted by Sound Ergonomic Standards
  5. Early Personal Environment Units
  6. Tresco Personal Environment
  7. Enhancing Operator Efficiency in the Digital Era
  8. The Next Step in Process Monitoring and Controlling Operations

The beginning of Control Rooms: Control Consoles Before Computers

Control rooms trace their roots back to the early 20th century, alongside the rise of mass production in factories.

With the arrival of assembly lines, the need for more efficient methods of monitoring production became apparent. Control rooms emerged as centralized hubs for overseeing these processes, offering a solution that enhanced reliability and elevated production levels.

The evolution of control rooms didn’t meant technological advancements alone, it also required a shift in how operators were being managed. As control rooms enabled a single operator to monitor multiple pieces of equipment and assets simultaneously, operational efficiency soared. However, this efficiency came with the burden of increased workload on operators.

In these early days need to address operator comfort was secondary to efficiency. Ergonomics were not on the radar.

The Rise of Digital Computers

Some of the first American digital computing machines were developed in 1945 due to the need for quick and reliable military computations for projectile trajectories. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC), developed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania, was a significant achievement, as Grace Schultz stated in her article for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, “the ENIAC was not limited to one type of calculation and could solve many different types of problems. As the first automatic electronic digital computing machine, the ENIAC marked the dawn of the Information Age”.

Building on this foundation, Eckert and Mauchly later went on to develop the UNIVAC, with funding from the Census Bureau made possible by the constant inertia and interest these early computational machines had aroused in governmental and public settings. The UNIVAC became the first commercially available electronic computer, used by both businesses and governments.

The advancements of these computers implied a broader spectrum of monitoring, calculating, and controlling technologies that were made available for process control operations to take advantage of, implying a slow but consistent migration from gauges, dials, levers, and hand wheels into electronically controlled buttons and switches.

The changes In process control and control room operations

The Miniaturization of Digital Computers

The digital revolution wasn’t confined to the realm of government and military applications. Throughout the 1960s, a new wave of companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Hewlett-Packard (HP) emerged, pushing the boundaries of miniaturization. These companies weren’t the first to create personal computers, but they were instrumental in developing smaller, more affordable digital computers that brought immense capabilities to various industries.

This shift towards miniaturized computers had a profound impact on control room design.

No longer confined to vast rooms dedicated solely to housing hulking mainframes, the core computing components could now be integrated directly within the consoles themselves. This wasn’t just a space-saving measure; it opened up a world of possibilities for process control operations tailored to specific needs.

This newfound flexibility empowered operators to handle a wider range of monitoring and control tasks simultaneously, fostering a more efficient and streamlined workflow. The control room itself could be transformed from a sterile, technology-dominated environment into a strategically designed workspace that prioritized operator comfort, information accessibility, and ultimately, enhanced process control.

The Introduction of CRT Monitors

Although the technology began development as early as 1897, the first units for commercial use were introduced to the market around 1959.

A cathode-ray tube (CRT) is a specialized vacuum tube containing electron guns that emit electron beams. These beams are manipulated to display images on a phosphorescent screen, forming the basis of early television and computer monitors.

What Changed in Control Room Operations
  1. Enhanced Functionality
    The advent of CRT monitors, combined with the introduction of miniaturized computers marked a significant advancement in control room console technology. These monitors facilitated the integration of additional functionalities into control room consoles. Gradually, traditional gauges and switches were replaced by interfaces and operating systems, offering greater functionality and allowing for more detailed data monitoring through the consoles.
  2. Improved Fault Detection
    The transition to CRT monitors brought about an improved capacity to detect subtle system faults that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. The enhanced display capabilities and the ability to visualize data in real time enabled operators to identify and address delicate system issues more effectively, thereby enhancing overall operational reliability.

The Rapid Adoption of Technology

The impact of these early digital machines spread rapidly. Industries across the board, from engineering to finance, began to see the potential of digital computing to automate tasks, improve efficiency, and analyze vast amounts of data. This rapid adoption culminated in groundbreaking achievements like NASA’s 1969 Moon Landing, a feat unimaginable without the immense computational power these new machines provided.

Even more relevant to our industry, proving the immeasurable value of control rooms and control room consoles for optimizing and evolving control processes in all industries that require such advanced surveillance of their production line.

Prioritizing Comfort

The appeal for ergonomics in the workplace gained traction as machinery and equipment evolved, demanding changes in operator roles and tasks.

Organizations began to understand that even the most advanced equipment couldn’t prevent fatigue-induced mistakes that could halt entire processes and incur significant costs.

This realization highlighted the need to prioritize operator comfort and empower them to perform at their peak throughout their shifts. As a result, ergonomic principles for design emerged. While the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) itself was founded in 1947, its ergonomics standards committee (ISO/TC 159) wasn’t established until 1961.

This committee has since developed numerous ergonomic standards covering various aspects of workplace design, including the ISO 11064 series specifically for control room design. Developed during the 1990s, these standards aimed to provide a baseline for dimensions, viewing angles, operator position, and more. By adopting these principles, facilities could create optimized environments that boost operator performance during stressful scenarios and long shifts.

Operator productivity, boosted by sound ergonomic standards

Ergonomic standards, such as ISO 11064, became integral to the design of control room furniture. These standards prioritized user-centered design, focusing on optimizing operator comfort and efficiency.

The shift towards ergonomic standards brought a heavy emphasis on operator ergonomics within control room console design. Various factors within control room operations were considered to enhance operator performance and focus while mitigating fatigue.

