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You own a thermal power plant DCS simulator or perhaps you’re considering the benefits of buying one. In either case, the investment is substantial. How do you ensure that you will receive the highest return on your investment? Build a training program around it.

Of course, this might be easier said than done. You probably understand the value in training your operators. You realize that by using a DCS simulator for operator training, the knowledge, skills, and confidence of your operators goes way up, as they practice and master situations they don’t typically encounter.

But you don’t have the large, dedicated training staff necessary to develop and maintain a comprehensive training effort. In many cases, especially in smaller plants, you may not have the manpower to properly develop and implement the kind of needs-based training that will help you realize your DCS simulator’s value. Your simulator trainers may be part-time. Training is one of their many tasks. And they probably don’t have the time to develop and provide training that goes beyond the basics.

So the simulator goes unused, or if it is used, it’s not used to its full capacity, and certainly not to its maximum potential. What might have been a great investment is in danger of becoming a wasted asset.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t.

Needs Based Training and Qualification is Essential

Thermal power plants benefit tremendously from structured needs-based training and qualification programs. A solid program moves beyond standard start-ups and shutdowns into advanced training on abnormal-events built from lessons learned during actual operation.

Ideally, effective training is based on actual needs, as identified through a thorough analysis of operational requirements, risks, and plant history. A proper analysis would identify all tasks associated with each job position and the required knowledge and skills to develop qualified operators.

See Sidebar for example.

In a successful training program, instructors would teach fundamentals and plant systems in the classroom, possibly supplemented with OJT, eLearning and/or computer-based training. Trainees would take their classroom knowledge into the simulator environment, and with instructor guidance, learn and practice the actual skills required to perform under pressure in the plant.

An effective training program would include initial simulator training to prepare new operators. Continuing simulator training would enhance and maintain the proficiency of these operators once they’ve become qualified members of your plant operations staff.

Qualification Accountability for Workforce Development

The resulting documents from a Needs Analysis form the foundation of an accountability system for plant qualifications. Each job task is broken down into the knowledge and skills identified as necessary to successfully complete the task. Each knowledge and skill is cross-referenced to the training document that delivers and evaluates the required knowledge or skills. The completed qualification documents maintained in the individual training records document the completion within required time frames.

The result is a standardized and auditable training program for all qualified positions in the plant. The result is also a game plan for continuously getting value from the operator training simulator. By mapping out the training progressions throughout your operators’ careers, you can challenge them with operating scenarios and plant conditions they may never have seen.

This requires thinking and planning beyond the standard scenarios initially delivered with the simulator, and requires adapting the training scenarios to plant experiences and individual operator needs.

Realizing the Benefits of a Simulator-Centered Training Program

Yes it takes effort, but you just spent a lot of time and money on your thermal power plant DCS simulator. Don’t let it collect dust. One avoided incident, one more day of operations, one avoided environmental release will more than pay for the simulator itself and the effort needed to keep the simulator and training program running on all cylinders.

Like any tool, the simulator is only as effective as you allow it to be. You have several options: just use it for the basics and seldom use it, use it occasionally, or take the next step by building a valuable training program around it. That’s the best way to develop skilled operators to keep your plant running under even the most challenging circumstances.

What's it worth to you?

Not all unplanned outages can be avoided but if you could save one, or even minimize the impact of a plant trip, it may pay for your training investment.

Each plant is different, so what are your plant’s costs:

1: What does one plant trip cost you?

2: What’s the cost difference between a hot restart and a cold restart?


3: Do you need a Shift Augmentation team to restart your plant from an unplanned outage?


4: What daily fines do you pay for being off the grid?


5: What will replacement power cost?


6: What’s one lost day of operating revenue cost?

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