How to Improve Troubleshooting Using Generic Sim

by | May 3, 2017 | Simulation & Training

Effective troubleshooting is a skill that can make the difference between profit and loss – and between safe operations and front page news. Unfortunately, traditional paper-based troubleshooting exercises don’t provide a realistic experience for learners. The lack of hands-on simulated troubleshooting instruction leaves many students without full comprehension of operations and instrumentation. However, using a generic sim leads to a more fundamental understanding of what’s happening and why – and how to effectively apply proper troubleshooting techniques.

Making the switch to generic sim troubleshooting instruction

Jeff McSorley has been in the refining business for 46 years. He worked as an operator at BP’s Cherry Point refinery, then spent 30 years in learning and development at BP. After retiring, Jeff started teaching troubleshooting techniques to local technical college students and seasoned industry veterans.

The troubleshooting course consisted of:

  • Basic definitions
  • Critical knowledge
  • Process variables
  • 3 root cause categories
  • Sources of information
  • Potential obstacles
  • Methods & worksheets
  • Practice problems demonstrating proper use of the troubleshooting methodology

For the beginning of the course, he developed a Troubleshooting Qualification Exam to help assess areas students did not understand. Common among these were:

  • True understanding and operation of instrumentation
  • Incomplete knowledge of common industry processes (distillation, absorption, etc.)
  • Ability to find the root cause but not explain why the process variables were behaving the way they were

Jeff initially used printed Heat and Material Balance sheets to run static exercises on troubleshooting scenarios. But when he migrated to using GSE’s EnVision™ generic simulation software, he found that he could easily create more realistic scenarios and provide dynamic feedback to the students.

Benefits of simulator vs. static troubleshooting training

Simulation gave students a more realistic sense of the plant evolution and the time available to apply troubleshooting techniques. In addition, simulation allowed Jeff to add real work stressors, like audible alarms, which required the students to think clearly and have situational awareness.

Jeff noted that the paper-based approach tended to compress time in the students’ minds, which increased their stress level. However, when learning on the simulator, students felt more confident in their ability to properly apply troubleshooting techniques, rather than simply reacting to the situation.

By using a simulator for troubleshooting instruction, Jeff easily built scenarios around a variety of different pieces of equipment in the plant. He was also able to engage students on a variety of learning styles such as auditory, kinesthetic and cerebral.

Another significant benefit to using the simulator was that it provided opportunities to reinforce learning and fundamentals. Jeff explained that many seasoned operators often choose to use their “experience” to solve problems. This approach was effective in addressing a simple problem early in the training. However, once more complex exercises were run, the students who properly applied good troubleshooting techniques outperformed the seasoned veterans.

Improvements in understanding and confidence

Jeff saw significant improvement in the effectiveness of troubleshooting learning after he migrated from static instruction. Not only did simulator training help to point out weaknesses in students’ understanding of basic principles, it also built confidence in their ability to troubleshoot. Jeff reported that student self-assessments typically rose from a 3-5 self-score in troubleshooting ability at the beginning of the course to 8-10 self-rating at the end.

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