IRPC ’15: New digital simulators tutorials can aid oil workforce challenges

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New simulation and training processes and technologies can improve process understanding, raise operator effectiveness and create a strong e-learning environment.

ABU DHABI — New technologies such as web-based tutorials and high-fidelity universal simulators can help bridge significant gaps in workforce development for the downstream refining and petrochemicals industry, according to a leading systems provider.

Bruce Manthey, vice president of marketing and sales for the global process industry at GSE Systems, spoke in a training-focused seminar on Tuesday at the sixth-annual International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC). He believes strongly that many workforce development challenges could be better addressed by using performance improvement tools.

“Workforce development is not addressed in the traditional control system vendor approach,” said Manthey.

“Whether the challenges stem from retirement of experienced workers or the need to staff new capacity, using simulation and web-enabled tutorials can help companies accelerate the time from entry-level employee to autonomous operators or process engineers,” he added.

The first and foremost goal for training young workers should be to help them understand the “why” for their tasks, Manthey explained. New simulation and training processes and technologies do just that by improving process understanding, raising operator effectiveness and creating a strong e-learning environment.

Additionally, for the plants themselves, it enables them to better handle process upsets, reduces equipment damage and environmental incidents, and generally increases plant availability and makes plant turnarounds and startups faster.

Manthey specifically discussed GSE’s novel Entry2Expert™ (E2E) system, which offers an integrated approach to solving oil and gas industry workforce challenges.

He explained that the design of instructional systems should include five primary areas: analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.

With GSE’s specific system, steps include screening and selection; instructional design; web-based training on equipment, controls, process fundamentals and plant systems; applied learning through universal simulations on both equipment and unit operations; instructor-led integrated training programs; a custom plant simulator; and finally, refresher training and upskilling.
Manthey asked a series of questions to reinforce the value of the training systems.

“How much would you save if you could eliminate just one unplanned shutdown per year? How much would you save if you could eliminate one day in a turnaround? How much is one less reportable incident worth?”

On the other side of the equation, Manthey referred to investigation findings from the 2005 explosion at the then-BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. He noted that human performance factors included a lack of technically trained personnel during startup, outdated and ineffective operating procedures, and an inadequate operator training program.

Moreover, many of those workforce problems have been exacerbated in recent years as an unintended consequence of moving to improved reliability and control technologies. In the older days, with weaker technologies, plant staffers gained valuable experience with upsets. With upsets less frequent in modern times due to better technology, workers are less prepared on the rare occasions when an upset does occur.

“How can you help your young workers become experts? Help them understand the why,” Manthey reiterated.

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