3D environments for nuclear training2 January 2014
L-3 MAPPS discusses the benefits of an interactive training programme that draws on its nuclear power plant simulations and also includes 3D animations of key components
While the nuclear power industry is trying to reinforce safety and regain the public's support post-Fukushima, it is also faced with a very real challenge that affects its day-to-day activities: a rapidly ageing workforce.
The Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) has estimated that 65% of all power industry workers in Canada are over 40 years old and almost 40% are within five years of retirement. For new nuclear build countries such as Vietnam and the UAE, the challenge is even greater: developing a completely new workforce with little to no prior experience or exposure to nuclear power.
Workforce replacement brings in workers of a new generation with different backgrounds and affinities than its predecessors. New generation workers entering the industry have been raised with modern digital technology integrated in everyday life.
Wide-scale exposure to more and more realistic video games, readily available computers, tablets, smart phones and the internet has shaped the habits and minds of generations Y (born 1980-1990) and Z (born 1990 onwards). These generations are regarded as 'digital natives,' people who are native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the internet and are extremely technology savvy, as opposed to older generations or 'digital immigrants' who were not born in the digital world but have adopted many or most aspects of the new technology era.
These fundamental lifestyle differences result, amongst other things, in different learning habits and needs for this new breed of learners. Some of these habits can be summarized as follows:
- They are highly visual learners preferring to process pictures, sounds and video rather than text
- They are experiential learners who learn by discovery rather than being 'told.' They like to interact with content to explore and draw their own conclusions. Simulations, games, and role playing allow them to learn by 'being there' and also to enjoy themselves.
- They have shorter attention spans, so they prefer bite-sized chunks of content.
The typical nuclear training programme in use around the world is composed of learning technologies and methodologies developed and refined in the 1980s. It might typically consists of:
- Classroom fundamentals characterized by text books, lectures and PowerPoint presentations
- Plant visits allowing students to see actual power plant equipment
- Full Scope Simulators which duplicate control rooms with detailed mathematical modelling of all plant systems.
Regardless of the generation being trained, the training profession clearly acknowledges that simulator training is the most effective learning phase of the three methodologies; simulator training allows 'practice by doing.' The educational community has ranked learning techniques based on their respective retention rates, as shown in Figure 1 from the National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine.
The plant-specific full scope simulator, however, arrives late in the learning cycle and is largely intended for operator training, because it is dependent on actual plant data/information. Moreover, prior to immersive learning on a full scope operator training simulator, the student must understand the many physical systems, processes and their interactions before training on complex plant procedures can be productive and effective.
Early training covered by classroom fundamentals often falls into the 'lecture,' 'reading' and sometimes the 'audio-visual' categories of the learning pyramid, all of which are passive learning methods with very low retention rates.
The curriculum itself is not the problem: no matter what generation the worker comes from, he or she must learn how a pump displaces fluids, how a relief valve controls pressure, how a particular system controls the nuclear reaction, and so on. The material currently being taught is important and should remain the same. The difference lies in how the curriculum is presented and how the students interact with it. In order to close the learning gap and effectively teach the new breed of students, the existing curriculum must be enhanced to:
- Create a rich learning environment in which students can interact, discover and feel in control of their learning experience
- Incorporate multimedia elements to complement plain text
- Use 'practice by doing' earlier in the conventional training cycle.
To resolve these dilemmas, L-3 MAPPS has developed coupled 3D visualization and simulation solutions that can be used earlier in the conventional training cycle.
Basic plant components such as valves, pumps and breakers can be opened up, rotated and zoomed to display their inner workings. Physical operation is also animated, to help students mentally picture equipment operation. Physical properties such as temperature, enthalpy and pressure are displayed as colour gradients within the 3D plant components themselves, allowing students to easily visualize and understand thermal-hydraulic processes. Simulation data can be used with 3D models offline or in real-time, so that any action is automatically and realistically reflected in the visualization. With this innovative approach to training, L-3 MAPPS is making it possible to increase student retention rates by making the learning experience that is typically at the top of the learning pyramid much more interactive and efficient