Monday, June 30, 2014

How can you benefit from an Operator Training Simulator (OTS)?

-taken from “Workforce Enablement Technology: Training The Operators Of The Future”
By: Cecil F. Shewchuk, Ph.D., P.Eng. Shewchuk Consulting, Principal

Traditional, relatively passive teaching and learning methods, such as reading and listening to lectures, are notoriously ineffective with a low rate of knowledge retention. Participatory teaching, including group discussion, practice, and teaching others, is essential for the development of in-depth retained learning. The cost to effectively and efficiently train a plant operator workforce can be quite high, partly because of the long time, about two years, it takes to develop the necessary skills using traditional methods. Where there is a valid learning need, plants require the best option available to meet that need.
A well-designed and well-integrated Operator Training Simulator (OTS) system will incorporate all the essential training to develop a highly efficient, confident, and skillful operator workforce in a matter of months, not years. The use of OTS technology reduces the high cost of training the next generation of operators. This is possible because all the necessary elements are considered including hands-on experience, direct feedback, evaluation and assessment of trainee progress. Furthermore, the essential knowledge and experience of longer-term workers can be incorporated into OTS training exercises.
An OTS uses dynamic simulation technology to produce a high fidelity representation of the processing system including the process equipment, controls and automated procedures. The dynamic simulation calculates, in real-time, how the process system will respond to outside influences such as changes in feed characteristics like temperature or composition, or to operator control actions like motor stop/starts or set point changes. The accuracy of the dynamic simulation model is dependent on the quality of the solving algorithms, modeling equations (heat, mass and momentum balances) and thermodynamic calculations that have been incorporated into the OTS system software architecture. Modern OTS systems are able to be easily configured and maintained using graphical model building tools to represent in fine detail a very broad range of plants commonly found in the process industries.
An OTS system, integrated with a plant’s real control system graphical interface, is used to allow the operator trainee to become familiar with all aspects of operating the plant from a familiar yet totally risk-free environment. Mistakes can be made and lessons learned with no negative consequences to the plant, environment, or personnel. It can be used to create various operating scenarios that may occur in the plant – those which are common and mundane, and those which are irregular, rare, or crisis driven. It allows the operator to practice plant operation under normal circumstances, but it is also useful to allow the operator to see what would happen if for instance certain variables were changed or if a mechanical breakdown occurred, or if a new standard operating procedure was implemented. All of this happens, of course, in a safe environment where the real plant is not affected and the operator can function as if proactive and reactive decisions made are real
It should be noted that the fidelity (trueness to real plant operation) of an OTS system model can be adjusted (high, medium, low) depending on the anticipated requirement of the system. Adjusting the fidelity level trades accuracy for lower cost. Fidelity is an important consideration if it is intended to use an OTS system for purposes other than operator training, such as process and control design, DCS configuration testing and modification and process operations optimization.
By using an OTS with its suite of training oriented functions (see table insert) as an essential component of competency development, a new operator will benefit in many practical ways and the results of the training can be documented for audit and tracking purposes.
A new hire generally has a very steep learning curve to master the operation of a modern refinery or chemical plant. Using an OTS system in which basic training is integrated with graphical schematics of the actual plant DCS that the operator trainee is expected to use, develops a familiarity that instills confidence. This comes from the opportunity to practice real scenarios with hands-on experience in a safe environment. This delivery vehicle leveraging the latest technologies is quite familiar to younger workers who have grown up with technology in all aspects of their lives. Some virtual reality immersive training systems even look very similar to video games but are designed to develop or refine proficiency in field operations. Given that the training is accessible and the content is appropriate to the operator’s work, the learning is retained in a timely fashion.


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