Operator Training Gains Ground

Initiatives build on established methods as well as emerging technology.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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To capture what is in operators' heads, HPS has created specialized groups called communities of practice. Facilitated by virtual environments such as online forums, wikis and podcasts, these communities enable people to contribute information and knowledge. Each community is held together by common goals and a desire to share experiences, insights and best practices related to the particular topic or discipline. For example, a community dedicated to advanced process control employs peer-to-peer webinars, posts project summaries and documents successes to help capture industry knowledge and drive member proficiency.

This type of collaboration allows HPS to gather valuable experience-based knowledge that is difficult to transfer or communicate otherwise -- and thus to retain intellectual capital, promote global standardization and create a sustainable platform for innovation.

For its part, Eastman doesn't rely on online sites like YouTube or podcasting for training. "A fairly recent survey of some of our current apprentices and recent apprentice graduates revealed that they did not want to be trained to be a chemical operator using these techniques. However, we will continue to explore new technologies for selected training activities," notes Conway.

Martin Olausson, principal scientist, corporate research, for ABB, Zurich, Switz., believes the growing popularity of devices like iPhones, iPads and Kinect will lead to different interfaces to boost efficiency. Speaking about tomorrow's operators at ABB Automation and Power World held in Orlando, Fla., in late April, he said: "They are much more used to digital devices like this… They will not accept anything less than what they have at home. They demand more from us."

So, ABB may incorporate such technologies as eye tracking, video game software, natural user interfaces and information visualization into industrial operator interfaces. "Digital natives will be the plant personnel of tomorrow," he stressed.

ABB also is working on more evolutionary changes that will help today's operators do their jobs more effectively (Figure 2). Its researchers spend several days with end users, observing them, asking questions and taking notes about what they see. They then analyze what they've seen, looking also to see if there are geographic differences in behavior. The team develops concepts and prototypes and takes them back to the users. "If it's not better, then we never release it. When it's good, it's handed over to R&D," Olausson explains. For more, see: www.ControlGlobal.com/articles/2011/ABB2011_APW9.html.

Meanwhile, Invensys Operations Management (IOM), London, U.K., is collaborating with ENI Refining and Marketing, Genoa, Italy, to develop virtual reality training systems.

The two companies are piloting the SimSci-Esscor EYESIM training kiosk, which offers immersive 3D simulation, at ENI's Gela refinery in Sicily. If successful, kiosks will be rolled out to other ENI facilities around the globe.

EYESIM enables operators and engineers to see and safely interact with the plant and the processes they control. Relying on gaming and other skill sets most familiar to younger employees, EYESIM is designed to appeal to both new and veteran staff (Figure 3).

"Using proven SimSci-Esscor simulation software integrated with a games console controller and 3D navigation, trainees and plant personnel can learn process operations and procedures from an interactive tutorial. They can also score their performance with unrestricted access to training kiosks that offer a fully lifelike virtual plant," says Maurizio Rovaglio, IOM's head of innovation and emerging technologies.


Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's  Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net.


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