The training department at the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) had one goal in mind — to give its employees more real-life experience in electric substations without exposing them to high-voltage electric hazards.
Earlier this year, LADWP began using a substation virtual-reality 3-D simulator from 3DInternet. Over time, it has become a key component to training the employees who are new to substation work. Using the program, the employees can practice identifying and naming substation equipment on computers.
Electric station operator trainees, electrical station mechanic trainees and linemen trainees use this simulator as part of their initial electric station training. Additionally, other work groups, such as electrical testers, station construction crews, engineers, industrial hygienists, safety staff and environmental compliance teams have found great value in using the simulator to become more familiar with substation equipment.
Using the Simulator
Prior to this simulator technology, LADWP relied on a PowerPoint presentation filled with photos of station equipment, equipment nomenclature documents and field trips to electric stations to train its employees about equipment identification and nomenclature.
Today, first-time users can view a 3-minute online video that instructs the new users on how to navigate and explore the many features of the simulator. Because the simulator is so easy to use, this is all they need to get started.
First, the user takes a short pre-test to determine their baseline knowledge of station equipment identification and nomenclature. Then in explore mode, the user is free to explore the virtual-reality 3-D station environment.
When the cursor hovers on a piece of equipment, an outline appears around the object. If the equipment is clicked, a pop-up window reveals the equipment’s nomenclature, equipment function and drawing symbol. If the drawing symbol is clicked, the station drawing appears with the selected equipment highlighted on the drawing. The user can select all 120 clickable pieces of equipment in the station.
A helpful feature allows the user to see if a particular piece of equipment has been reviewed previously. When the user hovers or clicks on a piece of equipment for the first time, the highlight is colored red. If the user hovers or clicks on the same piece of equipment later, the highlight is colored green to indicate the user has selected that equipment already. The user can navigate and select new equipment highlighted in red or reselect a piece of equipment that is highlighted in green to review again and again. It’s totally up to the user.
In test mode, the user is challenged by the simulator to find and select 20 randomly chosen pieces of equipment. The user selects the equipment on the station drawing and in the station. There is no limit to how many times a user can take a test and a different test is generated each time. The test scores are tracked to show improvement over time.
Building the 3-D virtual-reality training simulator tool required the efforts of several teams, each using their special skill sets. The programmers and developers at 3DInternet, along with the training developers and subject-matter experts at LADWP, all worked together to make this project a success.
The utility’s initial estimates using the 3DInternet simulation will save the company about 50% in “in class” training time and about 75% in the time is takes the trainees to become proficient with station equipment identification and nomenclature.
The simulator is easy to use; it was designed to make learning about station equipment easy and fun. So far, LADWP has received 100% positive feedback. The only request the training department gets is, “When will we make an indoor station simulation?” Based on the response so far, that will be a virtual reality very soon.
This is now LADWP’s third training simulation built by 3DInternet. While it takes work to get the details right, the payoff is tremendous.
Martin L. Salazar is a chief electric plant operator and manages the workplace learning and performance group of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He has 20 years of experience as an electric station operator working in hydro-electric power plants, DC converter stations and as a training developer. He has developed dozens of computer-based training courses and also manages the power system policy and procedures group at LADWP.