Control Systems Training and Operational Excellence

Operational excellence is a term that has been used for some time to describe a business philosophy of producing consistent, reliable results.  Operational excellence programs can lead to lower operating risk, lower costs, and increased profits.  The fundamental concepts involving operational excellence are varied; and while a robust training and qualification program alone doesn’t cover all of these concepts, achieving operational excellence WITHOUT such a program would be impossible.

With the goal of operational excellence in mind, how can control systems training work to lower risk and costs while increasing profits?  Well-trained operators and maintenance technicians will be better prepared for the unexpected and will be able to respond to abnormal events more reliably.  This will, in turn, prevent or minimize the down-time associated with those events.

There are several facets to consider when discussing control systems training, including an Initial Training and Qualifications Program as well as a Continuing Training Program.  Both programs are vital to providing operators and technicians with the knowledge and skills required to safely and efficiently operate.

Initial Training and Qualification Program

The importance of the initial training that an operator or technician receives cannot be overstated.  It is important to identify what the minimum knowledge requirements are; these requirements are then used to establish the initial training program.  The initial training should be designed such that a worker who has completed the program has the minimum level of knowledge required to perform their job.  It is similarly important then to identify how to verify that those requirements have been met; this is then used to establish the qualification program.  The qualification program should be designed to VERIFY that the worker has attained this knowledge.  This two-step process is critical – it not only establishes the baseline knowledge requirements, but also establishes a methodology to ensure that those requirements are met.

In development of a training and qualification program, it is important to understand and take into consideration the pre-existing knowledge and experience of the candidate.  This is especially true when looking at control systems.  Control systems can vary widely from site to site (or even unit to unit within a site), and operator knowledge of the specific control system being used is directly related to how well they will be able to operate and troubleshoot the system.  Is the trainee coming from another site with different equipment but a similar control system?  Is the trainee coming from another site with similar equipment but a different control system?  Or are both the equipment AND the control system new to the candidate?  The training and qualification program should address these scenarios and provide the opportunity for a candidate to excel regardless of which category they fall into.

The knowledge requirements for the initial training and qualification program vary, but when considering instrumentation and controls, the candidate should have a thorough understanding of items such as:

  • Plant / unit system configuration and flowpaths
  • Major component design and configuration
  • Principals of operation for major systems and components
  • Instrumentation theory and operation
  • Control system operation
  • Routine operations, including startup and shutdown

Continuing Training Program

While an initial training and qualification program should be designed to establish and verify the minimum knowledge required, the continuing training program should be designed to reinforce the baseline training as well as to raise the operators’ understanding of both day-to-day and abnormal operations.  This should also include additional training required due to changes in equipment configuration or changes to the control system.  In addition to classroom and on-the-job training, this program could include periodic re-qualification as a way to verify that the workers have retained the minimum knowledge requirements (or to verify that a worker is qualified to operate following a major equipment change) or remedial re-qualification in the event that a worker has demonstrated that they lack the minimum requirement.

Whether designing a new training and qualification program or evaluating the effectiveness of an existing program, using a philosophy of Operational Excellence will assist management in making sure that the program meets its fundamental goals – Lower operational risk, lower costs, and increase profits.  Does YOUR training program meet these goals?