6 Ways to Keep Your Simulator Project on Schedule
Simulator projects can run anywhere from three months for a retune to years for some greenfield plant projects where plant data is unavailable. Yet whether we’re talking months or years, time is money and it is a valuable commodity. That’s why we’ve compiled a shortlist of the 6 possible ways plants can help manage the project timeline and keep their simulator project on schedule.
1. Define a single point of contact as the team leader, to see it all the way through
Simulators entail the marriage of sophisticated software and hardware systems working together with your plant’s distributed control system (DCS). The process often involves the utility, the simulator provider, and the DCS vendor. Defining a team leader from the plant who can focus on testing and has the authority to make decisions will keep the project moving forward.
The simulator build process can present a good opportunity to introduce plant staff to new graphics or controls, but keeping the primary simulator project team to a predefined set of focused personnel will help avoid timeline slips that might occur with frequent new or rotating personnel.
When staff outside the main team are being exposed to the simulator, it is important to have the team leader keep the testing moving forward.
2. Schedule your project to avoid outage time
Chances are that your plant schedules outages several months in advance. It’s important to keep this in mind when creating a simulator project schedule. Projects are bound to get held up if your team members cannot travel to the simulator vendor site for testing due to an ‘all hands on deck’ outage situation. Worse yet is a project disruption where those on-site for simulator testing get called in to the plant on a moment’s notice.
It’s best to avoid a simulator project during scheduled outages to ensure that it will not affect the project schedule. However, for long term projects extending several months, this often can’t be avoided. These situations can be best accommodated in the time after the initial kick off meeting and data collection activities and before the team members are needed for integrated startup and shutdown testing at the vendor’s factory. The simulation engineers can use the outage period for building models, when they will require less plant support.
Given that outages are a fact, it’s good for the team leader and simulator vendor project manager to take those scheduling impacts into account earlier rather than later.
3. Include an Instrumentation & Controls (I&C) engineer on the project team
The interplay between the simulator and the DCS is complex. Just as the DCS provider is focused on the controls, a good simulation engineer is focused on the models. An I&C engineer from the plant can provide the perfect bridge between the two systems. This is especially important on virtual commissioning simulator projects. [Check out our free presentation for more information on the benefits of virtual commissioning, Virtual Commissioning Plus Real-Time Training Equals Increased Performance and Profits].
Not only will a utility I&C engineer be able to identify more issues with a plant’s logic and controls, but they’ll have the authority and know-how to make DCS changes in real time. This creates a well-rounded simulator project team for accurate and timely discrepancy reporting and correction.
4. Leverage technology in your testing process
Handwritten log books for tracking simulator discrepancies during testing are hard to share and keep up with across the various project team members from the plant, DCS, and simulator vendors. A web-based discrepancy reporting system, such as GSE’s JADE Mantis, offers automated notification settings, secure accessibility for all project team members, and reporting functions to make review of DRs a much simpler task.
Another example of leveraging technology is GSE’s Scenario Based Testing (SBT) function which can be setup to run a scenario overnight and allows the team to review the results in the morning. SBT is especially useful for instances of retesting key variables after a DR fix. Download our free presentation for more information on SBT, Simulator Implementation Efficiencies When Using Automated Testing.
5. Get investment and support from the whole utility
While simulators are indeed a great way for plant superintendents and training managers to increase trainee throughput and plant efficiency through virtual commissioning, they are also a benefit to the entire organization and an asset that everyone should be made aware of.
Oftentimes a simulator is bought as an addition to a control room DCS upgrade and while it’s engineering driven, it’s important that the operators have an input throughout the project to maximize their acceptance of the delivered simulator. A team who feels like their voice has been heard is more likely to fully utilize the simulator that they’ve had a hand in building and testing.
Besides sharing the benefits of a simulator throughout the organization, with buy-in from all levels in a utility, communication barriers are broken down. This helps ensure a project stays on schedule when the simulator vendor requests data from the control room or engineering.
6. Be fluid and be prepared
Perhaps the best advice for remaining on schedule is being realistic in knowing that various challenges will arise that impact the project schedule. Being prepared for these changes can help to lessen any burden to the project schedule.
Utilities are not immune to unplanned outages and personnel turnover. It is important to consider these factors when preparing a project schedule and to build in flex time to account for these hiccups as much as possible.
It’s all about the process. We’ve fine-tuned a very effective “build” process through which we get out of the gate quickly and give the project the best opportunity for schedule success.
A simulator is built in steps; kick-off and data collection, building the models, integration startup and shutdown testing, formal factory and site acceptance testing. It’s like a relay race, you want to get a lead early. Our engineers come prepared at the kick-off meeting having already reviewed available plant data and with any questions.
The overarching theme of our 6 tips shared in this post is communication. Whether it’s the sharing of information across the project team or within your organization, open and timely communication is the key to keeping your simulator project on schedule.
Did you find this blog helpful? Do you have another tip for keeping projects on schedule? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us