Learning from the future

2 February 2017

The skills shortage in the nuclear profession is well documented and recruitment practices are slowly adjusting to meet it. However, one of the biggest concerns is the depleting number of experienced professionals available to impart their knowledge. Technology is filling the breach as a new development from L-3com show.

While the nuclear power industry works towards reinforcing its safety and regaining the public’s support post-Fukushima, it is also faced with another challenge that affects its day-to-day activities: a rapidly ageing workforce. Statistics show that close to 40% of the current workforce in the nuclear power industry will retire within the next five years. For newcomer countries, which have to develop a completely new workforce, the challenge is even greater.

The effort to replace the retiring workforce introduces nuclear newcomers to the industry, who are of a new generation and have different backgrounds and affinities. Major lifestyle differences between the two generations of workers result in different learning habits. This new generation of learners has different needs. Interactivity, high visual content and quick access to information are now necessary to achieve a high level of staff retention.

To enhance existing training programmes, or to support the establishment of new training programmes for newcomer countries, L-3 MAPPS has devised learning tools to enhance these training programmes, which focus on the “practice-by-doing” principle. L-3 MAPPS has coupled 2-D and 3-D computer visualisations with high-fidelity simulation to bring real-time, simulation-driven animated components and systems allowing immersive and participatory learning, whether for individuals or classrooms.

Ageing workforce

A 2009 Nuclear Energy Institute survey indicated that 38% of the nuclear utility workforce was eligible to retire by 2014, leaving the US nuclear industry alone with about 21,600 new workers to educate and train. The industry must also take into account the non-retirement workforce attrition, which was expected to account for another ten percent reduction of the current workforce by 2014. In Canada, it is estimated that 65% of all power industry workers are over 40 years old and almost 40% are within five years of their own retirement.

Nuclear newcomer countries face a different challenge as they have to develop a completely new workforce from students with little or no prior experience or exposure to nuclear power. Added to that there are very few existing experts to share experience.

New generation, new needs

Replacing the workforce introduces nuclear newcomers, of a new generation, which have different learning experiences as well as different backgrounds and affinities from their predecessors.

New generation workers entering the industry have been raised with modern digital technology integrated into everyday life. The 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 the Y (born 1980-1990) and Z (born 1990 onwards) generations. These generations are “digital natives”; people who are “native speakers” of the digital language and are extremely technology savvy. In comparison, older generations are “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 in, among other things, different learning habits and needs for this new breed of learner. Some of these habits can be summarised as:

  • 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, as an added benefit, also to enjoying themselves.
  • They have shorter attention spans so prefer bite-sized chunks of content.

L-3 MAPPS has devised several learning tools that address these issues and include challenges that provide for the
use of “practice by doing” earlier than in the conventional training cycle. These learning tools are learning modules, system knowledge modules and learning simulators.

L-3 MAPPS has coupled 2-D and 3-D computer visualisations with high-fidelity simulation to bring real-time, simulation- driven animated components and systems, allowing immersive and participatory, individual or classroom learning. With this new approach to training, L-3 MAPPS aims to make it possible to increase student retention rates by making the learning experience much more interactive and efficient.

Learning modules for generic fundamentals

With the 3-D learning modules, students can explore how plant equipment is built and how it works. The external casings can be dissolved. Components can be rotated and zoomed to display their inner workings. Not only are the components identified, but the physical operation is animated, eliminating the difficult task of trying to mentally picture equipment operation from traditional, static 2-D representations.

The learning modules run within most popular web browsers such as Windows Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, so there is no need to purchase and learn new enabling software. This makes access to the learning modules easy and flexible. The modules can be installed locally on a single computer or on a central server that can be accessed by all teachers and students. Access can be given directly to the modules or by adding simple web links to the existing courseware such as PDF documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc. The starter pack includes a dozen modules comprising numerous types of valves, heat exchangers and pumps; additional modules are available.

System knowledge modules

System knowledge modules allow students to explore how systems are built and how they work. The system graphical representation (an active diagram) has the look and feel of a plant drawing. A high-fidelity simulation of the specific system runs behind the scene to calculate all the system parameters (eg pressures, temperatures, flows, etc) displayed on the system active diagram. The modules are fully interactive, allowing students to operate plant equipment and monitor the associated system’s real-time response.

Examples of system knowledge modules include plant heating/cooling systems, level control loops, pump and motor breaker logic.

Learning simulators

The learning simulator has been designed to assist teaching and learning of major plant transients and the associated power plant systems and behaviour, by coupling 2-D and 3-D interactive graphic visualisations with high-fidelity simulation. Focused primarily on the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS), the goal is to increase the student’s understanding and knowledge-retention of system behaviour and major plant events. It uses crucial teaching principles such as “seeing is understanding” and “interacting helps remember”.

The first view presented by the simulator is that of the containment building, populated to scale with the major components of the reactor, reactor coolant system and the emergency core cooling systems. This 3-D view helps the student understand the system’s spatial orientation and geometry. Students can look inside the equipment to see internals and
can turn on and off labels naming various equipment or components.

The same 3-D models are then used to show and explain the equipment and system’s behaviour with the help of high- fidelity simulation. Simulator-calculated nodal properties such as temperature, pressure and void fraction are displayed within 3-D models of the plant piping and equipment using colour maps. As system properties change, colours change accordingly, translating simulator data into colours.

Dynamic, simulator-driven 3-D visualisation provides a new way of looking at a system’s behaviour by presenting a comprehensive graphical representation of the complete system’s state. The simulator converts thousands of data points into a simple, easy-to- understand dynamic image. Its models differ from ordinary static images or video animations by giving control to the student, who can interact by panning, zooming and rotating the models, or choosing what to look at and which physical property is displayed, and by focusing on particular parts of the system.

While the 3-D models present an instantaneous snapshot of the system’s properties, the simulator’s analysis screen completes the picture. It provides additional engineering information on a 2-D representation of the system, a mass and energy balance bar graphs as well as pre-defined or user-defined plots to understand the evolution of the system’s properties and behaviour.

This technology is well suited for classroom training, individual learning, and/or team building using desktop or tablet PCs with or without touch technology. L-3 MAPPS believes these new learning tools will help train a knowledgeable workforce more efficiently.  

Technology Learning in a classroom environment.
Technology Student using the new tools in a range of learning environments: desktop PCs
Technology Student using the new tools in a range of learning environments: desktop PCs
Technology Learning in a simulation zone.
Technology Learning via a tablet with the new tool.

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