Simulator Training Extends Its Role

Chemical makers now seek enterprise-wide and lifecycle opportunities

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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The advent of new feedstocks, the increasing interest in making batch/specialty chemicals, the growth of cloud-based applications and the need for broader training strategies are creating greater-than-ever opportunities at chemical makers for training simulators, say vendors of such technology.

One vendor benefitting from these opportunities is AVEVA, Lake Forest, Calif., which earlier this year completed its merger with Schneider Electric’s industrial software business.

Enterprise-wide needs increasingly drive the demand for operator training simulators (OTSs), according to Ian Willetts, AVEVA’s vice president, simulation & training. “It’s becoming more operator and training simulators,” he says.

Willetts cites a recent example of this at a project carried out for Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), Ahmadi, Kuwait. For a number of years the company had used SimSci software to train control room workers. However, the need to improve overall operator training and also to effectively capture and transfer knowledge from older staff led KOC to select SimSci’s EYESIM immersive virtual reality technology. The new training system connects all plant personnel with a high-fidelity 3D process simulation and virtual walk-through plant environment.

KOC already is seeing the results both in terms of fewer accidents and avoidance of costly plant shutdowns, notes Willetts.

While the “graying” workforce in developed economies presents one demographic challenge for operating companies, another comes from the young, largely unskilled workforces found in many less-developed economies.

“For example, a grassroots refinery in Nigeria needs trained staff to work not only as operators but also in maintenance, field engineering, [and] process engineering — in fact at every level in the facility. So, there is also a big new push on here for enterprise-wide training that brings simulation to a much broader audience,” he explains.

The cloud also is positively impacting simulator training. A number of chemical companies, says Willets, are pursuing a strategy already taken by Arizona Public Service, the largest electrical utility in that state. Its generating plants are hundreds of miles apart but adopting a fully cloud-accessed OTS has eliminated the need for operations staff to travel for training sessions. In addition, the entire training system powers up in just five minutes, so staff can begin training immediately.

“Once you open the door to a platform on the cloud, you can develop an open system which allows people from all across an enterprise to access the training they need,” he adds.

A similar approach taken by Paris-based refiner and petrochemicals producer Total means that any engineer within the company can launch training simulations on both processes and equipment using dynamic simulation at that person’s siteno matter where in the world it’s located (Figure 1).

“One specific model we delivered for Total concerns compressors. They are such a crucial piece of equipment and a perfect example of something that must be thoroughly understood by new staff. The simulator is accessed through the company’s learning management system, which Total now wants to open out to include other equipment. We are pursuing very similar projects with other process customers, too,” comments Willetts.

Changing raw materials have opened up other opportunities. In the U.S., for example, the move to shale gas and natural gas liquids as feedstocks means that operators must have expert feedstock knowledge.

“Here, we have integrated FMC Technologies’ Spyro furnace design and optimization software into our OTS, something that has never been done successfully before. It gives our users a much fuller understanding of feedstock parameters,” he adds.

AVEVA also is pushing the importance of best practices via an experienced training services team. The goal is to help customers map its technology onto their own competency frameworks. This is critical for customer success, says Willetts, who notes that without it outcomes provide much less value. “It’s a key differentiator for us and something we are carrying out for multiple clients.”

The Value Proposition

Effective training prevents accidents from happening and reduces process challenges such as bottlenecks and equipment failures — so OTSs provide real value, stresses Dinu Ajikutira, senior director of product marketing at AspenTech, Bedford, Mass.

The technology has a proven track record, he says, with savings of up to $15 million per project that embraces an OTS.

As an example of such benefits, he cites a project with CEPSA, Madrid, which has two manufacturing sites, one in Spain and the other in China.

“They have about 46 operators at the two locations and wanted them to have identical training, for example at startup and shutdown, so as to develop similar skill sets and then be interchangeable between the two plants,” Ajikutira explains.

AspenTech used HYSYS simulation software and the distributed control system operator workstations in the plants’ control rooms. These were then connected to a hyperdynamic model in the Aspen OTS framework and 50 different disturbance scenarios were created.

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