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Great River Energy is a not-for-profit electric cooperative, which generates and transmits power for 28 member cooperatives throughout central and northern Minnesota. With a generating capacity of more than 1,100 megawatts, Coal Creek Station in Underwood, N.D. is the cooperative’s largest plant.

The plant operates two steam turbines fueled by lignite coal, which is supplied by nearby Falkirk Mine. Lignite is a softer coal that contains higher water content than other types of coal. Great River Energy uses a patented coal refining process called DryFining™, which utilizes waste heat from the plant to dry and refine the coal, making it cleaner and more efficient.

Recently, Great River Energy upgraded the consoles in the control room to improve ergonomics for operators monitoring plant operations as well as the DryFining process. The primary reason for the upgrade was to improve the operators’ sightlines to the top row of monitors in the control room. The existing consoles were provided by the control manufacturer and did not provide sufficient ergonomic considerations. In order to see the top monitors, operators were tilting their heads too far back and experiencing eyestrain from trying to focus on the information on the screens.

Great River Energy worked with Winsted Corporation to design and install new ergonomic consoles for the control room. In order to eliminate any need to drill holes in the floor or move wires or cabling, the new consoles needed to fit the existing footprint and floor penetrations.

Together, Winsted and Great River Energy created a design that includes three Sight-Line consoles, in a horseshoe formation. Two of the consoles are identical, sit back-to-back and each controls one of the two power generation units. The third is a slightly smaller console that controls the DryFining system.

“The control room upgrade was really a team effort between our operations, electrical and instrumentation, IT, safety and management staff and Winsted's Custom Division, along with their installation team,” said Mark Baisch, control room operator at Coal Creek Station.

The two consoles controlling the power generators are laid out identically so that regardless of which unit an operator is controlling, the process is intuitive. For instance, the turbine generator control is always on left no matter which console you are facing. Each of these consoles has five monitors mounted to it plus the operator’s LAN network computer.

The third console is set up to run the coal dryer or DryFinding system. It’s a bit smaller than the other consoles and has only four monitors, but otherwise houses the same equipment. The reason for this is that the control system is operator-based, which means operators can run any of the controls from any of the three workstations depending on how they log in.

To improve sightlines and reduce physical stress to operators, the monitors on each of the consoles are mounted using Winsted’s unique Versa-Trak monitor mounting system. Versa-Trak is an integrated horizontal aluminum track system, which enables easy horizontal adjustment of post-mounted VESA brackets.

Versa-Trak also allows users to easily adjust viewing angles based on personal needs, making it an ideal solution for the Coal Creek Station control room. Now any operator working a typical 12-hour shift can adjust the monitors at whichever console they are sitting and achieve ergonomically correct sightlines, reducing strain to the neck, back and eyes. “The new consoles meet the operators’ needs,” said Baisch. “They solved the neck strain issues and improved the visibility of the top monitors.”

While the vast majority of the control system is digital and controlled via computer and monitored onscreen, there are a number of hard panel switches mounted to the console that must be visible and accessible at all times.

Additional console features included metal base cabinets and Corian® work surfaces, to reduce combustibles in the control room for safety and insurance reasons. Winsted also incorporated some unique slat panels that allowed file management systems for paperwork, books and a phone tray to be kept off the work surface.

The new console layout also took into consideration ADA requirements by creating a larger entry point into the console to allow enough space for a wheelchair or other assistive device to roll through.

In addition to ergonomic and ADA considerations, it was important that the new consoles be scalable to allow for future upgrades to the control room. The Versa-Trak mounting system supports a wide variety of monitor arrays. This will allow Great River Energy to eventually replace the existing 20-inch monitors (4:3 aspect ratio) with today’s more common 22-inch (16:9 aspect ratio) without having to make any alterations to the console.

From design to installation, the console upgrade in the control room at Coal Creek Station was a success. The installations were completed during plant outages, so disruption to plant operations was never a concern. The new consoles fit the footprint of the previous furniture. And, most importantly, the consoles provided vastly improved ergonomics for control room operators, enabling them to do their jobs more comfortably and with greater efficiency.
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