5 questions to ask about generic pipeline operator qualification (OQ)

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Pipeline operators are living in interesting times. With the fluctuations in the market they are forced to “do more with less”. Pair this with an aging and changing workforce and it has never been more important to ensure that employees are well trained; That they are capable of not only supporting day-to-day operations but also perform during critical abnormal operating conditions be it a leak or loss of communications. Well-trained employees perform better and, in turn, create a better performing business and an improved bottom line.

Oil and gas workers 50 years of age or olderRef: Independent Petroleum Association of America, 2015

In the control room, operators need to manage this while adhering to both internal and regulatory compliance to ensure that effective controller training programs are in place. Looking at regulatory requirements like those in the United States that constitute some of the best practices in the industry they recommend operator training simulators as part of a Pipeline Operator Qualification program.

Today there are a few different options available for pipeline operators when it comes to operator training simulators (OTS). These can range from a complete replica of a production system trainer (at Schneider Electric we call this a Full-Scope Trainer) to a more simplified pre-configured set of pipeline models and scenarios (we call this a Generic Trainer).

Each pipeline operating company has differing needs to ensure safe, compliant, and efficient pipeline operations. While a full-scope trainer for a specific pipeline may provide the most realistic ‘flight simulator’ type experience for that pipeline, they do require a larger investment.   A generic trainer, however, can provide a pipeline operator with a broader pipeline operations training experience.  This may be particularly useful in training new operators in the fundamentals of pipeline hydraulics, as well as practicing the many typical operations, malfunctions, and abnormal conditions that apply to most pipelines. Full-scope and generic trainers are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary, a generic trainer can facilitate rapid entry to simulation based training, while also being complimentary to a full-scope trainer.

Not everyone needs Kleenex® brand tissues (Why go generic?)

There are many reasons where a more generic set of pipeline models and test scenarios are sufficient as part of a pipeline operator’s OQ program. One is cost (both CAPEX and OPEX), another may be a need to get a program in place fast where a Generic Trainer can be in place in a few days instead of months or longer.

pipeline operator training simulator (OTS)

When used in conjunction with written testing and on-the-job training an operator may find that a generic trainer is the right fit to test their controller’s ability. In this case the operator may focus less on the need to test on a replica system and more on the controller’s ability and general knowledge of pipeline operations.  It is also noted that even though a generic trainer typically includes pre-configured scenarios, a generic trainer should also include the same scenario management, scenario editing, and Operator Qualification tracking and reporting tools as a full-scope trainer, which further increases the flexibility and value of a generic trainer.

There are some definite benefits when it comes to a generic pipeline operator trainer. These come in the form of quick deployment, reduced effort to maintain and having a variety of ways to deploy (including local virtual machine, hosted or cloud-based).

In today’s market, business needs change, the industry is consolidating and operations are getting more complex. Today, a Generic Pipeline Trainer may make sense for your pipeline operation. When making  the decision to go generic there are some questions to ask yourself that will influence your choice of trainers available today:

  • When do I need my OTS up and running?
  • Are the covered tasks and abnormal conditions included in a generic trainer relevant to your pipeline, and are they sufficient to demonstrate controller ability to perform those covered tasks on your pipeline?
  • Is having an accurate pipeline model behind the trainer that reflects actual hydraulic and logic behaviour important to you?
  • How important is having a replica SCADA system versus a functional Pipeline SCADA platform that represents what is typically used in industry imbedded in your trainer?
  • Are there specific normal and abnormal operational scenarios that are critical for your controllers to be tested on that are not included in a generic trainer?

Interested to learn more about generic pipeline operator qualification: Read our whitepaper on the “Impact of Oil and Gas Pipeline Simulators on Controller Training and Regulatory Compliance“.

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