How Do You Train a Process Manufacturing Plant Operator?

March 11, 2005
Sybron Chemicals had the right idea when it sought to properly document the procedures for its wastewater treatment plant. The first step for improving both employee and plant efficiency is to have an up-to-date plant manual.

Sybron Chemicals, a Lanxess company, produces ion-exchange resins for the chemical processing market at its Birmingham, N.J., site, which has been in operation for about 25 years. The wastewater treatment plant uses biomass to digest organic waste to meet the discharge parameters established by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). With a capacity of 1.5 million gpd, the plant processes a stream of about 750,000 gal./day and is classified by NJDEP as an N4 operation, which is the highest classification.

The wastewater plant operates continuously. A team of four operators per shift is responsible for keeping the plant within mandated limits and performing required tests. While monitoring process parameters, the operators assess conditions and make any necessary adjustments. The plant supervisor is, of course, the final arbiter.

When a position becomes vacant, an inexperienced person might be hired, but usually an experienced operator is transferred from the chemical plant on a job-bid basis. In either case, the new operator needs to be trained. A brief period of classroom instruction is followed by four to six weeks of shadowing an experienced operator. After observing the routine, the trainee is assigned hands-on duties under the supervision of an experienced operator.

Sybron Chemicals knew that properly documenting the plant procedures would help ensure that correct operation of the wastewater plant was not left to chance. Unlike on-the-job training (OJT), formal documentation would be available around the clock and would cover all aspects of plant operation, including emergencies, allowing all personnel to benefit.

Additionally, NJDEP requires wastewater facilities to have an operations manual that can be updated. By formalizing its documentation, Sybron would have all of its operating procedures in one place and in an easily revisable format, ensuring that timely revisions can be made as required by NJDEP.

Set your site on training
Sybron’s management had no desire to replace the OJT procedure – hands-on experience would always be an essential part of an operator’s training. But good documentation would enhance the OJT and make sure experienced operators’ knowledge was consistently passed on to other personnel. To prepare such documentation, Sybron hired Biach Information Arts (BIA), Cranford, N.J., to deliver a complete operating manual.

BIA’s goal was to prepare documentation that would allow a newly hired operator with a basic understanding of plant operation to successfully complete a procedure without continual supervision. The documentation would also serve as a refresher for experienced operators, enabling them to anticipate and review in advance emergency procedures and routines that are performed only periodically. Overall, it would make both new and experienced operators more knowledgeable, comfortable and confident.

Since BIA personnel aren’t familiar with a site’s operating procedures when they arrive, they have a “fresh” perspective that allows them to identify areas that need to be addressed. For example, BIA found that data were being inconsistently handled and classified, making them difficult to correlate. Naming conventions were developed so that data were always entered into the system the same way.

The manual for Sybron Chemicals’ wastewater treatment plant includes in-depth, detailed operating procedures, including a description of each one’s purpose. BIA also documented which pieces of plant equipment were in operation. The documentation is available to the operators in hard copy and digitally on a CD-ROM, which allows staff to easily make changes and provides links to prerequisite procedures where required.

Since the project concluded in 2003, the documentation has been available not only to the operations team, but to everyone in the company. The operators say the new manuals are a valuable reference that correctly and completely reflects the operation of the plant. Sybron’s safety department says the written procedures are an important step toward enhancing safety in the plant. The structured data approach might one day be extended for documentation and training throughout the Birmingham facility.

William Biach is CEO for Biach Information Arts, Cranford, N.J., which helps chemical, power, nuclear and related industry companies align critical business processes with business needs. E-mail him at [email protected].

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