The field of sound design and multimodal solutions are getting increasingly important within industrial applications. Existing IT solutions such as the control and surveillance of industrial processes are by tradition mainly visual tasks. A constantly increasing and more complex information flow in these kinds of environments contribute to the risk that users will become more distracted and confused in critical situations.
By also using sound, one can design multimodal solutions that efficiently utilize human capabilities and thus contribute to a better working environment. Sound can be used to express many types of information, ranging from direction and distance to emotions and priority.
In this project we have studied alarm sounds in control room environments. With experience from areas such as game design, media production, and vehicle interface development we have been able take a whole new approach to methods within alarm sound design.
Poor alarm management and poorly designed alarm sounds are common problems in control rooms within the process industry. The purpose of an alarm is to alert the operators to deviations from normal conditions, and the goal is to prevent physical and economic loss through operators acting on conditions causing the alarms.
Key factors in operator effectiveness are the speed and accuracy with which the operator can identify the alarms. Consequently, this project aimed to develop a concept for alarm sounds which both informed about and guided operators to the production section involved. Sounds that conveyed urgency information and were accepted, perhaps even liked, by the operators.
A prerequisite for us to be able to investigate and develop our design ideas was a test bed. The local paper mill, Smurfit Kappa Kraftliner was well suited for our needs and through a highly user-driven process we developed an alarm sound concept consisting of in total seven production sections.
Each alarm sound consisted of two parts, one part conveying urgency information, and the other part conveying information that could be associated with the alarming section. In collaboration with the operators a variety of associative sounds were identified that could represent incidents in the process.
An iconic water drop sound is representing an alarm in the washing unit where the used cooking liquors are separated from the cellulose fibers.
A breaking twig sound raises awareness of an alarm situation in the mechanical pulping process. For instance, there could be something stuck in the wood chipping section.
Chemical pulp production is the cooking of the wood raw material with chemicals. The sound of a steam kettle boiling informs the operators of an issue in this section. An alarm can for example be triggered due to tolerance limits deviations.
During the development process, the concept has been continuously evaluated. The evaluations were mainly conducted through questionnaires and focus groups. Results indicate increased operator effectiveness and a clearly improved working environment.