Beads of sweat form on the junior operator’s brow. He is concentrating hard on the information he sees on screen. It’s not looking good – immediate action is required. A malfunction could cause serious damage and compromise air separation operations for days. The employee’s stress is genuine even though the emergency is not real. He has completely forgotten that this is merely a simulation, albeit a highly realistic one. Linde’s Operator Training Simulator (OTS) is part of an innovative training program for plant operation that gives users a unique hands-on experience. It will greatly speed up the on-boarding of new employees and eliminate the need for lengthy familiarisation sessions at the plant itself.
A feature-rich training tool
Linde developed this innovative simulation software specifically for air separation and hydrogen plants. It builds on the UniSim software from US technology company Honeywell. Like in the actual plants, the Siemens PCS7 system is used for process control. Leveraging its own, extensive technical know-how, Linde adapted both building blocks to its particular requirements. “Building the dynamic processes of a real-life plant into a simulation was challenging,” confirms Christian Gobert, Sales Customer Services at Linde Engineering. The team of developers and engineers bundled their know-how in technology and physics to master this ambitious challenge and deliver a feature-rich and versatile training tool.
Virtual step-by-step tour of real-life situations
The software not only simulates the day-to-day running of a plant, but also allows users to work through a variety of possible scenarios. This is enabled by the huge volumes of data generated by a plant. Over 10,000 sensors transmit measurement signals, and operators can control up to 1,000 parameters including pressure, temperature and load. Any of these values can be individually adjusted in the simulator in real time. “As well as being a really useful tool for newcomers, OTS can also give experienced operators valuable insights,” maintains Gobert. Extreme situations which hopefully will never occur in reality can be played out in the virtual world. Then if an emergency does arise, operators will be fully equipped to deal with it thanks to their OTS training.
Versatile and flexible training
“All a client needs to take part in the training is a laptop and an Internet connection,” explains Gobert. Linde’s servers provide the computing power for the simulator. The training sessions can therefore take place either at the Group’s training centre in Leuna or at the customer’s site. The user can access the software remotely from their PC. On request, the service can be provided in Linde’s training facilities or by trainers on the customer’s site. “We always recommend the on-site option – and most of our clients prefer that as well,” says Gobert.
Something for everyone
Linde offers different software models to suit all needs. The standard version provides basic training on air separation and hydrogen plants. It presents the operating interface to newcomers, simulating processes in the background and replicating the dynamics of standard real-life plants. With this version, both new and experienced operators can simulate all workflows and processes to deepen their knowledge. Linde also offers a customised version of the software, adapted to precisely mirror the customer’s plant.
Training helps to extend plant service life
In an ideal world, all processes have been designed to maximise a plant’s service life, combining optimum performance with low energy consumption and minimal wear-and-tear. The operator’s job is to achieve these goals even in exceptional circumstances or if an individual component fails. “Operators who are familiar with their plant’s processes will also know its load limits. More experience means more reliability,” says Gobert. The best thing about the training is that it forgives mistakes, since no actual damage occurs. In a real-life situation, operator errors can quickly lead to a bill running into tens of thousands of euro. In the OTS training simulator, limits can be selectively tested to improve the plant’s efficiency while maintaining safe, reliable operations.