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3 Reasons Why You Need a Simulator for Each Unit of Your Plant

by | Nov 29, 2016 | Simulation & Training

Most of the power plants in existence today are made up of a combination of multiple generating units, allowing the plant to cycle power generation throughout the day to meet demand. The units were likely constructed at different times and with different Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), and Turbine Control Systems (TCS) between them. The variations between control systems necessitate an entirely different set of startup screens and procedures.

These differences may lead to a fundamental shortfall in your operations. Unit-specific simulators are the secret training tools of the most efficient plants. The benefits of a power plant simulator for operator training is well documented, but here we’ll focus on why you should have a separate simulator for each unit of your plant.

1. Enable more accurate training and cross-train your operators

Having separate simulators provides an accurate depiction of reality in the training of operations personnel because there are frequently differences in design or major component manufacturers. To achieve maximum confidence in their abilities, operators should train in an environment that mimics their assigned plant.

What if Unit 1 has a different boiler feed pump configuration and start up procedure compared with Unit 2? Can you assume your operator, having trained on the plant’s only simulator modeling Unit 1, will be just as efficient starting up the boiler feed pumps of Unit 2? Or, worst case scenario, are you confident that single unit training is enough to ensure the operator doesn’t damage or degrade equipment?

If units are significantly different, operators of Unit 1 are likely to be unfamiliar with the procedures of Unit 2. Therefore, they would be less efficient in bringing that unit online should they have to operate it due to scheduling conflicts, understaffing, etc. How much would it cost if an operator’s mistake postponed your time to start?

Perhaps you want to train operators to figure out how much could your plant save if you could replicate the improvements in heat rate and efficiency that the simulator is able to identify on each unit?

With the right configuration, the thermal power instructor station simulator software can be switched from one unit to the next instantly during training in the simulator room. This makes cross-training your operators a breeze and eliminates the need for two simulator rooms and separate sets of monitors.

2. Virtual commissioning of plant modifications

The simulator is a very effective analysis tool in day-to-day operations. The procedures used to operate the plant can be refined or new methods tested on the simulator.  New logic, operating setpoints or alarm responses can be tested as well. In cases of unexpected operational events, the power plant simulator allows recreation of events based on historical data to better understand root causes. These are lost if each unit doesn’t have a simulator.

Simulators are increasingly being used as design and engineering tools to test modifications before being introduced to the real plant, avoiding risk and resulting in a potential source of millions of dollars of saved revenue. Check out “How Power Plants Realize Big Savings Using Virtual Commissioning” for more information. However, if you only have one plant simulator, you can’t use the simulator of Unit 1 to virtually commission a DCS upgrade on Unit 2.

Having unit-specific simulators would enable you to not only complete the virtual commissioning on each unit prior to changes, but also to utilize results of virtually commissioning the first unit and applying lessons learned to the subsequent units. Simply pushing the changes from Unit 1 to Unit 2 gives the engineers time to focus on the unique differences that need to be addressed. The old adage seems to always apply—80% of the problems can be solved in 20% of the time, but it’s the remaining 20% of the problems that take 80% of your time.

3. Better representation of plant status

If you’re still thinking, “my units have no differences in DCS, TCS or PLC,” there are still nuances between the units that can and should be modeled independently.

Power plant units are typically not built at the same time. Therefore, their components and equipment are going to age differently and be replaced at varying times. Also, newer units typically use much more advanced and newer technologies like those in supercritical plants that are highly automated with sophisticated plant indications and integrated start-up permissives and interlocks. The differences between units can be modeled in the simulator to give operators and engineers a very clear picture of the unit’s operating capability and potential weak spots.


Your inclination might be that your single power plant simulator is adequate for operator training on your closely related units, but is ‘closely related’ sufficient?

When you’re talking about maximizing power plant efficiency and equipment life while minimizing downtime, properly training your operators and testing plant changes are crucial. Taking into account the potential revenue that could be generated from each unit running at peak efficiency, having unit-specific simulators just might make “good cents”.

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