All of our lives are becoming more complex. We are expected to deliver more, more quickly, and more accurately, and technology is claimed to be the enabler for us to achieve this. Nowhere is this truer than in the process industries, where there are additional pressures such as increasingly large plants and retiring workforces. The authors believe that the key to meeting ever-raising expectations is to reduce complexity, and that this can be done in two major ways. First of all, Process Operators must implement modern technologies that are inherently simpler. And Secondly, Vendors must design the complexity out of their devices and user interfaces.

Plants are getting larger all the time. What would have been a complex a few years ago is not a single plant. And a plant that would once have produced a single product is now expected to produce a variety of products to a variety of quality specifications. At the same time the expertise that has learned how to run the process, to understand root causes of production problems; the people who can look at a few indicators or simply listen to a pipe or column and understand conditions, is retiring at an increasing rate. They are being replaced by the "Google Generation" – a generation of graduates who believe that anything can be learned in ten minutes via the internet. These people do not understand the complex interactions between control loops and process conditions and, in many cases, do not even understand the fundamentals of process automation. Why learn how a PID works and how to tune it when there are function blocks and auto tuning routines that can do it for you? And even when new workers are hired, there tend to be fewer of them than there were before. Why is this? Because we rely more and more on technology to optimise our plants, to replace the tribal knowledge that is being lost to retirement, and provide us with insight that allows us to tighten up our control loops for quality or optimization purposes. And there's nothing wrong with that. So long as the vendors make sure that the technology really delivers that optimisation and insight.

The answer is to reduce complexity in the first place, so that we spend less time doing complicated work that adds no value. The way to do this is to apply the right technology to the problem in hand, and we will go through three examples of how technology can help with this. The next thing to do is to remember that we are people first, and people who have specific tasks to perform. Therefore we must ensure that the tools we have to perform a given job are aimed at simplifying the tasks that make up that job. We must wrest control of the user interface from the engineers and hand it to the ergonomists.

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