Outotec trains operators’ in the virtual world
Employees are an essential part of the production process. Well-planned training improves the productivity, motivation and competence of personnel. Enhanced abilities and competence in turn promote job satisfaction and safety at the plant. In this way personnel skills have a direct effect on production output and cost effectiveness.
“Successfully trained personnel make it possible to improve the utilization of equipment and extend the lifetime of the investment. The results can be seen in terms of cost per ton and the total cost of ownership. Competent employees are essential for profitable operations and stable process control. Investing in personnel and their expertise pays for itself fast, as skillful personnel are able to get the most out of production,” says Kai Rönnberg, Product Manager at Outotec.
Outotec has developed a new training concept, Virtual Experience Training, which is designed mainly for concentration plant operators. The training course utilizes the extensive knowledge of Outotec in minerals processing and is a unique training concept within the industry. The training provides operators with a safe and controlled environment for studying process dynamics, process equipment and control systems. Learning and practicing process situations, such as failures of critical equipment and process start-up or shut-down sequences, are certainly safer and more cost effective in a virtual environment.
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Over the past few years Outotec has supplied the Almina plant in Portugal with basic engineering for process modification, two grinding mills, 51 flotation cells (including 4 refurbished flotation cells), a courier analyzer with complete sampling system and a service agreement. This was followed by a request: if Outotec could provide training for the plant’s flotation operators.
As most of the operators at the Almina plant were inexperienced, Almina’s management wanted to organize training for them to ensure that the process would get off to the best possible start. “We wanted our operators to understand what is happening in the process, to make the necessary corrections and to take the right actions,” explains Almina Plant Manager Carlos Gil.
Only three of Almina’s five team leaders had previous experience with operating the flotation process. “We wanted to make process evaluation and decision-making available also for the line operators, not only for the team leaders,” Carlos continues.
Almina requested that the training be scheduled for July 2010, before the start-up of the plant. “We had conducted internal training before, but this time we had no time to arrange the training ourselves. We needed the training ASAP, and it was essential to increase the expertise among the operators,” Carlos defines.
Almina also considered other options, providers and concepts for the training. “What was most attractive about Outotec’s proposal was the interactive element. In the simulations, people need to think for themselves,” Carlos explains, summing up the buying decision.
“We have worked with Outotec before, and we consider them a partner. Based on our experience with Outotec in the past, we felt comfortable and assured about signing up for this training, as we knew that Outotec would live up to its reputation,” Carlos continues.
“Outotec promised to deliver Almina a new concept of training in which the operators would learn how to operate the flotation process, evaluate how it is reacting, and test different scenarios without hampering productivity at the plant,” explains Luis Rudolphy, Sales Manager at Outotec.
“Normally operators learn from senior operators as they work, which can take years. Now the operators instantly experience how their decisions affect the entire process, and they learn to change parameters and make the best decisions,” explains Luis, summing up the benefits of the training.
The customer requested that the training be held at on its own premises. Outotec limited the number of participants to a maximum of ten to guarantee the best learning outcomes.
To maximize the learning experience and avoid language barriers, the training was offered in the operators’ local language, Portuguese. All the training materials were translated into Portuguese, and an assistant teacher who spoke Portuguese was involved in the teaching. “Using local language is very beneficial for both trainer and the trainees, as it is easier to communicate and it made the operators more comfortable to focus on the training. Many of the operators did not speak English very well, therefore the Portuguese material was very important to support their learning” states Jair Hortelan, Services Sales Coordinator from Outotec Brazil office who acted as a co-teacher for the training. “It was a great benefit that the training was offered in our local language to make sure that what was being taught was also understood,” Carlos comments.
Ten of the Almina plant’s flotation process operators participated in Outotec’s Virtual Experience Training. Out of these ten, only three of the operators had previous experience as a plant operator from years ago. Seven of them had never set foot in a concentrator plant before. “We had pharmacy clerks, football players and even history graduates participating in the training,” Carlos admits.
“With basic level training, the backgrounds of the participants is not an issue as the training suits everyone,” Luis says, and this was later on proven to be true.
Almina’s operators began with one week of basic training based on generic flow sheets with no adaption to the customer’s own process.
“The basic training provided the operators with a real feel for how to run and operate the plant, including how to react to changes in the process and how the process reacts to any changes that are made in the operation,” Kai Rönnberg explains.
The technology used in the training impressed the participating operators. “I was surprised by the similarity of the program to real life,” stated Pedro Pinto, a team leader with three years of experience as a process operator.
Although the course was compulsory for the operators, they were happy to participate. “I think we were all committed to the training and eager to learn more every day. It was a good experience,” agrees Telmo Rosa, another operator at Almina with three years of previous experience.
“The operators were quite excited over the opportunity to have practical issues simulated in the computers and it was the first training that they had which was more than only theory”, Jair continues.
The participants were clear about the learning objectives of the training: “To learn about the circuits, how they work and how we can achieve better results,” Telmo and Pedro summarize.
The basic training lasted for one week, but according to the operators it could have been longer. The operators’ expectations were fulfilled, and they gained expertise that benefits them in their everyday work. “We learned about the performance of the circuits, parameters and levels. We tried almost everything in the training,” Telmo says.
“For me the reaction times and learning to react to the circuits were the main benefits,” Pedro adds.
The operators were tested both at the beginning and end of the training . Based on the tests the learning curve was tremendous, improving from a knowledge level of 43% to 96%.
“We now have more confidence in making decisions. I believe our learning grew by 60 percent. It was a very useful course, and I would recommend it to operators at all levels,” Telmo states.
“Although we felt that the training was expensive, it was worth it. After the training we realized that our operators were able to provide insights and suggestions regarding the process, changes and reactions to the process changes. Now our operators understand the complexity of the flotation process and are not in the dark. They can identify what is important in the process,” Carlos says, summarizing the training.
“The operators are more confident and committed, and they are eager to apply what they have learned. By offering this training, we have also strengthened the bond between the operators and the company. I would recommend this training to other operators as well,” Carlos compliments.
The basic training as offered to Almina’s plant operators can be followed by advanced training, helps operators to further understand and analyze the flotation process. They also learn to interpret trends and optimize the process by using additional intelligence tools. The cost and revenue structures of the process circuit, maximizing recovery and maximizing profit in changing conditions are also taught.
“We would like to take part in the advanced level training. We consider the training to be very valuable for our work,” Telmo and Pedro agree.