Ergonomic Architecture for Command & Control Centers

Ergonomic Architecture for the Petrochemical Industry

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The following text provides answers to the most common questions asked about Control Room Design by prospective clients.

Please feel free to contact Douglas Spranger at: or for additional information.

Can you provide some background about the company?  Control Room Design, LLC, is a design consulting company, working in affiliation with the client's architect of record, to provide ergonomic architecture for the petrochemical industry.  CRD's exclusive focus is control room and control building design.

What are your specialities in Control Building design?  Ergonomics, interior design and architecture.  Over the past two + decades, we have gained a considerable understanding of how a control room operates.  Our expertise in issues of applied human factors, lighting design and ergonomics leads to the complete design of control buildings.

How do you staff a project?  Control Room Design works in concert with the architect of record and outside specialists such as blast-study engineers, providing necessary support staff, depending on the program.  Most control building projects, however, only require some 3 to 5 staff members including architectural and interior designers.  CRD and affiliate architects are large enough to bring considerable resource to any given project, but small enough to provide personal attention to every client project.

Are your team members architects, designers or engineers?   All these disciplines are represented:  architects, industrial designers, human factors specialists and engineers.

How are people assigned to projects?  The most appropriate staff members, with the right skills, are assigned as a “team” and they remain assigned to that project for the duration.

What’s unique, if anything, about Control Room Design’s methodology?  The human element -- having extensive experience (through watching, observing and recording behaviors of control room operators), to determine the actual needs that the facility must fulfill.  In a sense, we develop a strong sympathy for the user that directly impacts our thinking as designers.  Having a control room with proper adjacencies, that caters for traffic routes without distraction to individual operators, with perfect (non-glare) lighting and acoustics, and is well furnished will translate to improved performance of the units under control.  We also believe that design is not an end in itself, but more a process of sifting through all the variables and making intelligent choices.

Can you undertake both large and small control room/building projects?  Yes, we have worked on large & comprehensive projects, such as Valero's control buildings, to simple control room upgrades and lighting studies - to correct problems of glare and reflections in the screens.

Can you take the project through to construction drawings?  Yes, in fact, for many of our control room projects we work with to prepare bid or construction drawings for the interior of the control room itself, with the Architect of Record producing all other drawings for the building.  It is customary, however, for the client (or GC) to undertake the civil, HVAC, structural and electrical engineering design and documentation.

Will your computer systems be compatible with ours?  Most likely, as we typically supply documentation in AutoCad, which is the customary platform for architectural drawings.

What are the costs and time frames for a typical project?  Costs vary, and obviously depend on the assignment and level of complexity.  We estimate and invoice on a time-and-materials basis (plus direct expenses), establishing previously agreed not-to-exceed budgets.  Normally, a 3 to 5 person team is required, full-time, for 4 to 12 months. Timeframes for design generally ranges from 4 months for a control room upgrade project to 12-15 months for complete design of a new control building, through to release of construction documentation.  Simpler projects, such as a lighting study can be completed in as little as 1 month.

Can a project be funded in stages?  Yes.  Normally, a proposal is divided into 5 or 6 major phases of work, with each phase estimated separately.  It’s quite common for clients to initially fund the data gathering and initial layout phases --before approving funds for continued development.

How do you invoice?  Monthly, on a time-and-materials basis, against the previously agreed, not-to-exceed figures. Invoices are payable in 30 days.


Are CRD's services expensive?  Although our staff salaries are among the highest in the industry (to attract and keep the highest level of consulting talent), we work efficiently and maintain reasonable overhead.  Our hourly rates remain very competitive and we can comfortably work within the client’s overall budget.

Do you maintain and operate any branch offices?  No, except for working within the architect of record's office, we have found that it's not required.  We will travel to your facility, at least once every several weeks, to hold working meetings.  As needed, key/senior members will likely remain on-site for several weeks during the initial data gathering and planning phases of the project.  In addition, we are normally in contact with the client several times per week by fax, phone and e-mail.

How do you normally initiate a project?  The normal course of events, in initiating a project includes:  client’s review of our capabilities materials;  if there appears to be a good match, we travel to your site (at nominal cost) to tour the site/facility and discuss the specifics of your program; we then travel back to New York and prepare a formal written proposal of work (at no charge) for your review; make any adjustments or modifications as required.  Upon approval of the proposal, or at least the initial stages, we schedule a start-up meeting to kick-off the program.

How do you go about planning and estimating a job?  First, we spend time with the client’s management, operations and instrumentation team members to become familiar with the goals and details of the proposed effort.  A list of activities is prepared, along with a time-line, to serve as the basis for man-hour estimates (for each task).  This ‘program plan’ then becomes the outline for the written proposal.  Our estimates assume that a certain degree of change or redirection will normally occur during the program, however, obvious changes in scope or supplemental tasks (requested by the client) are estimated as additions to the program.

How do you control costs and avoid overruns?  Largely, by providing realistic estimates at the onset of the program and routinely tracking man-hours against objectives.  Other cost control measures include:  keeping high-level staff members involved throughout the program, thereby providing clear direction and decision making; keeping the client informed at all times; and making intelligent decisions about how many variations to pursue.  We never exceed the budget unless we have agreement in advance and written authorization from the client.  Extra costs only happen when the agreed upon scope is significantly altered by the client.

What about meeting deadlines?  We never miss a critical deadline.  Wherever possible, we stay in weekly contact with each client to ensure that there are no surprises.  We know the critical importance of meeting milestones.

What are your most successful projects?  Success is always a function of meeting the client’s objectives:  creating simple control room upgrades that are straightforward, durable, functional and cost-effective -- through to world-class, control building facilities that often serve as the ‘showplace’ for the refinery.  In all cases, however, the most successful control rooms are those which the operators ‘love to work in’, thereby increasing their efficiency and productivity.

“The ultimate success of a control room will
be determined by the extent to which it meets
or exceeds the needs of the operators”

Douglas Spranger
Founder, Human Factors Industrial Design, Inc.
President, Control Room Design, LLC