EnergyLines March 2020


When Matt Figg trained as a control operator at Merom Generating Station, he stood at a tapered bench board covered with pistol grips, switches and buttons and looked at a giant wall of lights, gauges and paper charts. To prepare for future situations, Figg would run actions through his mind – turn this switch, push that button.


Now as operations training specialist, Figg is working with Tim Goodman, flue gas desulfurization (FGD) training specialist, to develop a virtual simulator with Emerson Process Control in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Once the simulator arrives in late spring, the pair will train operators on the system, which will allow hands-on experience in handling a myriad of situations without working on a live system.


The simulator allows operators to go through different processes, like starting a unit, taking a unit offline or handling an adverse event, a trip or an equipment failure. “They’re actually able to lay their hands on the controls,” Figg says. “The simulator has shortened the learning curve for our control operators dramatically.”


The simulator is an exact replication of computer panels in the main and FGD control rooms. It allows an operator to become more efficient and test procedures in a controlled environment.


“We’ve got a good bunch of folks here and this helps them do their job better,” says Figg, explaining that the three most important results from using a simulator increases safety, improves reliability, and increases efficiency. “This helps us have a smooth, consistent, efficient operation.”


The simulator allows operators to practice situations that may only happen every five or 10 years without causing adverse reactions. “Operators can make mistakes or test theories that they can’t do on a live unit without causing some sort of adverse reaction,” Goodman says. “They can check out procedures on the simulator and see how the system reacts to what they’re wanting to do.”


Ultimately, though, having practice and being prepared will save money.


“As a generation station, if we can prevent a unit trip or speed up a unit startup by an hour, or if we can prevent damaging a piece of equipment, those dollar amounts can pile up exponentially,” Figg says.


This simulator replaces a less sophisticated one used since 2006, when the generating station transitioned to a digital control system, to help control operators learn to use a graphic user interface. It was meant to be a conversion tool, not a training tool. Eventually, the software and hardware became outdated.


Figg and Goodman have been testing the new simulator, which is in Pittsburgh, virtually through the mock control room in the training facility. Once tests are done, the system will be transferred to Merom.


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