With as much as 40 percent of the current workforce in some industries retiring in the next five years and increasing difficulty in attracting new talent, innovative training and certification solutions are essential. Keeping plants operating safely, with optimal performance and reliability, requires companies to find new ways to improve the competency of their operators. This article describes some of the promising technologies that will shape operator training in the coming years.
Operations staff directly affects plant safety, availability, and reliability. Rising fines and costs associated with incidents such as unplanned outages, accidents, and spills are among the additional factors driving the creation of new programs for safety and operational excellence. Operator training simulators (OTS) are a key component of such initiatives. Process manufacturers buy simulator systems to train new employees, to update the skills of existing engineers, and to institutionalize and retain the knowledge of experienced operators. Although dynamic simulation and operator training simulators have been available for a long time, technology and applications continue to evolve around customers’ growing needs to improve training. Now companies are investing in three areas: integrating OTS systems into conventional corporate training programs, running OTS in virtual environments to avoid project schedule conflicts, and adding three-dimensional (3-D) virtual reality capability to reduce training costs and improve safety.
Course development, training materials, and instruction are the fundamentals of any good OTS program. However, a modern environment also requires companies to deliver traditional programs in different ways and to integrate the information with existing learning management systems (LMS). Over the past three or four years, there has been a growing interest in the concept of corporate operator training simulators (C-OTS) that address this requirement, including increased adoption of the sharable content object reference model standard, which facilitates sharing among disparate e-learning systems.
Improving safety-critical skills by enabling operators to perform tasks in a simulated environment, allowing them to react quickly and correctly, facilitating reactions in high-stress conditions, and instilling confidence and standards for teamwork and communications.
Conceptually, a C-OTS encapsulates a remotely hosted operator training simulator. The solution involves a client-server architecture in which the server runs the simulation model remotely, and the customer accesses the simulator through the client.
Maximizing the benefit of such simulators requires an organized, comprehensive training program that optimizes the use of the simulator and operator job performance. Doing so effectively requires upfront attention to details and answers to the following questions:
- How will I conduct training on the OTS once it is delivered?
- How will the OTS be incorporated into the programs we already have in place?
- How can I leverage the plant data and training materials we already have in producing my simulator training materials
- How do we make sure the investment made in an OTS has long-term value?
Addressing these questions early in the process can add significant value to the OTS investment and, if a comprehensive plan is built around such questions, can safeguard that value for the life of the plant (while also capturing the knowledge and experience associated with the simulator construction and validation). The five-phase, performance-based training approach shown in the diagram is an effective guide to reaching this goal.
Following this procedure will help companies develop a comprehensive, translatable, performance-based program that meets the operational goals of the facility. Trainees would learn to respond to upsets in proper, predictable ways, and their growth as operators would become real, visible, and documented.
Peter Richmond is Schneider Electric’s EYESIM/OTS product manager, supporting clients in Europe, Russia, and Africa. He holds a master of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, in Manchester, U.K.