October 11, 2012

Monsanto Case Study: Simulation Is Ideal for Adult Learning

Imagine you’re in charge of training at a plant with 375 employees. The average age of those employees is 46. Now, consider that 75 of those employees are eligible for retirement in 2012, and an additional 124 could retire in 2013. On top of that, the product you produce at this plant is combustible when combined with air. It goes without saying that, as training manager at this plant, getting new operators up to speed quickly is essential.
Chad Wood, Training Program Manager, Monsanto
Carla Koritnik, Senior Process Control Engineer, Monsanto

This is the scenario faced by Chad Wood, training program manager at Monsanto’s elemental phosphorous plant in Soda Springs, Idaho. The phosphorous processed at this plant is used in everything from toothpaste to lights bulbs, and is also used in the active ingredient in RoundUp, the popular weed killer.

To replace the retiring workforce and also refresh experienced workers on various failure scenarios, Monsanto wanted to provide a real-world operations environment in a classroom. Using DeltaV Simulate and Mimic, Monsanto has been able to reduce the two- to three-week time period previously required for operator training down to three days.

Dealing with failure scenarios is a primary part of Monsanto’s simulation training. The training is done via two methods: an operator-selectable failure page so that operators can run through various scenarios whenever they want; and instructor-directed failure training where the instructor pushes out various failure scenarios to trainees.

Common failures scenarios presented in simulation training include belts breaking, exceeding bin capacity, and vent failures around interlocks. Wood says the way failure scenarios are addressed in simulation makes correction of the failure a repeatable, step-by-step process, thereby making it easy for operators to retain the information.

“Simulation is ideal for adult learning,” says Wood. “It removes fear and promotes confidence, and the operators really like it. They say it’s like running a video game.”

Wood adds that, by using simulation training, the Monsanto plant has reduced training by thousands of hours per year.

The control system in use at the elemental phosphorous plant, which is simulated for training, is not an overly complex one. According to Carla Koritnik, senior process control engineer at the Monsanto plant, the control system has some 20-25 controllers with around 6,000 I/O points

An added benefit of using DeltaV Simulate and Mimic is that it allows operators to train on the DeltaV control system as well as learn Monsanto’s process for dealing with failures, said Koritnik.

Wood and Koritnik work together to regularly update the simulation training system. They currently bring new databases from the live system into the simulation system every 3 months.

Koritnik also noted that Monsanto virtualized its training simulation servers this year, saving about $60,000 and eliminating the need for seven servers. These savings are on top of the classroom time savings delivered by simulation training, which Koritnik estimates to be about $50,000 a year.

Future plans for simulation training at Monsanto’s elemental phosphorous plant include incorporating more process simulation into the training, streamlining updates to simulation system, and simulating new processes prior to implementation to help train workers.