Dynamic training: Simulator teaches operators to work more safely


Process control

Dow Corning's Barry, South Wales, facility manufactures silicon-based materials that require precise control and smooth operation. Use of dynamic simulation for operator training there has helped increase safety and productivity.

Foxboro, MA —A dynamic simulator is helping workers learn to operate manufacturing processes and perform procedures in safer, more efficient ways.

Dow Corning 's Barry, South Wales, production facility in the UK, has manufactured silicon-based materials since 1952. The process involves combining silicon powder with methyl chloride to produce chlorosilane intermediates, which are then purified in distillation columns before water is added to produce siloxanes. A final polymerization stage then converts the siloxanes into a range of silicon-based fluids, resins, and rubbers for delivery world wide. These processes involve potentially harmful materials and require precise control and smooth operation to prevent accidents and maximize profitability. The company is dedicated to continuous improvement, and recognizes its responsibility for the health and safety of its employees and its need to be a good neighbor and to protect the environment.

To help achieve these goals, Dow Corning turned to Invensys Process Systems . Invensys built an operator training simulator (OTS), using advanced Dynsim and Fsim dynamic simulation technology from Invensys' SimSci-Esscor unit , to train new operators in the intricacies of the various unit processes and assist experienced operators in dealing with potential emergencies. The training process is said to be comparable to the training of airline pilots without flying. Based on a detailed study of the process, together with input from Dow Corning engineers and operators, the system provides a high fidelity dynamic model of the distillation section of the manufacturing process.

The simulator allows operators to practice procedures such as scheduled shut downs and start ups, which may only be required once a year. During each session, an instructor, who has a view of every part of the process, can cause any key component, such as a pump, to fail at a critical moment. A trainee, seated at a console identical to that in the actual control room, must deal with the consequences of the event as if it were occurring in the plant. Dow Corning reports that trainees were drawn in by the realism of the system and that they quickly forget it is only a simulation. "I learned more in two hours on the simulator than I did during two weeks in the plant," said one operator.

Use of dynamic simulation for operator training reportedly hasn't just helped the operators. Benefits show up on the bottom line, particularly on new plants to help locate potential design and process errors and identify faulty control logic. "Using the simulator, we expect that operators will be trained to run a new unit efficiently in four months, instead of the six months taken previously," said Ross Davies, Dow Corning's training coordinator at the Barry site. "Untrained operators must be 'shadowed' by an experienced person for the duration of their training, so this effectively doubles the cost during the training period. Utilizing the simulator will reduce the training period and provide higher quality training and realism, thus increasing plant productivity significantly."

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jeanine Katzel , senior editor

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