Display technologies accelerate control room transformation

Control rooms have their genesis in the 1920s when there was an increasing need for factories to oversee production from a central location. The benefit of a concentrated operational command and control centre quickly became apparent. They allowed enhanced communications between departments; better overall operations coordination, and a rapid, coordinated response to emergencies. These centralised operations centres improved efficiency, greatly reduced costs, increased operational reliability, and provided higher overall levels of security.

The control room model became more and more popular as the twentieth century advanced. It came to include not just manufacturing but a variety of industries including broadcasting, war planning and communications, energy production, space exploration and, of course, transportation hubs and air traffic control centres. The model is both adaptable and robust and has proven to be even more valuable in the current era of high speed computing and data processing.

Initially control rooms were massive with varieties of buttons, switches, and gauges. Each panel typically required an individual operator to manually manage its buttons and actuators. Things have changed significantly since then. Modern control rooms no longer require the archetypal white coated technician, replete with a clipboard, standing in front of bank of flashing lights and quivering VU meters. Modern control rooms place far greater emphasis on the interaction of the operator and support technology. Instead of the operators simply interpreting unintuitive data readouts, they are fed multiple data streams in easily understood formats that assists them to make robust decisions. Control rooms continue to change and transform as more data at higher resolution is managed. With that in mind, operator comfort and safety, ergonomics, optimisation of space, and convenience of movement are now considered every bit as vital as used information systems.

To help operators cope with this ever-changing environment, a range of tools and technologies have been developed that assist in the collection and processing of vast amounts of information. Human machine interfaces (HMIs) are not only migrating to larger screens, they are also spreading to tablets and smartphones that allow workers to easily operate outside the control room.
Railway control and network map, Harrow-on-the-Hill, England in 1948. Copyright Transport for London


The range and breadth of displays currently used by operators is vast. Some operators will use handheld screens, while most operator consoles have large monitors of varying sizes and configurations.

The smaller, portable tablets and smartphones are liberating operators from static control stations, allowing them easy movement throughout the facility or remote access from off-site locations. That allows technicians and support workers the flexibility of access to the centralised data hub without having to travel back to base from the worksite. It allows employees to individually access to all relevant data while actually standing in front of a machine rather than in the control room.

Collaboration is a focus, recognising the importance of highly trained operators to combine their insight to lift decision making efficacy as well as planned knowledge sharing sessions. To that end control rooms and command centres are increasingly designed with breakout out areas. Agile project teams assemble based on the project scope and deploy technology to assist their efforts.

The increased use of collaboration zones and agile teams has led to an associated increase in the development in products that support these ways of work.

CUB Abbotsford Melbourne Australia brew control panels, circa 1975

How Atdec helps: collaboration mounts

Fully dynamic arms for desk and wall mount Atdec's AWM series includes fully dynamic arms that can be mounted on any flat surface including vertical. Fully dynamic mounting arms enable multiple colleagues to collaborate on touchscreens, displays, or mounted devices that can be shared across a socially distanced team.

Mobile TV/AV Cart AD-TVC-70R The AD-TVC-70R is a mobile TV/AV cart that has high-aesthetic steel construction and is designed for commercial environments. It is intended to enable collaboration around a display or touchscreen that the team works on. Display rotation from landscape to portrait orientation, and a 5° upward tilt support touch-screen interactions. The cart suits most displays including Microsoft Surface Hub while also offering support for top-mounting conferencing cameras, laptops, mini-PCs, and other presentation equipment. The unit is mobile and is equipped with heavy-duty lockable castors to fix the cart in place during use. Cables are managed via multiple ports, with the rear enclosure offering space for a power board and other cable elements, allowing it to be manoeuvred with minimal effort and fuss. See available carts in your region or contact us for more options.

While small screens are handy for remote locations and mobile solutions for agile project teams, it is large monitors and displays that are changing the appearance of many control rooms. Large flat panel displays previously seen only in sci-fi movies are now heavily incorporated into modern operating centres. In most cases, they are used to consolidate views normally seen on a number of separate screens. Companies are adding large, fixed monitors &ndash 70-inch or even larger 4K monitors laid out in tiles that display several views. The massive increase in pixels on a 4K UHD screen allows for more information to be presented, and easily read, than previously. Just one 55-inch UHD screen option can display the equivalent of six 19-inch screens, and if you combine just two of those monitors together, it's like having a dozen displays.

The same applies to smaller workstation and console based monitors as well. More information can be displayed on smaller UHD monitors than before, but the workstation setting requires more manoeuvrability and flexibility of use for effective and ergonomic use by multiple shifts. Future proofing monitor mounts requires an adaptive approach, and modular design is a proven solution.

Control room NASA 2005

How Atdec helps: wall mounted monitors

The ADW Universal Video Wall Mounting System is a modular, interchangeable, and upgradeable product range. It incorporates a range of high-end features that deliver high security, time saving, easy installation, and adjustment options. Post-installation horizontal adjustment, screen leveling and wall leveling all assist in making the installation process quicker and easier. ADW mounts are recommended for displays 55” to 65” but flexible to 165kg (363lbs) per display.

How Atdec helps: desk mounts

Atdec's AWM series of desk mounts enables virtually unlimited monitor configurations and adjustability, which are both essential for control rooms. The mounts are designed for quick installation. Display height, optimal viewing angle and orientation can be set to individual requirements which allows operators to adjust their monitors at the start of a shift. AWM is futureproof for different display configurations including multiple rows of monitors. This series is built from lightweight and durable aluminium, and can be easily recycled at the end of life.

Control room of a cruise ship, 2019, copyright Mitch Ames

Managing dense information

Regardless of the type or size of the display, the key design factor is always assisting operators to get the right information synthesis from their handheld device, console monitors, and wall displays. Operators are expected to monitor more and more units – across equipment, areas, and networks – with more and more data points. Units or targets under management are generally expensive and/or critical and typically have greater functionality and complexity than a couple decades ago. The volume of data flowing into control rooms has increased exponentially – which is a challenge for control room designers.

While it is true that great emphasis has been placed on user friendly and easily intuited graphics, there’s a limit. Human visual awareness and the amount of information we can process hasn't changed, so there is a limiting point at which additional information becomes counterproductive. Identifying what information should be displayed and what should be hidden is therefore of high importance and an area of behavioural research. HMIs must provide relevant information without deluging operators with extraneous information and unnecessary alerts. When something goes wrong, the operator needs to know, immediately, what are the best steps to take and not feel overwhelmed or potentially even miss a critical alert due to information density. In this regard control rooms are being designed to help individual operators focus in on problems.

Atdec designs and manufactures solutions that operators can easily adjust suit them and minimise fatigue. This includes mount solutions for mobile, sit, and sit-to-stand control consoles. Atdec routinely consults with control room designers, architects, and construction contractors to ensure mounting solutions are effective, futureproof, and meet environmental standards.

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