Developing High-Level Operator Skills Prior to Startup

For those that follow the various forms of auto racing, you know that the skills of the drivers typically separate overall race results, even when the racecars are nearly identical in performance.

Emerson's Ronnie Bains


And so it is with experienced, high-level operators in process manufacturing and production facilities. Emerson’s Ronnie Bains shared a recent eptq article, Operator training simulator accelerates learning, with me.

eptq-operator-trainingThe article opens noting an American Petroleum Institute study, which found:

…there was a $350 000 per year per operator positive financial impact when an operator was ‘upskilled’ from an average to an advanced level. Insufficiently trained operators are the single largest source of production losses. The better operators know the processes they are responsible for overseeing, the less likely they are to make mistakes.

The article highlights a project by Iberian Lube Base Oils Company (ILBOC). The project team sought:

…to improve the subsequent commissioning process, ensuring the plant was brought online according to the planification and in a safe and efficient manner.

Another key objective:

…was to provide operations personnel with a specific, identical and realistic offline environment for them to gain practical experience and familiarity with the DCS, SIS and process as a whole. It was also important to gain experience operating the process systems in various situations including start-up and shutdown, normal operations at different throughputs, recovery from various malfunctions and upsets, and emergency shutdowns. Finally, the training needed to help test and validate operating procedures, control strategies and logic, as well as support debottlenecking.

They identified a six-month window between the plant design and commissioning project phases where distributed control system (DCS) and safety instrumented system (SIS) operator training could be performed. A DeltaV DCS, Operator Training Solution (OTS) and Emerson simulation consultants provided the technology and expertise to help address these objectives. The OTS:

…included a virtualised DeltaV system for process control and an integrated third party safety instrumentation system for process and emergency shutdowns. ILBOC Operator training simulator accelerates learning required medium fidelity modelling of the production process.

The process model [hyperlink added]:

…was integrated into the virtual integrated control and safety system (ICSS) using SEEDS (Standard Entities for the Engineering of Dynamic Simulators).

The risk and complexity of the project was minimized, since:

…OTS provided a flexible architecture and integrated solution with all elements including the process model, ICSS control database and SIS logic within the same environment. As a result there was no requirement for additional integration work between control and safety systems using OPC communications.

The operators took part in a four-month onsite simulation-based training program, allowing them to:

…log hundreds of hours in a wide variety of situations. It also allowed them to widen their range of experience and instill confidence in handling many process situations. Personnel learned about both DeltaV system operating concepts and the actual process, preparing operators to effectively handle abnormal situations and process upsets, as well as providing decision support.

This combination of simulation expertise and integrated technology helped ILBOC achieve their goals in having prepared and skilled operators for the plant once it started up. The article concludes:

By providing realistic, hands-on, process specific learning in a safe, controlled environment without any risk to plant personnel or operations, the DeltaV OTS exposed ILBOC operators to what they are now experiencing in their actual control room. Through the use of intentional malfunctions, scenarios, initial conditions, field operator devices and forced level entry the ILBOC workforce’s learning experience was accelerated.

Read the article for more on the project and results. You can also connect and interact with other simulation and project experts in the Implement & Build group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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