Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Technicians Learn Nuclear Plant Maintenance in the Virtual World

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‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ Response to New EPRI Tool

Innovation with Virtual Reality Training

Dominion Energy staff had an “overwhelmingly positive” response to EPRI’s virtual reality training tool for Terry Turbines in nuclear plants, according to Mark Quesenberry, Dominion’s nuclear maintenance performance improvement consultant. Dominion was so impressed with the program that it installed virtual reality rooms at its three nuclear plants.

Virtual reality—it’s not just for video games anymore.

EPRI’s Nuclear Maintenance Applications Center has introduced a virtual reality (VR) program to train nuclear plant workers on maintenance tasks for Terry Turbines. The objective is to provide training that is safer, more engaging, and more efficient than traditional hands-on component training—which involves setting up and maintaining hardware and mockups and sometimes transporting equipment to training sites.

Wearing a headset, the technician enters a virtual environment and uses two handheld controllers to manipulate tools and disassemble and reassemble the turbine. Four modes are available:

  • Free-hand: The technician removes parts from the turbine in any order.
  • Show-me: The program uses animations to demonstrate the steps of turbine disassembly and reassembly.
  • Practice: The technician completes the steps, with key parts highlighted by the program.
  • Test: The technician completes the steps with no help from the program other than text descriptions of the steps.

According to EPRI Principal Technical Leader Tom Walker, the program is easier to administer than hands-on training. Its requirements—a headset and a computer with sufficient graphics capabilities—are relatively low-cost and low-maintenance. It can be set up in any room, and there is no need to purchase and maintain spare plant components.

EPRI demonstrated the program for its utility members, and the response has been positive.

“Trainees really enjoyed using the program. They moved parts around, explored all areas of the turbine, and practiced the various steps. In some cases, it was difficult to get them to remove the headset,” Walker said.

The initial response at Dominion Energy was “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Mark Quesenberry, Dominion’s nuclear maintenance performance improvement consultant. Participants enjoyed the experience and recommended expanding the technology’s use.

Dominion was so impressed with the program that it installed VR rooms at its three nuclear plants. Quesenberry said that VR provides training that is safer, easier, and more engaging and cost-effective than traditional methods.

Based on the success of the demonstrations, EPRI is working on a VR application for valve disassembly, repairs, and reassembly.

“Our vision for VR is a virtual showroom with many components. The user would select a component, such as a circuit breaker or an emergency diesel generator, and enter a training room for that component,” said Walker. “Our members are already asking us to add specific components to the virtual showroom.”

VR can help attract the next generation of nuclear plant technicians. “VR is a powerful training tool that can help the industry maintain worker proficiency, especially as the workforce transitions as a result of retirement and other turnover in the next 5 to 10 years,” said Walker.

EPRI Technical Expert:

Tom Walker