February 2010, Vol. 22, No. 2

From the Editors

Operations Forum Editor's Note

Clear Choices

Operations and maintenance are just different words for decisions and prevention. The various operations and maintenance strategies used in the industry are frameworks to help with the collection and analysis of the information needed to make a cogent choice. These systems are equalizers; they are support systems to ensure no detail goes overlooked.

However, with time and experience operators learn the rhythms and feel of the system they use and can see through the framework to the heart of the matter. That’s part of the reason why experienced operators seem to be able to jump over many of those intermediary steps and land at a sound conclusion. They’re likely not really skipping anything; instead they’re just unconsciously completing those steps for themselves and reaching the conclusion a little faster and more efficiently.

The only way to develop that kind of insight and ability is through experience — learning by doing. And today’s computer technology can help new operators gain much virtual experience quickly. Operations simulation programs are useful training tools. As the article, “Virtual Knowledge,” states, “the user can test the limits of the plant without fear of consequences for exceeding permit limits or experiment with different operating strategies without worrying about the associated operating costs.”

Of course there’s more to gaining the needed experience than simply completing a series of simulations. Hands-on experience is needed, as is interaction with more experienced coworkers. Understanding the difference between a solution that should work and one that feels right isn’t something a computer can provide. However, a good mentor can help bring out those instincts. And even though it seems the mentoring model is becoming harder to find, it still exist. This month’s Succession Planning column highlights what it takes — both from the mentor and the student — to make that relationship work.

The goal of putting in all of this effort is to learn to make the right choices. For example, “Debating Dewatering” provides information on different thickening and dewatering options, from overviews of the types of equipment available to energy usage data to how much energy is needed for various systems, but unearthing what’s most important for your plant takes a discerning eye.

Too much information and too many choices can cloud a decision, but solid experience and good judgment help to clear away the irrelevant data and make the right choice clear.

 

— Steve Spicer , editor
sspicer@wef.org

 

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