WorldWide Drilling Resource

16 JULY 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® Is There Anything Not Automated Anymore? by Britt Storkson Owner, P2FlowLLC I’ve spent considerable time over the years writing articles for WorldWide Drilling Resource®, explaining what should and should not be automated, why often zero or, more often minimal, automation or specifically targeted automation is the correct approach. I’ve also detailed how over- and misapplied automation can cause more problems than it solves and often costs the user more time and money than would be the case if the automation didn’t exist in the first place. Since we now have so much automation everywhere, it begs the question: Is there anything left out there that isn’t automated, but should be? I can think of a few things that would qualify. We’ll look at forklift accidents, pool water intakes that can hold a small child underwater, and car doors locking automatically when they shouldn’t. A large retail home improvement chain recently had fatalities in two locations: One in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania where forklift drivers not “belted in” were thrown from the forklift and suffered fatal injuries after tipping over. Most likely, wearing the seat belt would not have prevented injury, but would have prevented loss of life. These accidents could have been prevented several ways. For many years now, car and tractor manufacturers have been using seat belt interlock systems which will not allow the equipment to be started if the seat belt was not used - or stop the equipment should the seat belt become disconnected. Another solution which could be used alone or with the seat belt interlock would be level/angle sensors utilizing technology we see in computerized carpenter levels and similar tools. If the forklift tilted more than a preprogrammed number of degrees from level front to back or side-to-side, then the computer would stop the equipment. Neither of these options are expensive or overly complex. Please note, as should be the case with all automation systems, implementing these safety measures would require thorough testing and a number of decisions to be made like: What angle should the forklift be stopped? Should there be an audible warning (like a buzzer or horn sounding) before the critical angle is reached? Should any “incidents” exceeding certain angles or other issues be recorded much like a flight data recorder “logs” information about airplane functions? The second issue is swimming pool intakes that can trap a small child against the grate, and have resulted in fatalities. As a solution, one could monitor the intake pressure at the grate and if it had a blockage of any kind, then shut off the pump. It’s very difficult to do in practice because the difference in pressure from normal to “blocked” (the pressure would go down slightly when blocked) can be very small and it’s not certain the sensor resolution would be up to the task, resulting either in “nuisance tripping” or not tripping when it really needed to. Another possible solution would be to install a series of motion sensors around the pool and allow the pump to run only when no human presence is detected, but this can get complicated and should be tested at least once a month to ensure reliability. This could be one of those instances where it is practically not possible to satisfactorily automate something and that does happen in the real world. In both of these cases, I’ve known maintenance personnel who have permanently bypassed the safety systems rather than deal with the constant safety alarms - most of which were false alarms. One could say they are taking a liability risk, but with the switches buried deep in the maintenance areas, how could anyone prove otherwise? The third issue: I spoke with a couple where the wife placed her child in a car seat and left her car keys inside one of those highly automated cars, then closed the car door, at which point all of the car doors locked simultaneously with the child still in the car - and she couldn’t open any of the doors. The couple had to get a locksmith to open the door. Of course, this took considerable time and it was a hot day. The child was okay, but I cannot imagine all of the stress and strain this created. If this happened to me and my family, I don’t think I would have waited for a locksmith. I would have opened that door no matter how much damage the car sustained in the process. This is a case of automation itself being the hazard or creating a hazard. Again, why have the automation if it ends up creating problems instead of solving problems? What’s so difficult about pressing two and maybe four mechanical buttons to lock your car? If we must have the automation, we also need a backup, fail-safe, manual alternative - and not something electronic that needs electric power, because what if that fails as well? This automation has to be easily understood as people in stressed-out conditions often don’t think clearly. It’s just how humans operate and must be considered in this equation. Britt Britt Storkson may be contacted via e-mail to