It’s a visual world: Training goes 3D

Three-dimensional (3D) modeling is a standard tool in today’s engineering—used for everything from the design of advanced concepts to equipment fabrication. Taken one step further these models, coupled with advanced computers and software, give training providers the ability to create detailed 3D content showing information previously available only in the 2D world of books, brochures, outage photos, and artist renderings. 

Additionally, use of plant design/construction models provides site-specific content critical to any successful training effort, say Tony Wiseman, training manager, Calpine Corp, and Fred Foster, president/CEO, Technical Training Professionals. Wiseman has more than three decades of experience in technical training with the US Navy and at electric-utility and independent power producers.

Millennials, the new workforce. The retirement of workers from the post-war baby boom is one of the most important demographic shifts facing industrial America today, the Calpine manager continued. Companies have spent years addressing this issue, he said, resurrecting training and qualification program for the first time in decades, preparing for the workers who will replace the boomers. 

Members of the millennial workforce, the 18- to 25-year-olds currently seeking employment, are accustomed to multimedia content that quickly explains everything from Sudoku games to interstellar travel. Much of this content is instructional and can quickly show how things work or how tasks are accomplished. Add the immersive gaming experiences of this generation, and it’s no surprise that the same techniques are seeing strong success in the power industry.

Leveraging site engineering models (Fig 1), along with the ability to draw and create realistic equipment internals, is the first step in creating the training content required for success in the millennial era. Once accomplished, it becomes possible to create intuitive 3D videos with highly illustrative cutaway graphics. Layered, interactive equipment graphics can be exported in common file formats, such as portable document files (PDFs). These 21st-century graphics enhance e-learning solutions, as well as the more traditional training manuals and books.

Calpine training 1

One of the challenges faced in creating the development of modern training materials is finding people with the capability to take highly technical engineering content and turn it into a 3D virtual world. Look to the gaming industry, Foster said.

Already trained in creating graphic-intense virtual-reality worlds, these talented people are able to transition their considerable skills to the power-generation world. Gamers, 3D modelers, videographers, and artists from the nation’s art schools already are collaborating with power-industry subject-matter experts to develop compelling visual content.

21st century content. Whether explaining stress corrosion cracking, reverse osmosis, or flow through a heat-recovery steam generator (Fig 2), it has been proven time and again that most people are visual learners. Visual presentation allows trainees to easily grasp technical material. Then, empowered by their new-found abilities they embrace the challenge of even more complex subjects. This has been the experience of Calpine and others in the training of operations, maintenance, and engineering support personnel.

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In addition, safety training of topics ranging from arc flash (Fig 3) to forklift operation to site hazards is far more engaging when presented with detailed 3D models and live video. Wiseman and Foster agreed that perhaps the most important aspect of these training solutions is they graphically illustrate a company’s commitment to employee development.

Whether an employee is transitioning from a coal plant to a gas-fired plant, or just starting work in the power industry, the ability to see step-by-step explanations is extremely valuable. Following flow paths and design in 3D with related control-screen depictions provides the needed training in a more understandable manner.

One example of what can be demonstrated is the firing modes of a gas turbine (GT). Fig 4 demonstrates how walls, structural steel, and other items can be made translucent or invisible, enabling trainers to clearly show gas control valves, gas supply headers, burner internals, etc.

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Chemistry control is critical to overall plant health, but the underlying processes can be challenging for plant personnel to master. Reverse osmosis (RO) is a good example. Fig 5 reflects how 3D graphics illustrate the rejection of hydrated chloride and sodium ions because of their large size, while water molecules pass through the RO membrane.

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Once they see this simplified concept, trainees understand the membrane basically is a molecular filter. From this point, it is easier to understand why certain gases—such a non-ionized gases that do not hydrate in water, easily pass through the membrane while ionized gases are rejected.

