Immersive training facility gets workers up to speed

By Mike Bacidore

Manufacturing workforces and digital transformations are accelerating. That speed of change is evident in Shakopee, Minnesota, where the foot of industry has stomped on the gas pedal.

Emerson Automation Solutions conducted the first classes at its new Interactive Plant Environment (IPE), while hosting Emerson Global Users Exchange 2017 in Minneapolis.

“We’ve talked about the technology and services to get companies up to top quartile,” said Tanner Rundall, Emerson’s director of educational services. “But there’s also an element of foundational skills. How are we taking people and getting them ‘upskilled’ and keeping them current throughout their careers?”

As technology changes, the way people learn is changing. Watching a how-to video on YouTube has become a go-to resource. Emerson has recognized the need for new types of training and is launching targeted programs to upskill new controls engineers; delivering competency-based programs with recurrent training so workers have real-time access to archived information; and investing in the tools and infrastructure to make these available and useful.

Roll up your sleeves

Many graduates start their careers without any hands-on experience in an actual process facility. In the mean time, veteran engineers are called upon to assume responsibilities to fill knowledge gaps. Emerson’s IPE provides a fixed, scaled-down physical training facility with actual process units, instrumentation and control systems that immerse students in real-world scenarios.

Emerson’s first IPE facility opened in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2014. The second facility, in Shakopee, which is also Emerson’s innovation headquarters for Rosemount products and services, features 15 tanks, spanning three levels, with the ability to move water and oil, as well as more than 600 products, featuring hundreds of measurement points from instrumented pressure, flow, level, temperature, flame and gas, liquid analysis and gas chromatography devices that can connect to the DeltaV distributed control system (DCS).

“People wear full personal protective equipment (PPE), follow safety procedures and simulate the environment,” explained Rundall. “Students return to work with confidence from practicing in a live plant. Students practice real applications while minimizing risk, which maximizes return on training investment.”

The facility allows students to enter a simulated plant and execute work orders in a safe training environment. The facility also has a classroom where students learn about a variety of topics, from theory of operation to advanced troubleshooting. After learning in the classroom, they receive work orders, enter the plant and apply what they’ve learned. Students often go into a plant needing additional guidance in applying what was just taught in training. The hands-on portion of the IPE classes with real-world scenarios helps to put the theory into practice.

The courses are designed to mirror real-life. Students receive work orders on a variety of scenarios, such as commissioning a new device, calibrating an existing device or assessing a challenging measurement point. The classes also review safety permits and tools required to complete work orders.

OTJ training, without the risk

Real-world scenarios help to develop basic instrument skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By providing a safe, distraction-free environment where engineers and technicians can apply new concepts and techniques, students will leave with a better understanding and vision of how a whole plant works, without the safety risks that are inherent in an operational facility. Emerson certified instructors act as mentors.

“This week we’re also launching ControlPerformanceAcademy to address the knowledge gap for process controls engineers,” explained Rundall. “As new controls engineers, they don’t have the benefit of spending 10-15 years to learn these things or to experiment on the plant like they used to be able to do.”

The program, which lasts 18-24 months, is based on one used internally at Emerson for years. Phase 1 includes basic instrumentation. Phase 2 addresses control performance fundamentals. And Phase 3 is for the control performance specialist.

“We know it works because we’ve been doing it internally for some time,” explained Rundall. “Traditionally you might come to a class for a week. We work with customers to make sure they get the tailored curriculum, whether it’s maintenance technicians or controls engineers. We’re pairing this methodology with technology being used in the plant. And we’re building skids for customers to be able to practice on them.”

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