Nuclear Power Operator Training

How Gaming Technology Can Simplify and Improve Powerplant Training

If anything has become as popular or even more so than television, it has to be video games. Many will recall the days when we tapped away on the spacebar to destroy as many of those pixelated objects described as “space invaders” as possible. Since then, people of all ages have remained eager to do battle, win races, build empires, or complete quests in the virtual world of computer gaming. This same technology is now widely used to simulate the layout of a powerplant for training purposes.

There can be little doubt that the concept of simulating various work situations for educational purposes is an effective one. For example, simulators have been a compulsory component of commercial flight training for decades, and they have proved to be invaluable. On a more sinister note, the exceptional marksmanship displayed by those troubled but untrained warriors who conduct random mass shootings also appears to be the result of skills gained in the virtual gaming environment. These are just two examples that serve to confirm the potential value of simulated powerplant training. It’s worth noting that US Marines now regularly employ a system known as the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer (ISMT) to develop, hone and maintain their shooting skills in typical combat situations.

Healthcare is yet another area in which simulations have been growing in importance. Now, trainee doctors can practice suturing, injections and similar practical skills in life-like situations that pose no threat to a real patient. Given this catalogue of successes, accepting the benefits of conducting powerplant training with this technology should be a no-brainer. So how are simulations used in this instance?

Whether developing a video game or creating a realistic, interactive representation of a complex working environment such as a typical electricity generating facility, the task can be both lengthy and expensive. For that reason, many plant managers may choose to settle for an off-the-shelf, generic product. In use, these products allow trainees to manipulate simulated controls and to perform all of the routine and emergency tasks they will need to perform in their powerplant once their training is complete. 

Depending upon the sophistication of generic products, they will offer varying degrees of trainee assessment and feedback. These features can be invaluable both to the trainees and their supervisors. However, while a generic simulation may allow all of the activities required, its controls, precise layout and appearance will differ from those of the live system in use. Nevertheless, while using a generic simulator for training powerplant operatives may take a little longer, it is still quicker and safer than on-the-job tuition. Furthermore, a generic product can cost considerably less than commissioning a bespoke system for a company on a tight budget.

That said, there is a lot to be gained by offering trainees access to a simulated learning environment identical to their live workplace in every last detail. Plant managers will often find that when the time comes to upgrade their existing control systems, it can also be the perfect opportunity to invest in a bespoke simulation to conduct the necessary powerplant training. To develop will first require performing a detailed inspection of the workplace. The collected data is then fed to a specialised software platform where it is used to create a virtual environment that is identical in every detail to the original.  

It may be that the need is for personnel to be trained only in certain specific aspects of plant control. For such purposes, purchasing a full-scope simulator may not be necessary. Instead, it is often possible to obtain simulations of individual control processes. This option enables the end-user to implement a more targeted type of powerplant training. SimGenics has an extensive collection of these unit process simulations covering activities such as boiler operation and control, condenser operation, mill and burner operation and the Rankine Cycle. In some cases, trainees can run the programme in demo mode or choose to override it and switch to manual control.

There can be little doubt that the use of simulated virtual environments seems destined to become the future of practical training. Whether for use by the petrochemical industry, mining, desalination plants, or those who employ fossil fuels or nuclear reactors in the nation’s powerplants, SimGenics has a range of innovative and effective training solutions.

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