We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Thu 15 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Cyber schooling

Off site simulator training is helping train the next generation of petrochemical plant managers.

Off site simulator training is helping train the next generation of petrochemical plant managers.

One of the difficulties faced when training students in any particular discipline is trying to relate what you are teaching to the real life situation.

Sitting in front of a white board in a classroom whilst perpetually taking notes is fine in some theoretic academic disciplines, but when it comes to the safe and efficient operation of an oil and gas plant or facility, then first hand experience is fundamental to acquiring the relevant knowledge.

The benefits of training with our simulators are that you can teach familiarisation of the facility for plant operators. - Trond Island, Kongsberg.

The use of simulation for training purposes is nothing new, however the improvements in computer processing power and software capabilities, as well as advancements in hardware has enabled training simulators to come on leaps and bounds in recent years.

Simulators can and have been deployed in a variety of different training operations, and their potential means that they could be used for nearly every stage of the upstream to downstream operation.

What they provide to the spectrum of employees at a company is the ability to put those people in situations and teach them to make the right decisions and responses if and when they occur in real life.

"What we at Kongsberg deliver is something called the Lifecycle Simulator, a dynamic simulator used for engineering purposes, and DCS (distributed control system) test simulator, used for training and everything related to a plant or operation of a plant," says Trond Vegard Island, technical advisor for simulation and optimisation, oil and gas division, Kongsberg.

Kongsberg Maritime is part of the larger Kongsberg Group, Norway's major defense contractor and maritime automation supplier. The company supplies systems in the maritime sector for dynamic positioning, navigation and automation, seabed surveying, surveillance and, of course, training simulators.

"The benefits of training with our simulators are that you can teach familiarisation of the facility for plant operators. We can run sequences such as start-up and shut-down operations at the plant, we can test operating procedures and safety procedures, and we can create all kind of scenarios that very rarely happen in real life," explains Island.

The simulators also offer the potential of providing users with experience of using process controls in order to get the maximum optimisation of the plant or facility, according to Paul Seccombe, senior technical consultant, OTS (operator training system) EAME, IPS Invensys.

"One benefit is you can optimise the process by training the operators to sail closer to the wind by maintaining safe levels but closing available margins. For example oil refineries have been operating at 110% to120%, so you need to be close to the trip settings and maximise the throughput," says Seccombe.

"Another optimisation is for the operators to understand each others knowledge of their specific procedures. I have been to a number of plants where one operator who works on the night shift has a different way of doing things to the guy on the day shift, meaning they have to reset everything to their way of doing things. With the simulators personality does not come into it."

IPS Invensys is an enterprise technology, software and consulting firm focusing on process manufacturing, plant optimisation, business operations and enterprise performance.

The SimSci-Esscor is their range of OTS solutions designed specifically for the oil and gas industry, with clients including Ras Laffan, ExxonMobil, Shell, Saudi Aramco, Total, BASF, Sinopec, Pemex and Kuwait Oil Company.

The company describes the SimSci-Esscor range as rigorous first-principle models with perfect replicas of actual control systems, which enables the user to safely and thoroughly train operators off-line.

"We will take the simulators to offshore platforms, FPSOs, oil and gas to gas plants -  for example like the Saudi Aramco for the gas oil separation plants - and refineries. The unique differentiator IPS has is we can combine process and power simulation with power plants combined cycle and most recently IGCC (integrated gas and combined cycle plants)," says Seccombe.

One of the most important factors when developing any simulation is the realism of the finished system.Thanks to developments in technology over the years there has been an improvement in the simulators realism, which in turn provides the users with a better training tool.

"We think that the simulators are very realistic, and the feedback from our customers tells us this is really something very close to the real thing. Our dynamic model is built on data for every piece of equipment on the plant, from piping to valves to vessels - everything is put into the model," explains Island.

His thoughts are in agreement with Seccombe, who states that the accuracy of the simulators is of a high standard.

The solutions we provide for training are solutions that generate a lot of value, and owner operators will appreciate that value. it is a highly professional product and as a result costs significantly more than the cheaper option. - Norbert Jung, IPS Invensys.

"At IPS we tend to operate with an accuracy of plus or minus 2% accuracy to a list of variables for the plant, so we basically provide a solution that will fool an operator to think they are operating a real plant," adds Seccombe.

"This is crucial to training, as they have to feel it is exactly the same as the real thing. What we offer them is the equivalent to flight simulators provided by BAA for their pilots, rather than a PC World laptop simulator game."

The advances in simulation technology has enabled the companies to access improved realism and accuracy of their facilities and operations, as well as the capability of integration with the plant itself and other platforms.

"The big advantage has been the move away from hand coding to a more user interface type environment. Secondly the software is more open and easier to interface with which allows us to connect to operator consoles and the real control systems, irrespective of vendors. Thirdly on new green field sites where they have the 3D AutoCAD viewpoints for plant walkthrough, we can connect to that easily as well which allows us to provide the virtual reality solutions we have," says Seccombe.

Despite the massive improvement in technology, the simulators still come at a fairly hefty price. Although costs vary depending on they type of training simulator you are using, they can be as expensive as $1 million, and even as high as $10 million.

But the point to remember is that their impact on a company's operations, although they may be hard to quantify, may surpass this substantially.

"If you have an FPSO operating at 200,000 bpd off West Africa, regardless of the oil price, if you lose that FPSO for a day at $50 a barrel that equates to $10 million. Therefore if you can save many days potentially lost through the use of a $1 million simulator system then it is clearly effective," says Seccombe.

"The solutions we provide for training are solutions that generate a lot of value, and owner operators will appreciate that value. We are not an off the shelf solution, it is a highly professional product and as a result costs significantly more than the cheaper option," explains Norbert Jung, advanced applications portfolio manager, IPS Invensys.

"There is a perceived notion that operator training simulators [OTS] are expensive and difficult to maintain, but we provide the service and tools to keep the simulators for 10 years. Over the past five years the OTS has moved from being an expensive toy for the majors to a must have system for all companies - there is no new capital investment in the oil and gas sector without an OTS," he adds.

Due to this, demand as gone through the roof for training simulators, enabling them to see large market growth despite turbulent economic times.

"The demand has increased at least three or four fold from five years ago, when I might have been doing 10 or 15 projects, now it is up to 50 or 60 projects a year. The price of a simulator from my experience has not really changed in the last 10-15 years of business, what has changed is the solutions, the ease of use and maintenance capabilities," says Seccombe.

"I agree: technology has improved, but for the same price. Demand for the OTS has been massive as we have moved out of the toy perception to a requirement perception," adds Jung.

The proof in the pudding for the simulator suppliers is how the people who use the simulators respond to it. Their feedback is essential for the companies to continue to develop and improve the systems, and to better understand the needs of the customers.

"The feedback we get tends to be very good because they can practice scenarios they have never experienced in real life and continually test these. For example, practicing shut-down systems for fire and gas emergencies. The hardest part is to get all the data we need for every piece of equipment, which can be hard for some models," explains Island.

"For the feedback we receive two common responses: firstly, they say it is just like the real plant and the control room; and secondly, they are impressed with the ease of use and accuracy of the simulator. A lot of our clients will say they have had a bad experience in the past with simulators, but with IPS they tend to be very impressed," states Seccombe.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

For all the latest energy and oil news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Real news, real analysis and real insight have real value – especially at a time like this. Unlimited access ArabianBusiness.com can be unlocked for as little as $4.75 per month. Click here for more details.