What’s the answer when you install a state of the art process system but can’t train staff on it without compromising safety and operations? A virtual plant provided an accident-free solution in this case...
Belgian company Bruxelles-Energie generates electricity through the combustion of non-recyclable household or assimilated waste.
In 2017, its plant consumed 338,500 tons of household waste from the Brussels region and 174,000 tons of waste from shops, municipalities and businesses, generating 286,228,000 KWh of electricity, of which 245,400,000 KWh went to the power network.
However, its robust process control solution’s complexity caused problems with operator interactions and procedures, especially after summer stops or scheduled downtime.
Bruxelles-Energie assessed that its operators insufficiently prepared to tackle the varying situations that they could face during start-ups.
Real but not too real
What it needed was a training solution able to test operators on a variety of scenario-based situations, to which they could react without causing any downtime or damage to the actual plant.
Jurgen Iemants, responsible for energy production at the plant, sums up:
“A key challenge we have is how to educate and refresh members of our workforce on problems we can’t try out on the real facility for safety or operational reasons. This means staff could only be educated based on theory, as our plant runs 24/7 at full production.
It would be able to test operators on a variety of scenario-based situations, to which they could react without causing any downtime or damage
“Another consideration is how to keep people focused… as panic and stress can lead to the wrong decisions being made, which could invoke loss of production and/or accidents.”
A team from Bruxelles-Energie was introduced by Rockwell Automation to Cape Software a partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork® program whose VP Link software solution provided a 'virtual process practice plant'.
When VP Link is connected to a distributed control system (DCS), safety instrumented system (SIS), or programmable logic controller (PLC), the system’s logic will react to the signals from the virtual process as though it is interacting to a live one. It can model a process or procedure using the same logic and control solutions as the real thing.
David Docherty, senior engineer at Cape Software comments:
“VP Link is able to talk to a real or soft programmable automation controller (PAC) in such a way that the PAC thinks it is speaking to a real process.
“The plant was running on a Rockwell Automation architecture, so we were a great fit as we offer a standard set of drivers, which communicate with all Rockwell Automation products.”
It proved an effective training aid, introducing process upsets via a supervisor’s interface, such as a stuck valve or power loss, so the Bruxelles-Energie team could gauge the effectiveness of the operator’s reactions. This can combine with quantitative scoring to measure performance against a baseline and highlight other training needs.
One of the first uses of the simulator, said Lemants, was to test a junior operator on an action that happens fortnightly and takes around 10 minutes. After 10 attempts on the simulator, he was put in front of the real plant.
“We noticed that the junior operator did a better job than the senior one because he started this action under less stress and more convinced of his judgements and the actions to be taken.
“We have calculated that a senior operator is only 80 percent proficient in a year when just operating the plant, but this jumps to 95 percent proficiency in just three months using the simulator. Our estimation is that the payback will be less than three years.”