Operator Training Gains Ground

Initiatives build on established methods as well as emerging technology.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Quantifying whether training has been successful also is a challenge. To this end, COP currently is considering funding a project that will evaluate operators at one refinery who have used DMX against operators at a different refinery who have not. "We will try to evaluate differences in the speed and accuracy of decision-making by the two sets of operators and we hope that the data will speak for itself," notes Strobhar.

COP's member companies already are funding a project to investigate why one crew may get better performance from a plant's distributed control system (DCS) than another crew. Quantifying this, if possible, should enable highlighting the factors involved. "Some new data-mining software is being applied that correlates operator performance with DCS performance. We hope to be able to say that training leads to a more stable process."

In all of COP's activities, the drive is to provide an effective feedback loop from current performance to the training system to see if training is delivering desired results. "That loop is currently missing in a lot of training. For example, we often see that well-liked training has little or no effect on operator performance. Without the feedback loop, we can never get over this."

At Eastman Chemical Company, Kingsport, Tenn., giving operators the knowledge and skills needed requires the most training of any position at the company.

"Our operator apprentice program and structured training program for these positions are 3–4 years in length," says Laurey Conway, an Eastman training associate. Operators also must complete health, safety, environment and security training, along with area-specific post-apprenticeship and soft skills training.

As part of its drive for cost-effectiveness, Eastman since 2003 has had Northeast State Community College, Blountville, Tenn., run the operator apprentice program. Last year, the school took over the maintenance apprentice program. Sessions take place at the school's Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which opened in the Fall of 2009 (Figure 1).

"We have partnered with Northeast State in the development of a chemical process operator training curriculum. This development work is part of the overall advanced manufacturing partnership (AMP) project, which is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development grant through Eastman Chemical Company's Project Reinvest Initiative," adds Conway.

To find out if the operator apprentice and structured training programs are doing their jobs, Eastman uses proctored online tests and on-the-job certifications and recertifications. The company also monitors operator job performance, particularly with regard to safety, the environment and quality.

Conway notes the company also is exploring new ways to capture the skills and knowledge of its senior operating staff -- up to 200 of whom are expected to retire annually through 2015.

Meanwhile, in early April, Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS), Phoenix, Ariz., announced an expansion of its in-house engineering training and development programs to help deliver qualified talent for its industrial automation business.

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