Simulator-based training, in view of the huge demand for induction-level engineers, is effective to impart situation-based training, Rajesh Bakhai, MD, Triangle Simulation, informs R Srinivasan.Recently, Triangle Simulation which was established in 1979, completed a 500 MW thermal power plant training simulator project of Mahagenco at Chandrapur. The company’s MD has undertaken 35 simulation projects, published several papers on simulation techniques and developed the first indigenous power plant simulator which was introduced at MSEB’s training centre in 1986. He spoke to us about the various facets of the industry. Excerpts of the interview:Kindly comment on the advent and growth of the simulation segment in India’s power sector.The first thermal power plant simulator in India was commissioned at Tata Power’s Trombay thermal station in 1985. It was developed indigenously by the Tata group. Prior to this, power sector engineers were required to go abroad for similar training. This simulator marked the dawn of the simulator-based training for power plant operators in India. Subsequently simulators were also procured by NPTI, NTPC and several other state electricity boards. Triangle Simulation (TSPL) designed, developed and supplied the first indigenous PC-based soft panel thermal power plant operator training simulator for MSEB (now known as Mahagenco) in 1996. This was a revolutionary product at that time as till then simulators were very bulky equipment and were panel-based having the technology which was being used by the power plants. TSPL’s product was smaller in size but packed more power in its package, as it allowed certain features which were not present in then existing systems.B. We have come a long way since then and simulators have now found wider acceptance in the industry as an effective training tool for both induction level training as well as training of experienced engineers. Effective training on simulators have resulted in reducing the start-up time of the plants commissioning. Also engineers are now able to generate emergency scenarios and practice troubleshooting to resolve the same.C. Many simulators have now been commissioned by the power plants both in the public sector as well as private sector for training of power plant engineers. The CEA has also made it mandatory for power projects over 100 MW generator capacities to install simulators at the time of commissioning of the plant. This has forced ultra megawatt power projects like Reliance Power, etc, to implement simulator training.A. To what extent have the massive capacity targets in the power sector been of use to the simulation sector in increasing their profitability and leading to their growth? B. Kindly mention any specific cases where practicing these trouble-shooting and emergency conditions have helped resolve problems.A: Addition of massive capacity in power generation by private companies and PSUs has resulted in short supply of trained manpower, which has resulted in high attrition rates. Therefore the simulator procurement is occurring at the project stage itself along with distributed control system (DCS) procurement of plant. That advantage has gone to the DCS vendor who has back office operation for training simulators (OTS). Whereas DCS vendors who do not have an OTS development centre in India have tied up with our company just as Siemens Automation signed a MOU with us to provide our OTS solution to their customer. Therefore it has increased the profitability of DCS vendors and not only the company manufacturing OTS.B: Here I would like to take an example of a plant start-up scenario. It takes 8 hours to cold-start a 210 MW thermal power plant with an experienced and trained crew. However, it may take more time with a less experienced crew. The loss incurred by the power company for every hour the plant is inoperative is approximately Rs 850,000. So it is quite clear how training on the simulator is beneficial for plant operators.The company developed and installed the first process simulator in Madras in 1983. What are the technological developments since then to now?A. In 1983 digital computers were not easily available in India. The simulator to ATI Madras was based on analog computers and using OP amplifiers and multiplier IC’s. In 1984 we imported Apple computers and started developing simulators based on this computer. The first digital computer-based system was designed/tested and commissioned in 1986 at Bharat Petroleum, Mahul, at their in-plant training centre. Also that programme was written in a lower level language.B. In the last 30 years we have done a lot of R&D and indigenously designed and developed total PC-based operator training simulators which have advanced features and are at par with technology available in the global market. TSPL was the first one to do so globally.These days simulators represent the most advanced level of software technology. Also the systems/work consoles on which these programmes run have an advanced hardware configuration.In view of the massive crunch for skilled manpower in the power sector, to what extent can such software help meet this need?The tremendous expansion of the power sector in India in the last 7 to 8 years has resulted in a huge demand for trained manpower to man and run the new plants. This asymmetric growth has also led to the demand in reducing the training period of induction-level engineers. In this scenario, simulator-based training becomes an effective tool to impart situation-based training, wherein various emergency conditions can be simulated on the simulator and the operator can be trained to take corrective action instantaneously and bring the plant to a steady state. Simulator-based training can effectively increase the reflexes of operators. This becomes all the more necessary in newer plants as response times available to operators are much less than what was earlier available.The company has developed projects for Aramco and Chevron. What are the latest technological developments that are being adopted abroad that we ought to adopt?We have developed refinery simulation for Aramco and Chevron. These simulators are designed for the various components and processes in a petroleum refinery viz., crude distillation unit, vacuum distillation unit, sulfur recovery units, etc. These simulators have been used by them to train their plant operators for smooth running of the plant. Almost all the control technologies used in power plants and process industries in India were imported from abroad. We have seen them advanced from manual control to pneumatic control to electronic control and now to artificial intelligence-based control. This allows for automatic control of the plant as per the logic fed to the controllers.Earlier, conventional panel-based control rooms were used to control plant operations and now with the advent of technology in simulation, they have been replaced by Distributed Control System (DCS). What are the advantages of DCS as compared to the earlier system?Now that panel-based systems have become obsolete, industries are presently using DCS system which is a digital replacement with the same functionality as provided by analog controllers and a panel board display. It is compact and includes more information to judge the status of plant process elements.The response of a distributed control system is very fast as it can directly connect to physical equipment such as switches, pumps and valves or work through an intermediate system such as SCADA systems. DCS brought distributed intelligence to plant control and established the presence of computers and microprocessors in process control. This has led towards the urgent requirement for trained plant operators.Importance of simulation in industryIndia is a fast-growing country in the world so the rate of energy consumption is very high. Current production capacity is 140,000 MW and will reach approximately 2 lakh MW by 2015, which means approximately 45 plants will be set up in India with sophisticated high technology. The on-job experience of operators to operate plants is not sufficient.Currently it takes about three to six years to become an expert using on-job training (OJT). The latest concept in training is the use of simulators. Using simulator training one can become an expert at managing a plant within three months. The simulator is required to reduce the trainee cost on plant operation so as to avoid the trip condition in the plant which is very expensive. Also since the processes in a power plant are constantly on for 24 hours, there is no way a trainee can gain practical experience of learning processes when the plant is in running condition.Another advantage is a refresher trainee is required to learn and avoid plant emergency, trip condition and plant safety since even operators who have been working on the panel for the last 25 years may forget minute details of plant conditions, emergency conditions and to avoid shutdown.
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