3D visualization also can be helpful in explaining things electrical—including ground-fault protection relays, power factor, and other concepts that plant personnel sometimes struggle to understand. This is accomplished by showing the actual current transformers, breakers, etc, while “flying through” buildings and transformers. For example, the graphics can clearly illustrate what causes a relay to activate. Memory retention is better when trainees “see” the devices than when they are just shown out-of-sync sine waves and other 2D representations.

Visual procedures. Training on maintenance procedures probably is one of the largest growth areas for this technology, Wiseman and Foster told the editors. Maintenance personnel welcome step-by-step, detailed 3D procedures on topics such as rebuilding valve actuators, they said, and find extremely helpful the ability to go quickly to any step in a procedure and be able to access linked complementary information from vendor manuals, rebuild photos, notes from co-workers, parts numbers, etc.

Access Video 1 (below) to experience the power of 3D in transferring labor-saving information quickly and efficiently; here the disassembly of a main steam stop valve serves as an example.

Safety. Another application for 3D visualization is site orientation. The use of a canned video followed by talk-through of a site’s general arrangement drawing is obsolete. 3D site fly-through videos provide an overview of the facility, summarize the functions of its major components, and identify the location of personnel hazards in an engaging, memorable manner (access Video 2 below).

These videos can be leveraged for contractor and new-employee orientation, site safety instruction, and to explain the plant’s design and function to the public. Regarding the last point, an easily understood explanation that the cooling-tower plume is steam, not smoke, can be very helpful in gaining public acceptance of a new facility. Video 3 below is a typical safety clip, this one concerning the ammonia storage tank.

Enhanced classroom experience. Animation is only part of the 3D visualization value proposition. 3D PDF files derived from previously created models are used by trainers to remove equipment “layers.” Each layer can illustrate selected systems or even identify specific components (for example, valves, instrumentation, etc). Fig 6 illustrates “layering” as applied to an LM6000. Such 3D PDF files are particularly useful to control-room operators—to identify the location of a valve or other flow element in support of the lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) process, for example.

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Plus, an operator can click on a control-screen depiction of a component—such as a valve, breaker, controller, temperature indicator, or other device—and request to see its physical location. Then he or she can choose to see the full system supported by the component—for example, feedwater supply to the HP from from the boiler feed pump. This eliminates the need for operators to search vendor manuals, paper files, and other references, saving both time and money.

Another tool available to plant personnel, Foster said, is a series of learning-management-system/collaboration sites that allows access by a smart device to 3D content and related reference data for a particular piece of equipment. Example: A technician preparing to work on the GT can synchronize all related 3D training, vendor manuals, most recent P&IDs and electrical schematics, thermographic data, walk-down sheets, previous inspection reports, and other relevant materials.

When the technician returns to the control room, he or she can re-sync the smart device with the server, thereby updating training records, inspection reports, etc.

As this content is created, a multi-plant owner can make it available across the enterprise and provide specifics for each site. If the same power-block major equipment is used at multiple facilities, high-quality, site-specific training featuring 3D content can be created at reasonable cost, assures Foster.

Collaboration. Calpine recently used detailed 3D models, and animation of those models, at two combined-cycle projects in California—its new Russell City Energy Center and the repowered Los Esteros Critical Energy Facility. In both cases, Wiseman said, 3D site models created for engineering functions were repurposed for training.

Some manufacturers were willing to partner with Technical Training Professionals to provide detailed 3D equipment models in return for access to content created from the models—a win for all parties. Nooter/Eriksen, for example, provided the engineering model for the Russell City HRSGs. For its participation, NE received copies of the courses developed for the HRSGs and will receive the coming chemistry courses in which its boiler is featured. 

Calpine has leveraged the animations beyond employee training, Wiseman added. One significant example is in the investigation of plant events. Employees and contractors involved in one investigation were better able to visualize equipment issues, resulting in more detailed and comprehensive investigation findings. The animations also have been used during job briefings as part of complex construction and outage work.

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