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Everything you need to know about Power Plant Simulation Training 

Why is the need for operator training increasing?

One of the biggest problems facing the electricity generation industry today is an acute shortage of personnel with the necessary experience. The problem is compounded by the growing demand for power by consumers, pressuring plant managers to find ways to increase production. Increased output will often require upgrading older legacy systems with more efficient but often less familiar systems. 

Increasingly, power plant simulation training is becoming accepted as the most effective way to ensure new station personnel are sufficiently competent to perform all of the required complex operations in the shortest time possible. In practice, this type of instruction can develop a level of proficiency in a matter of months that would typically take years to achieve with traditional methods.

Why Train Your Staff with a Simulator?

There is a close parallel between the responsibilities of a commercial airline pilot and those of a power plant operator. It is this that makes simulation training the best option in each case. The task of each involves controlling expensive and complex machines, and the consequences of failing to do so correctly could have inconvenient or even catastrophic consequences. Few people would board an aircraft if they thought the co-pilot was about to receive his or her first flying lesson during their flight. 

That said, much of a pilot’s instruction centres around the appropriate actions to take in the event of various emergencies. For both pilots and those in control of a power plant, simulation training offers a means to gain the necessary experience in handling every possible type of emergency proficiently, but without endangering either the equipment involved or other human beings. 

For the record, the use of simulators as a teaching medium is growing, particularly in fields where there is an element of risk to the operator or others. For example, medical students and nurses can gain competence with techniques, such as stitching wounds and inserting a cannula into a vein before putting them into practice. Even experienced surgeons faced with a new procedure, just like power plant operators, can benefit from simulation training.

How Does it Work?

The basic idea is to create an artificial learning environment that resembles the live operating conditions as closely as possible. In practice, it is not essential to duplicate every feature of the live scenario as long as the setup allows trainees to gain hands-on experience of all desired operation. For example, to train a power plant operator, the simulation could cover training in a single specified process, a set of related functions, or a full menu of every operation that might become necessary. Naturally, the more extensive the requirement, the greater will be the associated cost. While it is an extreme example, an approved full flight simulator for a wide-bodied jet that duplicates the flight deck in every last detail could carry a price tag of up to $10 million.

In practice, it is not necessary to create a physical structure when designing a power plant simulation training system. Instead, the various controls can be reproduced on a touch screen by a computer software programme or even broadcast wirelessly to a Virtual Reality headset. Naturally, a trainee’s actions do not initiate a physical process as they would in the live environment. Nevertheless, a well-designed system will be capable of providing feedback regarding the appropriateness and effectiveness of each action performed. However, the true strength of these systems undoubtedly lies in the way trainees learn from their mistakes and can repeat any given activity until they can perform it perfectly. In this way, power plant simulation training can condense the equivalent of weeks of valuable experience into an hour or less. It also minimises the time required of skilled employees who might be called upon to oversee the sessions.

Managing the Cost

As mentioned earlier, the software programme need only address those areas relevant to trainees’ needs. This, in turn, will influence the cost. Also, it is often possible to purchase a generic package that covers all of the necessary learning activities but which generates a display that will differ from the live environment to varying degrees. However, where the need is ongoing, it might pay to invest in bespoke power plant simulation software for training purposes. To be sure of a solution that works and is right for you, talk to us at SimGenics.

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