Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Lisican showcases a handful of features to read in the April 2017 issue of Water & Wastes Digest.
Water and wastewater utilities have much to gain from the wide range of training programs possible with simulators. Reliable training capabilities are especially beneficial in the demanding environment of treatment plants, where complex and potentially dangerous processes are carried out. Whether the utility needs to replace experienced plant operators as they retire, or implement annual training and certification support programs, simulators are versatile and powerful tools for knowledge transfer and worker training throughout all departments of the utility.
What is Simulation Training?
Simulators are educational interactive resources that produce highly detailed virtual scenarios. They include a wide range of configurations and settings that give companies and water utilities the ability to represent different processes and procedures in scenarios that reproduce every detail of their facilities. Simulators are well suited for handling most typical operation and maintenance (O&M) activities. Many of these activities involve complex electrical, mechanical and chemical technology, explosive atmospheres and confined spaces—all presenting possible health and safety risks. With simulator training, workers can gain firsthand experience that allows them to successfully mitigate unexpected and potentially dangerous situations.
Simulators that focus on the technical side of operations can also fortify workers’ understanding of the equipment they will be handling. They precisely reproduce the equipment operating environment so that operators learn more about the basic physical and chemical principles at work in each function and how functions interact to create processes. Simulators can also be used for control systems to reproduce the same alarms and warnings that would be triggered in an actual operational situation.
There are several ways that plants use simulators to train workers. Some plants provide training on an annual basis to review and update basic required knowledge. Crews that rotate positions or working sites can be trained before the moves to better prepare them for their new duties. Interactive simulations have been found to be up to 10 times more effective in knowledge acquisition and integrating training into the everyday operator experience than traditional training methods.
The dynamic learning nature of simulated training modules gives workers more control over their learning process. These experiences improve workers’ abilities and confidence when facing real plant situations and when handling actual plant equipment. Simulator training has the ability to introduce random scenario parameters and settings. By actively reacting to these unexpected conditions, workers are effectively forced to prove their knowledge when working toward the expected outcome.
Managers have found that training their employees with simulation technology can help reduce costs. An employee retains information more quickly, reducing training time. Online simulators reduce traveling expenses incurred while attending remote classroom training sessions. Finally, simulation training is less expensive than reproducing plant conditions and scenarios using real equipment.
As technology continues to evolve, simulators and knowledge-transfer tools will keep improving with enhanced features. Web-based technology is becoming more powerful and versatile, extending accessibility and giving more utilities access to this training option. Mobile applications also are being developed where employees will be able to log into a program and access materials wherever they are, and interact with even more powerful computer-based programs.
Simulators have proven to be extremely useful tools for knowledge transfer and resource training. The knowledge acquired through interactive simulations enhances O&M processes and increases safety within the plant. By optimizing the learning curve and cutting costs, this dynamic learning tool is essential for optimizing the complex processes and technologies that help water and wastewater treatment plants operate efficiently and reliably.