The biggest obstacle in commissioning automated factories is the human factor

Graphical representation of hierarchy and communication in the
automation project
Graphical representation of hierarchy and communication in the automation project

This autumn Rommi Källo defended his doctoral thesis "Synergy-Based Chaos Control in the Multi-Agent Hierarchical Systems" at the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering of Tallinn University of Technology.

The focus of the doctoral thesis was on the design and commissioning of automation systems (i.e. automated factories). The key problem to be tackled in designing automation systems was tracking and hindering the chaos in multi-agent hierarchical systems (i.e. in multi-member multi-level teamwork).

The author of the doctoral thesis, Rommi Källo, has participated in more than thirty design and commissioning teams designing control systems for pulp and paper mills, fuel factories, power plants and steel mills in more than twenty countries in different parts of the world (besides Europe also in Asia, Africa and South America).

The basis for the research was a unique database of human shortcomings at the design and commissioning of automation systems covering information from 26 factories in the period from 1999 to 2014 collected by the author of the thesis. The novel and advanced classification scheme of human shortcomings composed by the PhD student allowed differentiation of faults and mistakes depending on the nature of shortcomings. Human shortcomings in hierarchical systems were investigated in order to find possibilities to map and prevent their trajectories.  It was established that the main problems in commissioning automated factories arise from dissemination of poor quality information, which in its turn causes a chaos in teamwork.

“Successful prevention of growing chaos depends on effective mapping and the strategy chosen for elimination of the chaos,” the supervisor of the doctoral thesis, Professor Emeritus Vello Reedik explains.

It was concluded that the best way to avoid human shortcomings is to apply synergy-based approach in teamwork. The synergy-based approach to project-based teamwork, cooperation in general and communication is a novel trend in complex industrial projects, the efficiency of which in terms of the estimated project duration and budget of commissioning factories has been proved in the doctoral thesis. Based on test results it can be claimed that use of this methodology for preventing a chaos caused by human shortcomings makes it possible to achieve 6.7 % of savings in direct labour costs and 21 % of shortening of the project duration.

The scientific objective of the doctoral thesis was to develop an optimal strategy for continuous tracking and synergy-based correction of human shortcomings.  It is a complicated process considering the fact that human faults and mistakes appear occasionally and their trajectories can be corrected only by relying on the tools of discrete event modelling. Each time a fault or mistake occurs, a new metateam shall be formed for correcting its trajectory and modelling shall be used for optimising its synergy-based structure. It is not possible to save time by making solutions on the basis of intuition as it has been done so far.

“What makes the doctoral thesis unique is the author´s exceptionally long professional experience and comprehensive international practice in the field. In the future research, two sequential steps should be followed.  First, it is necessary to develop suitable software that would bind the methodologies developed in this research into one software package.  As a second step it is recommended to integrate the mentioned software with an existing project management software,” Professor Emeritus Reedik adds.

The supervisors of the doctoral thesis were Professor Emeritus Vello Reedik and Professor Martin Eerme (TUT).

The opponents were Professor Dr.-Ing. Peter Leibl ( Munich University of Applied Sciences), Professor Emeritus Veijo Kauppinen (Aalto University) and Tanel Telliskivi, PhD ( Eesti Energia Technology Industries).

The doctoral thesis has been published in the digital collection of TUT library: http://digi.lib.ttu.ee/i/?6210

Original post by Tallinn University of Technology