Training Essential for Success

Feb. 1, 2006
A three-day class on the essentials of Foundation Fieldbus networking has been likened to taking a drink from a fire hose, according to Project Specialist Michael Clark, at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

With a program accredited by the Fieldbus Foundation since 2000, SAIT has provided network training on its campus and at sites in 30 countries. “I’ve spent a lot of time chasing capital projects and have done training for many major Fieldbus installations around the world,” says Clark. “We have also participated in technology demonstrations and technology adoption discussions. Our lab has networked equipment from more than 20 suppliers that demonstrates how Fieldbus works,” adds Clark.

Three different types of students require demonstration or training coinciding with three phases of a project—project management, design engineering and maintenance. Project managers and owner/operators use information from the demonstrations at the stage of a project where they are making decisions on the control architecture. They can begin to determine the cost and effectiveness of digital fieldbuses.

Once the decision is made to go to Foundation Fieldbus, for example, then the engineers take the intense three-day training. Here they can see how using new technologies impacts traditional engineering practices. They learn how to design the network, calculate load segments and perform other network calculations. They walk away with sample documentation and drawings to help them get started on their own design process.

When it is time to train maintenance technicians, says Clark, “we bring demonstration equipment to the site so that the students can get a fair amount of hands-on training. They learn techniques for troubleshooting, how to configure devices and download the device configurations. They also learn what components they’ll need to keep in inventory, and they learn about digital tools offered by suppliers, such as the digital oscilloscope and fieldbus test equipment.”

Experience can be the best teacher, but gaining experience in process control and digital fieldbus technology can take too long when a new site must ramp up to speed quickly. This is where computer-based process simulation packages fill the bill. Much as airline pilots must spend regular hours in a flight simulator learning how to handle situations they hope to never see in reality, engineering and operations personnel can also use simulation to check designs and learn to operate the new plant.

Plant simulation

“Only skilled people can unleash the potential of great technology,” notes Jim Siemers, operations manager in the Emerson Process Management Educational Services Unit, in Austin, Texas. “Providing simulation training in order to improve the skills and knowledge of current operators, and in addition, bringing new hires up to speed, is a key component of building a strong automation team at a production site.”

Because human error in the design and operation of process equipment is a leading cause of safety problems, this type of training can become a key element in improving the safe operations of a plant. Repetitive exercises from realistic equipment and displays breed confidence in operators who have been given experience and training in actions and responses to many operating scenarios, such as start-up, shutdown, changeover, upset conditions, emergency conditions and normal operations.

Other key benefits derived from extensive training include the improved product quality resulting from operators who are prepared to identify issues affecting quality early, and who know how to react to them. “What-if” scenarios can be played out on a computer without involving actual processes, so operators can learn what happens with various responses and develop experience using appropriate actions, avoiding costly shutdowns.

Using senior operators to help with the training also helps the organization develop a “learning culture,” transferring best practices and process knowledge.