When the Edison Illuminating Company opened its first electric generating station in 1882, its primary purpose was to power the light bulbs purchased by the inventor’s customers and provide limited street lighting. Today, there is hardly a home or business in South Africa’s cities that is not filled with electrical appliances and doesn’t depend upon coal- or oil-fired generating stations to supply the necessary mains power. Operating a generating facility is a complex and potentially dangerous task. Consequently, practical thermal power plant training is crucial to ensure operator safety, avoid damage to valuable equipment and maintain supply continuity.

Whether these shortcomings are due to ageing infrastructure, mismanagement, inadequate funding, or all three, the national service provider’s generating capacity has been severely compromised for several years. Brownouts and load shedding have plagued households and businesses nationwide as Eskom has struggled to meet the constantly growing demand for electricity. While greener alternatives are needed, burning fossil fuels to generate the steam to drive turbines remains the most effective expansion option. Consequently, there will be a need for a form of thermal power plant training that is rapid yet highly effective as the provider’s planned new facilities are completed and add their output to the grid.

When the industry was less pressured, there was more time for the traditional combination of classroom-based theoretical instruction and on-the-job practical experience that was the norm for many years. Nevertheless, the system had its drawbacks. During busy periods, it was not convenient to instruct trainees. Furthermore, the only way for a recruit to study the procedures for handling emergencies was to watch an experienced operator in action and attempt to take notes. By contrast, trainees who receive simulated thermal power plant training are not bound by these limitations. 

More importantly, learning in this fashion allows the participants the freedom to make mistakes without risking the potentially fatal consequences that might otherwise occur in a conventional training environment. Experience has shown that learning from one’s mistakes can be a particularly effective exercise, and a simulation is the safest way to leverage this powerful teaching concept. So, how does a simulated training system work?

The secret lies in specialised software that can reproduce all or part of the workplace control layout to create an interactive game-like environment. During a thermal power plant training session, the instructor can create typical everyday scenarios and monitor the efforts of multiple trainees as they attempt to use the computerised controls to put the actions they have been taught into practice.

SimuPACT is widely regarded as the preferred choice to develop simulations for all forms of electrical power generation and applications in several other strategic industries. The product provides a powerful, scalable and flexible development platform with the aid of its three main components – modelling tools, DCS/HMI emulation and a virtual instructor. 

The SimuPACT modelling tools provide engineers with a rapid means to develop high-fidelity, full-scope thermal power plant training simulations using an intuitive graphical user interface. The package comes with an extensive object library that includes a flow solver, control system building blocks, shafts, pulverisers and electrical networks, to name just a few. In addition, a scripting library provides power users with almost unlimited scope for customisation. The package offers three options for developing distributed control systems and the human/machine interface. Users can generate these automatically by importing their plant’s DCM/HMI files for translation or manually, employing drawings of the relevant screens and creating the remaining elements with the SimuPACT software. 

Alternatively, when developing the simulated thermal power plant training programme, the engineer can forward the plant’s files to the DCM/HMI vendor, who will then build the required emulation to run on their PC application.

The virtual instructor provides multiple functions. The instructor can record all actions by initiating a recording system, forming the basis for simulated scenarios for future use or reporting purposes. An editing facility provides a means to modify the stored emulations to focus on a specific activity or recreate deliberate operating malfunctions that will challenge the learner’s skills and realise the full potential of thermal power plant training. Other features include continuous assessment of trainee performance based on presettable parameters, providing support with helpful hints, and generating written reports.

SimGenics is a leading supplier of simulation software and generic simulations for numerous industrial applications. Click here to learn more about the SimuPACT software and its many benefits for instructors and learners engaged in thermal power plant training. 

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