At Germany’s globally renowned KRAFTWERKSSCHULE E.V. (KWS), mobile is in action, as power station operator training shifts to the iPad, augmenting and perhaps eventually replacing complex fixed physical facilities. KWS runs training for much of Germany’s power utility industry and has a global reach. Figure 1 shows a typical operator training simulator.
Figure 1: Operator training simulator
For decades, such operator-training simulators, costing millions to develop and run and sited in huge, complex suites of rooms that replicate the real-life experience, have been the cutting edge of training in the industry. Now KWS has taken a new leap into the future, aiming to bring mobile delivery of highly complex training into the workplace and beyond—into 24/7 access for employees.
Christian Umierski, power plant shift supervisor training manager for KWS, is the brains behind the idea. “At a time when every utility is under pressure to minimize costs, they question taking people off the job for extended periods of residential training. Companies simply do not have either the human resources or the money to do it. Also, we found increasingly that our students were using the Internet and mobile devices as a natural part of their lives, even setting up their own communities to help with their learning. So I decided to see if I could build a mobile simulator.”
The result, known as T-FOKS, is KWS’s first individualized workplace simulator, with the Apple iPad providing the hardware. T-FOKS enables emulation of a variety of fossil-fired power plants as required in a full-scope generic simulation. Umierski says, “Trainees can rehearse switching sequences and other procedures on several simulators autonomously and simultaneously, enabling them to visualize the dynamics of power plant processes.”
KWS has employed T-FOKS in training segments and laboratory exercises this year to enhance participants’ understanding of power plant processes and installations. In addition, their newly created simulator forum puts a number of workplace simulators at the disposal of all KWS’s training participants.
The system consists of a server contained in a suitcase along with six iPads—one for the subject matter expert (SME) and five for learners, with communication via a WiFi connection (see the system components in Figure 2). Umierski continues, “The SME is able to create and vary a wide range of parameters, like the load on the plant or a broken component that students will encounter in the workplace. The SME can stop the process and can jump back in the timeline to give participants the opportunity for a different solution to the learning objective.”
Figure 2: T-FOKS system components
Experience with T-FOKS
“We can move away from lecturing into expert tutorials, using an accompanying interactive whiteboard, to define workplace problems, discuss possible ways forward, and then set up simulations that students can explore in their own time to find optimal solutions,” Umierski says.
Up to now KWS has used the mobile simulator in its state-of-the-art training facility in Essen, Germany, but plans are afoot to take it into the field.
Umierski told me, “We can use it for training, but also as a mobile laboratory actually on site with our customers to find solutions to specific workplace problems, so we will be able to call on all the necessary expertise present in the plant, not just the students attending our courses. Using this kind of approach we will be able to remain effective, flexible, and cost-efficient in our support for our customers.”
It seems that T-FOKS begins a new era in the highly complex field of power plant training. A simple suitcase full of mobile technology opens the door to a better experience for the learner and a better quality outcome for the employer. It heralds a “closer-to-the-problem” collaboration between learner, peers, employer, and learning facilitator. The T-FOKS mobile simulator is helping create a new value-adding relationship between learning and business performance.
Speaking of the payoff of this simulator, Umierski said, “In learning terms, we have found immediate benefits using T-FOKS. Students enjoy using the touch-sensitive screen. It is more immediate and faster than using a mouse. Modern technology excites them. They become more engaged. They can continue their development outside the KWS classroom, in their leisure time.”
I talked to Christian to hear first-hand how the development has happened and his plans for expanding the use of mobile technology in supporting KWS customers and learners (see the video below). He says, “My aim is for it to become as much a standard as the projector or the interactive whiteboard.”
Last month I wrote about a tablet-based initiative at the other end of the scale, helping young children get excited about learning in impoverished environments. KWS’s initiative shows that mobile is everywhere and adds value even at complex technical levels of the learning spectrum and experience.