Last year, I editorialized that it would be great to see a new generation of educational and entertaining hands-on toys to get children interested in science and technology -- "We Need Another A.C. Gilbert." I added that using the virtual world to that end certainly would help, too. While I haven't seen any new toys of that ilk on the shelves, a promising online game debuted in late March. It comes from a company that some might consider an unlikely source -- Siemens Industry, Inc., Alpharetta, Ga.
Siemens launched "Plantville," www.plantville.com, an online gaming platform that it says simulates the experience of being a plant manager. "Players are faced with the challenge of maintaining the operation of their plant while trying to improve the productivity, efficiency, sustainability, and overall health of their facility," explains the company.
"Plantville is an innovative, educational and fun way for Siemens to engage customers, employees, prospects, students and the general public while driving awareness of Siemens technologies and brand. The game enables players to improve the health of their plants by learning about and applying industrial and infrastructure products and solutions from Siemens. Gamers will be measured on a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including safety, on-time delivery, quality, energy management and employee satisfaction."
"Siemens is capitalizing on the tremendous growth of online engagement to demonstrate how our expertise can make industry and infrastructure more competitive by increasing sustainability, energy efficiency and productivity in a fun and educational environment," says Daryl Dulaney, Siemens Industry's president and CEO. "We also hope Plantville will generate excitement in the areas of math, science and technology while inspiring a new generation of plant managers and engineers."
Players can select from three types of virtual plants -- vitamin production, bottling or train manufacturing. For chemical engineers, the process plant undoubtedly should rank as first choice.
"The players must identify the challenges facing their plant and implement solutions to improve their plants KPIs. Gamers will compete with one another on a number of levels, including plant-to-plant and on specific KPIs," notes the company.
As in the real world, every decision affects plant performance. So, succeeding depends upon striking the most appropriate balance among many factors.
Players can gain help and insight from the key character in this virtual world -- Pete, the plant manager of AC/DC Motors, whose facility has just been named "Plant of the Year." Pete shares his best practices and hosts a leader board that shows the top gamers. He interacts with players through live weekly chat sessions in the so-called Plantville Cafe, which later will be available on demand, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
The Plantville Cafe also includes frequently asked questions, not just on the game, but also on five areas of technology: drive technologies, industry services, industry automation, building technologies, and transportation and logistics. For instance, the Industry Services section gives some advice on the most appropriate UV filtration system to provide acceptable quality for up to 3,000 gal/min.
Pete also poses "puzzlers" that test problem-solving skills (much like those in our long-running Process Puzzler department, see www.chemicalprocessing.com/voices/process_puzzler.html). Solving a puzzler provides gamers with insights for enhancing their plants' performance. The first person with the correct answer gets bonus points and recognition on Plantville's Facebook page.
The game also features a multi-media room with a number of YouTube videos, including one in which Pete answers questions at the press conference for the Plant of the Year award.
"Plantville, like the plants within it, will undergo updates and changes. Siemens will continue to develop and enhance this innovative platform to reflect the continuing advancement of its technologies, as well as other elements that change or have an impact on industry and infrastructure," notes the firm.
I hope Plantville attracts lots of young people and gets them interested in science and technology while sensitizing them to the challenges of real-world manufacturing. However, engineers had better outperform teenagers in this online game.
I also hope that other technology firms will follow Siemens' lead in developing such educational and entertaining online offerings.
MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief and chief kid at heart. You can e-mail him at email@example.com