Features to optimize focus and comfort

Sit stand functionality

In the 1990s, the introduction of sit-stand functionality revolutionized control room furniture design. Electronically controlled actuators enabled precise parallel leg movements, allowing operators to adjust the height of their work surfaces.

However, this trend didn’t gain traction in North America until the late 2000s when James A. Levine, MD, PhD. a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, exposed the dangers of prolonged sitting and its harsh impact on the human body.

Control room lighting

As control room design evolved, the importance of optimized lighting solutions became increasingly apparent. This is reflected in the ISO 11064-6 standard, environmental requirements for a control room, which among other environmental factors, emphasizes the need for lighting that caters to the specific visual demands of control room tasks.

Remember how the rise of ergonomic principles led to the creation of specialized workstations tailored to operator needs? Localized lighting solutions are an extension of this ergonomic philosophy. With multiple operators working in close proximity on various tasks, traditional one-size-fits-all lighting wouldn’t suffice. The potential for glare and disruptions to other operators needed to be addressed.

Enter the Three Lighting Categories

  1. Ambient lighting
    Provides general illumination for the control room, ensuring a comfortable overall light level.
  2. Task lighting
    Focused illumination directed at specific workstations, or sections of the console, allowing operators to adjust the brightness to suit their individual needs and the task at hand. This eliminates the issue of glare on neighboring consoles.
  3. Therapeutic lighting
    Focused on the impact of light on circadian rhythms. By incorporating adjustable color temperatures or mimicking natural light cycles, therapeutic lighting can help improve operator alertness and well-being during long shifts.

Early Personal Environment Units

As operational demands evolved, control rooms underwent continual advancements aimed at optimizing workflows and enhancing operational efficiency.

In this context, the industry began integrating new features and functionalities into control room equipment targeted towards improving operator comfort during long work shifts, guided by ergonomic principles outlined in standards such as ISO 11064 (Principles for the Design of Control Centers) and ISO 9241 (Ergonomic Requirements for Office Work with Visual Display Terminals).

Simplifying Human-Machine Interaction

These early personal environment units proved to be an innovative approach aimed at enhancing operator comfort, simplifying human-machine interaction within control room environments. Providing an intuitive interface, this unit allowed users to access a comprehensive range of features directly from their control room console, streamlining operations and reducing clutter within process control consoles.

Tresco Personal Environment

Diving into the 21st century Tresco Consoles designed the Personal Environment Unit, strategically developed to bring all the creature comforts installed within our custom consoles to the fingertips of the operator.

Effectively lowering the amount controls and interfaces within the operator’s workstations, letting them focus on their critical tasks.

Powered by touch functionalities, the Tresco PEU provides a customizable interface for the operator to access the height adjustment functionalities, lighting, temperature, speakers, and more.

Programmable features such as under-counter lighting, worksurface custom user heights, heating temperatures, and speaker volumes are all linked into the system.

Interested on how our Personal Environment Unit works?

Enhancing Operator Efficiency In The Digital Era

As the process control supervisors and operators navigate the complexities of digital transformation, one critical aspect stands out. The modernization of control room consoles.

In response to this evolving technlogy, Tresco Consoles focused on providing value to your operations. For the past 40 years, Tresco Consoles has developed console solutions tailored to the needs of your operations. We aim to ensure efficiency and maximized operator comfort, trusting each operator has what they need to be successful in both, high-stress and standard operations

Main Goals Pursued by Tresco in Control Room Console Design

  1. Combatting Operator Fatigue
  2. Real Time Monitoring and Processing
  3. Empowering operators in emergency situations
  4. Futureproofing the control room
  5. Optimizing Operational procedures
  6. Simplified Multitasking
  7. Marrying form and functionality

The Next Step in Process Monitoring and Control Operations

The process control industry is constantly evolving with new technological innovations, optimized procedures, improved operator ergonomics and human-machine interaction.

These advancements are driving the energy generation, transmission, and distribution as well as petrochemical process control operations towards more efficient monitoring and control of organizational assets with fewer resources.

The following are some innovative advancements in the industry that could transform your control room in the years to come:

  1. Smarter Use of Data
    Increased access to data will require operators to have greater visibility and control. Organizations are leveraging data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help extract valuable insights from this data.
  2. Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
    As our planet faces environmental challenges, sustainability is a top priority. Industries aim to reduce emissions and enhance energy efficiency. Process control systems play a crucial role in measuring and managing emissions while optimizing production processes.
  3. Industry 4.0 Integration
    The integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 principles into process control technology is transformative. These technologies enable real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and efficient resource utilization.
  4. Cybersecurity Measures
    With increased connectivity, robust cybersecurity measures are essential to protect critical infrastructure. Ensuring secure communication, data integrity, and access control is paramount for process control operations.
  5. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
    AR and VR technologies enhance operator training, maintenance, and troubleshooting. They provide immersive experiences, aiding control room operators to simulate and navigate complex scenarios.
  6. Customization and Scalability
    Process control solutions must be adaptable to specific industry needs. Scalable systems allow for seamless expansion and integration with existing and forthcoming infrastructure.
  7. Accurate Measurements and Reliable Controls
    While advanced technologies like digital twins and AI are essential, accurate measurements and reliable controls remain the foundation. Industry 4.0 technologies complement traditional automation solutions for an optimized approach.

The convergence of data-driven insights, sustainability goals, and technological advancements will continue to shape the future of process control operations across diverse industries. And Tresco Consoles will continue to evolve designing innovative features and optimizing manufacturing processes to ensure we deliver the ultimate control room console solution.