Control Talk - Operators Unleashed
With collectively 66 years of process control experience, Stan Weiner and Greg McMillan have probably witnessed every operator error or mishap imaginable. I trust that these two when they state " The operator is the most underutilized resource in the plant". In the second part of their Control Talk series on the the use of the Virtual Plant (see Control Talk - When the Virtual Plant Came, the Window to the Future Opened) they examine the use of the virtual plant for operator training. Stan claims, "The key to unleashing the true capability of a plant is the operator training system (OTS)." We agree completely. With the increased pressure on process plant operations to run their plants with less experienced operators in a more competitive environment, the virtual plant used for operator training is an invaluable tool. Stan also notes that, in addition, the virtual plant provides "...an ongoing role for exploring and understanding problems and capturing and disseminating knowledge, not only to operations but also to technical and maintenance support functions." In fact, the virtual plant may be one of the most effective tools, that an operations manager can invest in, to facilitate knowledge capture and transfer from experienced to inexperienced plant operators. Every process plant operations manager should have a virtual plant. With recent advances in technology, every process plant operations manager can afford and use a virtual plant.
The virtual plant technology of today can be implemented, maintained, and used for less time and money than ever before. This advance in affordability and functionality is due to several factors. The emergence of DCS and PLC simulators, made by the control system vendor, running the same configuration as the on-line control system in a PC environment, is a key factor. In addition, next generation dynamic process simulators (like our Mimic Simulation Software) greatly reduce the time, expense, and skills required to build and maintain high-performance process simulators.
Next generation dynamic process simulators (the virtual process and IO of the virtual plant) have the following characteristics:
- Built for Software Acceptance Testing (SAT) and Operator Training Systems (OTS). Systems that use a Simulated IO system, non-intrusive to the off-line control system, allow the user to minimize or eliminate changes to his control system configuration. This protects the integrity of the control system configuration (in the virtual control system of the virtual plant) making it maintainable and realistic. An Operator Training Manager system allows the user to build structured, measurable, recordable operator training sessions.
- Easy to use. Dynamic process simulators should be maintained by the end-user or integrator with process automation experience, not simulation experts. Integration with the Virtual Control System has to be simple and automatic. Simulation utilities should be available to generate a complete low fidelity simulation from the control system database as a starting simulation point.
- Flexible, Powerful and Dynamic. They must be scalable from very small simulations to very large ones in the same software license. The process modeling environment must not dictate the level of simulation complexity to the customer, but allow them to selectively apply simulation complexity depending upon the requirements of the process and the training or testing objectives. The technology of the simulator has to be dynamic, and real-time. Modeling functions and objects should be designed to give accurate, dynamic simulations for a realistic operator experience at the control system operator station.
By implementing a virtual plant, the process plant operations manager can increase the utilization of their plant operations staff and get proven business results. The goal of Operators Unleashed can be achieved within the capabilities and budget of any process plant.
Other resources for learning more about the virtual plant:
- Greg McMillan's Blog - Modeling and Control, Dynamic World of Process Control
- Control Talk - When the Virtual Plant Came, the Window to the Future Opened
- Business Case for the Virtual Plant Using Mimic Simulation Software
I look forward to your comments, questions, or suggestions.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Mart Berutti, 04/20/11