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ABB's "Augmented Field Procedures" platform

Friday, April 9, 2021

ABB has launched 'Augmented Field Procedures', a platform for industrial customers to manage procedures and data entry for field workers in a more sophisticated way.

ABB has launched 'Augmented Field Procedures', as part of its 'Ability' suite of solutions, as a means for industrial customers to manage the procedures and data entry for field workers in a richer, more sophisticated way.

It is designed for the oil and gas sector, and also chemical, process, power and water sectors.

The system can be used in any industrial environment, in greenfield and brownfield sites, for start-up, routine maintenance, and shutdown activities.

The software supports providing field workers with instructions about what to do, accepting data and other files such as photos. It can also provide and take data directly from control equipment, whether or not it is made by ABB.

Many tasks which field workers do are highly structured, with company 'Standard Operating Procedures'. For example, maintenance, equipment startups and changeovers, or isolating equipment, which involve a field operator following specific steps, for example 'open valve X32 and check something.'

Oil and gas companies define Standard Operating Procedures for many aspects of their business and are often required to do that by regulations.

There can be procedures telling what to do in an abnormal situation - instead of looking through paper manuals to determine what to do, someone can look it up on a tablet, she says.

People often follow the standard operating procedures written on paper, or a manual displaying on their tablets, guiding them what to do, what order to do them, and on which equipment.

ABB's aim is to 'augment' these standard operating procedures - to provide more information and more guidance - so richer support to people doing the field maintenance work, says Matilda Steiner, global Product Manager for Manufacturing Operations Management solutions at ABB.

The software should help ensure the SOPs are closely followed, and also necessary information is recorded.

A number of accidents have occurred because the SOPs were not followed properly, or people did not understand them properly, or maybe thought that they had a better idea how something should be done, ABB said.

It is possible that the human-machine interaction could be via a head set screen, but more common today to use an industrialized tablet computer, Ms Steiner says.

The company is currently doing two projects with industrial customers, but is not able to name them at this stage.

'The people that join the industry now are used to working with mobile devices,' she says. 'They will be disappointed if they have to start working with paper and old technology.'

Integrate with control system

The Augmented Field Procedures system can also provide information to the field engineer brought directly out of the control system, such as the temperature in a tank or a liquid flow rate.

This can be more convenient than making radio communication to the control room to ask a question. It avoids disturbing the control room operator, and a risk of miscommunication.

The manual steps can also be synchronized with automated steps which the control system makes.

ABB's core business is control systems, and that is where it has a lot of domain knowledge.

Control system device communications are fairly straightforward, using OPC protocols.

They do not need to be using ABB control systems. 'It can work in a completely non ABB environment,' she said.

How it works

The software provides both guidance and enforcement to people ensuring the proper procedures are conducted - in the same way that any online form does, ensuring that the recipient of the information gets the information they need, but not allowing you to submit otherwise.

For example, the form may ask you to submit a photograph of something as part of the process.

The software supports data input in multiple ways. For example, it could require the field worker to scan a bar code on a valve as part of the process of entering data, so the computer can verify that the right valve is being opened and in the right sequence.

The operator can also submit their own comments, including comments about how good they find the procedure to be.

ABB is also developing a 'chatbot' which can answer simple questions like 'what is the temperature in the tank,' or inform the operator if there is an alarm nearby. 'Chat' may prove a better, more intuitive means of entering and receiving data than other approaches like alerts and dashboards.

People's supervisors can easily see what is happening, and the computer maintains a record of what was done.

'If we continuously collect the information, we can act on it,' she says.

Setting it up

Customers expect products like this to be simple to set up, Ms Steiner says.

There are two components to the set-up - entering the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and integrating with the relevant control system data.

Customers can set it up themselves, there is no coding required. ABB provides the support, training, and installation support. Customers define the procedures they want people to follow, and then they can start work quickly.

Work with customers will typically start by looking at 'low hanging fruit', areas the customer wants to improve. 'You can start in one area, then you can extend it,' she says.

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