Unified Learning from AVEVA – Weathering the Perfect Storm

Posted: September 2, 2020

Power plant

Aging workforce and retaining native knowledge has been used by many industries to justify investment in training programs. It seems like any operator training simulator (OTS) presentation is required to have the words: “Aging Workforce” and “Knowledge Capture”. 

But what do they really mean? 

What are the consequences? 

A power plant in the US southeast encountered this problem first hand, and they gave it a name: The Perfect Storm.  A substantial number of experienced workers retired in a relatively short amount of time while the plant was commissioning new technology.

How did the Perfect Storm develop?

The first two units at the station were commissioned in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with most of the staff in their late twenties to early thirties. This was a very dynamic workforce that grew with the plant and was very adept at plant operations. Leap forward 30 years to the period 2007- 2009. This is when the plant more than doubled in size by commissioning 2 new 300 MW Circulating Fluidized Bed units, and the existing units were retrofitted with new flue gas cleaning equipment (scrubbers and SCRs). This was also the time when the most experienced plant personnel were approaching retirement age, and they began leaving, creating an experience gap as new technology was introduced. The effects were quickly felt in the form of decreased unit availability, forced outages and maloperation of equipment due to human performance errors.

Putting Together a Plan

Plant management understood the shortcomings, and it took some steps to mitigate the operational problems. A training program with the most experienced operation staff left in the station was implemented. The results were mixed and not sufficient. A CFB simulator was purchased, but there were some implementation issues that could not be overcome after several attempts. On 2015, an outside consulting company performed a plant wide audit. Two key factors were identified: experience levels and inadequate training methods. The average experience level of control room operators was approximately 3.2 years, and 12 out of 16 operators had less than 2 years of experience. Furthermore, the training methods had not changed since the early 1990s, and they were designed for on the job-training and for a very experienced workforce.

The consultant produced 10 recommendations:

  1. Increase operations staff to support training
  2. Permanent training staff
  3. Replace “self-study” based training with instructor-led training
  4. All new hires attend instructor led training (no more “self-study”)
  5. Incorporate refresher training
  6. Knowledge and skills based testing utilizing “oral board”
  7. Develop training modules for the additional assets added at the station (Scrubbers, SCR, CFB)
  8. Increase role of the shift supervisor to foster accountability
  9. Incorporate power plant fundamentals to curriculum (heat rate, thermodynamics, PJM, etc.)
  10. Purchase working simulator (from a proven vendor)

The first 9 recommendations were implemented immediately. However, purchasing a new simulator was an arduous process. Considering the recent short-comings with the previous simulator, management needed to be convinced a rigorous vendor selection was in place. This involved many hours of conversations and plant visits with other users of high-fidelity simulators. The Seward power plant in Pennsylvania operates a CFB boiler, and they had implemented a high-fidelity simulator from AVEVA with great success. This is how AVEVA was selected as the vendor for the new high-fidelity CFB simulator for the power plant in the US southeast.


Proven Track Record: AVEVA has been delivering high-fidelity simulators for over 25 years, with a great reputation for innovation and project execution for the power industry.

Leader in the industry: AVEVA has a matured software platform developed and optimized for the power industry with proven capabilities in super-critical, subcritical, combined cycle plants, and CFB plants.

High recommendation from previous customers: Simulator clients provided glowing testimonials regarding AVEVA simulation capabilities, project execution methodologies and great operational knowledge of power plants.

Previous experience with CFB simulator development: A visit to the Seward station simulator training facility was instrumental to showcase AVEVA’s capability. The simulator rigorously models the CFB process, and the system provides realistic training to operators.

Lead project engineer previous experience with CFB manufacturer: AVEVA made sure that the experienced CFB boiler engineer used in the Seward project was available to make recommendations regarding modeling scope, CFB process know-how and to act as a trusted advisor.

Reaping the Benefits 

The benefits from the simulator were apparent from the early stages of the project. Some highlights include:

  • Tested new DCS graphics prior to installation on the plant control system: AVEVA developed the high-fidelity process model and connected this to the ABB HTS DCS (ABB Symphony Plus S+ Operation HMI) controls and HMI, prior to installing on the actual unit. This resulted in the resolution of 60 discrepancies. This prevented operational miscues and forced outages.

  • Trained on critical unit start-up procedures

a. Drum level control
b. Transition from turbine reverse flow to forward flow
c. Fuel oil to coal transition

  • Control room operator qualification using the simulator

  • Requalification training using the simulator has identified operator weaknesses

Lessons Learned from the Storm

The Operations and Training Supervisor summarizes lesson learned with five points:

  1. Get plant leadership support and commitment for training program (beyond budget)
  2. Identify/hire the right people for the different functions (accountability)
  3. Determine appropriate staffing level for training program
  4. Procure the right tool (experience and track record of suppliers are imperative)
  5. The CFB simulator project with AVEVA was so successful that the station has placed an order for an AVEVA simulator for their pulverized coal unit at the same plant.

When analyzing your power plant training needs, consider AVEVA’s excellent track record on process modeling and simulator project execution. Visit our webpage to learn how AVEVA is helping power customers with their learning needs.


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