An Innovative New Approach to Plant Operator Training

Attempting to teach a practical skill often involves challenges not experienced by those who teach theoretical topics through the medium of textbooks and lectures. Admittedly, even when learning to handle a drill press or a chisel, pupils face a degree of risk. Fortunately, it is minimal, and a good instructor will adopt measures to ensure a learner’s safety. However, some jobs can be too challenging for an inexperienced trainee to perform even under supervisionand plant operator training involves many such tasks.

Getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time can be a highly unnerving experience. How much more nervous might trainees become when faced with the knowledge that their actions can affect the electricity supply to thousands of consumers or even result in damage to power station equipment? 

As domestic, commercial, and industrial consumers’ demands continue to grow, the pressures on power plants to increase production is increasing in parallel. Upgrades, extensions, and new plants are the obvious solution. However, a lack of experienced personnel creates a need for additional plant operator training for those new to the industry. When new generating facilities are built, or existing plants undergo an upgrade, most of their staff will invariably be unfamiliar with the latest control technology. They also will need to learn every last detail of its operation before the system can safely go online. 

If someone on the staff has the required skills, they could assume the responsibility for plant operator training. However, taking individuals through each step of the numerous processes involved will not only be time-consuming, but it will also carry the risk of mishaps that could result in power drops or interruptions to the supply. While studying the manuals is always a wise idea, it is not the best way to master any practical task. So, what is the solution?

Computerises simulations are now widely used to train commercial pilots, the military, and members of the medical profession, to name just a few. This same technology has proved equally effective as a means to conduct plant operator training. Currently available options cover those processes relevant to natural gas and coal-fired plants operation and nuclear-powered facilities.In practice, the use of simulated environments for training purposes has been spreading. There are also virtual teaching programmes for the mining and petrochemical industries and even desalination plants as well as power generation simulations.

The range of available products is quite extensive and allows a company to choose according to its specific needs and its budget. For those conducting plant operator training, there is a choice of either generic or bespoke products. These, in turn, may be designed to cover the full scope of routine and emergency procedures used within a given facility, or just those individual processes for which a company may have a specific need. Whichever of these options a company may choose, the benefits of employing a computerised simulation as a training tool are manifold. Let’s take a look at some of the more important ones.

Whether for plant operator training or other purposes, simulations provide trainees with a learning experience that is almost indistinguishable from reality, creating real-life scenarios in which they can actively engage. As with any learning situation, feedback is essential and a significant benefit of simulators. Sophisticated software allows instructors to set goals, monitor a learner’s progress, and obtain instant feedback which they can then use to provide motivation or constructive criticism as indicated.

While an initial investment is necessary, the reduced time and cost of plant operator training will more than justify the upfront costs, which are soon recouped. Once in possession of a simulator, it can be used repeatedly, either to instruct new employees or to provide refresher courses for existing staff. Given that software enables close monitoring of trainee performance, the collected data can generate detailed reports to HR departments, which could be a useful component of employee assessments.

Last, but certainly not least, as mentioned earlier, conducting on-the-job plant operator training carries risks. Knowing the consequences of a mistake can be unnerving for trainees and make them more prone to do so. By contrast, learning in an accurately simulated environment inspires confidence and allows learners to make mistakes and learn from them with no attendant risk. 

For more details of how your company can begin enjoying these benefits, contact SimGenics, an established industry leader.

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