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Plant and Equipment Wellness, Part 1: Observing Variability

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What Keeps Engineers Awake at Night:
Advances in Documentation and Training

As you chemical engineers toss and turn, the words 'liability,' 'risk,' 'preventible accident,' 'catastrophic event' are running through your head. You don't need to count sheep -- you need to get up in the morning and arrange for viable, technically focused documentation and training for your chemical equipment and lines.

It's a fact of life that as you, the engineering manager, advance in your profession, you will be farther and farther removed from the hands-on work you love. It's also a fact, though a less acknowledged one, that you'll be taking on duties that are less closely related to your areas of competence.

Well, what's wrong with that? Isn't it good to be learning new things?

What's wrong, is those issues of 'liability,' 'risk,' 'preventible accident,' 'catastrophic event.' You are responsible for processes, installations, perhaps the entire chemical plant or complex. How can you ensure that your staff, working with the process manuals, documentation and training you provide, are adequate to the demands that will be placed upon them?

Seeing the need

New documentation and training are a continual need, as new products, new processes and process retooling bring about continuous change.

Through downsizing and natural attrition, skilled workers go and new workers come -- a steady flow of people needing training. If your materials and programs aren't current, your workers may not be learning what they need. If your materials are current but not up to date, the learning curve may be slow and costly.

Regulatory standards like OSHA, ISO, EPA demand comprehensive training, testing and documentation of job skills. Failures of equipment or processes are frequently a result of missing, ignored or misunderstood information. Poor documentation and training increases liability risk, escalates costs associated with warranty support.

Drawing up the schedule

These, as you perceive them, are your bottom-line needs:

  • Flexible and updatable format for documentation and training.
  • Quick access to infrequently used (but important, even critical!) information.
  • Assurance that the necessary information is acquired and transferred in a comprehensive, understandable fashion.
  • Assurance that quality of operators and operations will be sustained after you've moved away from this direct responsibility.

Specific needs

These, as you understand them, are your immediate concerns:

  • Does my documentation address proper safe operations and emergency situations?
  • Is it available, understandable and in a format that permits my operators to act quickly, react to emergency situations, find the information that's needed even in a stressful environment?
  • Are we properly prepared for emergency shutdown -- or even scheduled shutdown?

Who will do the work?

Optimizing your documentation and training will be a complex task. Training material, for example, has to be not only developed but tested. Refresher training should build on the original training, not merely repeat it. Reference format should logically be different from training format.

Will you dump the work on the desks of your various engineers in charge? "I hate to do this, they think. "I'm an engineer, not a developer of manuals and training programs. I want to move on to my next project, so I'll write this up quickly, assuming the readers will be pretty familiar with the subject and won't need many details."

Your engineers may know or be able to gather the information, but you can be sure they won't be experienced at properly formatting it. How will you achieve the optimum result you need?

Perhaps you could call in a documentation and training company to work with your engineers. A better solution, but will that company's data-gathering processes stall your systems and production for weeks and months, as researchers grill and upset your engineers? Will the results be well organized and properly targeted to the audience -- installation, operation, quality control, maintenance? How much will it cost?

The facilitating partner

Recently, a new approach to documentation and training has been developed. New facilitating companies in the documentation and training field are bypassing the cumbersome, traditional methods of preparation. The result is a speeded-up process, improved quality and organization of data gathering, and deliverables that meet all needs for documentation, reference, training, etc.

Best of all, the required investment of the client company's time and money is reasonable. In a relatively short time, with minimum upset, this approach formats and delivers document materials, prepares the required manuals and training programs, and tests to assure that the necessary information is not only included but readily available.

Structured information

Structured information technology is the key to facilitation, offering speed, accuracy, level of detail, ease of use and flexible conversion of deliverables to alternate media.

In the data-gathering phase, it keeps discussion focused. Data is gathered faster, your engineers are used more effectively and cooperate more fully. The collected information is formalized into a format which covers all desired areas; the format itself will signal to the developer any blanks that remain to be filled.

The resultant documentation is more flexibly deliverable, and the information is available for reuse for many purposes. Because it is in a form that's easily transferred to a computer-based, Web-based or even print-based training program, valid training falls into place naturally.

Flow chart

  1. To achieve structured results, the facilitator proceeds according to a flowchart concept:  Project initiation: All available resource material is collected -- all vendor manuals, training manuals, product manuals, machine manuals -- anything in print about the machine or process.
  2. People who understand the machine or process are interviewed.
  3. The machine or process line is photographed and videotaped in action. With this approach, no time is wasted on drawings for the manual. Instead, explanatory photos are used liberally in the documentation and training materials.
  4. The project -both data and photo library - is divided into viable work packages.
  5. Focus maps (rough drafts) are prepared to check with company experts. The material will be viable and close to the final product: a critical factor in gaining the wholehearted cooperation of the company’s experts.
  6. A meeting is held with company experts to approve or revise the focus maps and sharpen the appropriate detail.
  7. The completed documentation and programs are delivered in flexible formats, from database to print or a variety of computer-based, Intranet- or Internet- delivered materials.

"Process experts"

One of the key points of the new technique is the facilitator's use of "process experts" to perform data collection and document preparation steps. Neither ISD (instructional system design) experts nor engineers, have a clear idea of what they're looking for in terms of operating and maintaining the equipment or line, pinpointing human-machine interfaces, understanding the function.

They are trained to employ job aids and feedback mechanisms to avoid the frustration of constant rechecking. They use information mapping and industrial engineering techniques in the service of the underlying concepts of speed and good organization.

Sleeping soundly at night

The structured information approach is user-friendly -- for the chemical company's engineers involved in the project, for the generations of operators to be trained with the flexible, readily up datable materials, and for you, the manager who set the work in progress. Now, in your responsibility for processes, installations, perhaps the entire chemical plant or complex, you can be assured that your staff know what they are doing. You have taken timely and appropriate steps to minimize liability and risk, and assure optimum documentation and training for the continued well-being of your plant.

Sweet dreams!


By: Guest author, Bill Biach, President BIA, Cranford, NJ,


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