Importance of process simulation in education OTS - a platform for training both engineers and operators

I. Lukec
Importance of process simulation in education

Training is the key element in any skill-based job. Educational research concludes that people learn better by experience than through reading or lectures. It is impossible to replace real experience with simulated training, but simulators can in a cost effective way increase operators skills react better and faster. 

Training also has an important role in maintaining skills on the achieved level. Another important factor of training is that it allows the operators to prepare for scenarios where the automatic reaction is crucial. With the possibility to customize scenarios for specific actions, operators can practice on similar situations like the once faced in the real plant.

What factor most impedes operators’ performance at your site?

Lack of operators' training is the major reason for their inadequate performance. The need for their training is increasing with increasing the level of automation complexity on their plants.

These are all reasons that dynamic simulation and operator training simulators are playing a major role in education of operators with the growing market reaching numbers more than $1,5 billion in 2015. 


OTS types

Generic, off-the shelf systems simulate standard unit operations using generic plant units, rather than providing exact replica of the plant, process, or control system. These types of generic off the shelf training simulator can be in 2D or 3D.

The dynamic (high-fidelity) operator training simulation software is designed to replicate the specific plant or process creating an interactive environment in 2D or 3D. The simulator uses a model of the client’s specific plant or process. It is a replica of the plant or process that the trainee will be operating in and has the ability to actually cause an action to occur. The trainee can interact with the plant using the simulation training software.


Requirements for OTS

  1. Describing the dynamics of the process/unit,
  2. Simulating normal operation,
  3. Describes steady state,
  4. Simulating start-up and shutdown, 
  5. Simulating incidents,
  6. Ease of usage,
  7. Simulating external disturbances (raw material qualities, utilities..)
  8. Using realistic unit process graphics,
  9. Using realistic unit control and safety system.
  10. Robust process model: capable calculating exact solution in any situation.

Does the implementation of OTS guarantee well-trained personnel?

High-fidelity operator training simulators (OTS), including the main process model and simulated or emulated control system, have been used for more than 20 years in the oil and gas industry. The high-fidelity OTS allows realistic, hands-on training of normal operations, start-ups and shut-downs, upsets and emergency situations without compromising the health and safety of the operators.
There are numerous benefits related to simulator utilization, including safety improvements, shorter start-ups through process and DCS system testing, enhanced operator performance, trip and incidence avoidance, and knowledge transfer
However, according to numerous studies, OTS maintenance is often a challenge for resource and expense allocation. A continuous effort must be carried out to plan and budget updates to the OTS.

Also, the simulator vendors have made less effort on how the OTS should be used for operator training, i.e. the pedagogical side of the simulator training and the design of training sessions.

Recently, however, the focus on simulator training technology has started to shift from development of simulator software, including mathematical process models and graphical user interface, and the simulator room design to training course setup, including training objectives, lesson plans, training exercises and evaluation criteria.

According to Donald C. Glaser, an important part of an operator training course is teaching the team and supervision skills. In many cases, an OTS is used for only a few selected exercises such as start-up, shutdown and limited troubleshooting. Simulator instructors are usually provided with the little support and inadequate time to prepare training objectives, lesson plans, training exercises and evaluation criteria. They are often under prepared or not enough skilled for their role. This means that many of the capabilities and possible training exercises are never used or presented to the trainee.

Typically, instructors are senior operators put in charge of training newer operators, even though they may have no prior experience as instructors. Donald C. Glaser is proposing the approach that focuses not only on "hands-on" training, but "minds-on", as well. Well trained operator must have developed a "mental model" for every process situation that can occur so that he or she could be able to perform fast and accurate response in any situation.

The approach is including specially designed and led workshops that include industry proven exercises which help develop both operating mechanics as well as an operations mindset - I.N.S.T.O. approach. 

This approach is important for the education of engineers as well as operators and is achieving excellent results in the process industry.

To make the simulator training more successful, special attention has to be paid not only to simulator performance and maintenance but to education of instructors, special pedagogical approach, and quality training materials. A combination of skilled instructors, well-designed workshop, up-to-date high-fidelity simulators, and pedagogical course material are essential for ensuring the best possible training for the new and experienced engineers and operators in oil and gas industry.


Glaser, D.C., "Put training back into operator training simulators", Hydrocarbon Processing, September 2011