Effective troubleshooting can make the difference between profit and loss — and between safe operations and front-page news. Unfortunately, traditional, paper-based troubleshooting exercises don’t provide a realistic learning experience.
Without hands-on simulated troubleshooting instruction, many students can’t develop a full comprehension of operations and instrumentation. However, a generic simulation offers a more fundamental understanding of what’s happening and why. It shows students how to effectively apply proper troubleshooting techniques.
Making the switch to generic sim troubleshooting instruction
Jeff McSorley has been in the refining business for 46 years. He worked as an operator at BP’s Cherry Point refinery. He then spent 30 years in learning and development at BP. After retiring, Jeff started teaching troubleshooting techniques to local technical college students and seasoned industry veterans.
The troubleshooting course consisted of:
- Basic definitions
- Critical knowledge
- Process variables
- 3 root cause categories
- Sources of information
- Potential obstacles
- Methods & worksheets
- Practice problems demonstrating proper use of the troubleshooting methodology
At the beginning of the course, he developed a Troubleshooting Qualification Exam to help assess areas students did not understand. Common among these were:
- True understanding and operation of instrumentation
- Incomplete knowledge of common industry processes (distillation, absorption, etc.)
- Ability to find the root cause but not explain why the process variables were behaving the way they were
Jeff initially used printed Heat and Material Balance sheets to run static exercises on troubleshooting scenarios. But when he started using GSE’s EnVision™ generic simulation software, he was able to easily create more realistic scenarios and provide dynamic feedback to the students.
Benefits of simulator vs. static troubleshooting training
Simulation gave students a more realistic sense of the plant evolution and the time available to apply troubleshooting techniques. In addition, simulation allowed Jeff to add real work stressors, like audible alarms, which required the students to think clearly and have situational awareness.
Jeff noted that the paper-based approach tended to compress time in the students’ minds, which increased their stress level. However, with the simulator, students felt more confident in their ability to properly apply troubleshooting techniques, rather than simply reacting to the situation.
By using a simulator for troubleshooting instruction, Jeff easily built scenarios around a variety of different pieces of equipment in the plant. He was also able to accommodate diverse learning styles, such as auditory, kinesthetic and cerebral.
Another significant benefit to using the simulator was that it provided opportunities to reinforce learning and fundamentals. Jeff explained that many seasoned operators often choose to use their “experience” to solve problems. This approach was effective for addressing a simple problem early in the training. However, with more complex exercises, the students who properly applied troubleshooting techniques outperformed the seasoned veterans.
Improvements in understanding and confidence
After switching to simulator training, Jeff saw significant improvement in learning outcomes. Not only did simulator training help point out weaknesses in students’ understanding of basic principles, it also built confidence in their ability to troubleshoot. In fact, student self-assessments typically rose from a 3-5 score in troubleshooting ability at the beginning of the course to an 8-10 rating at the end.