MRO Magazine

Focus on Training: How ASD technology is driving training

New control and automation technology raises the demand for advanced training to troubleshoot frequency-sensitive adjustable speed drive applications.The demand for strong technical and diagnostic ski...


November 1, 2000
By Denise Deveau

New control and automation technology raises the demand for advanced training to troubleshoot frequency-sensitive adjustable speed drive applications.

The demand for strong technical and diagnostic skills continues to increase with ongoing advancements in industrial automation and control technology. As a result, educational institutions and training facilities across Canada are finding that they need to continuously adapt their courses to suit the demands of the marketplace. One key area of concentration has been on increasing the quality of education for students in the subject of power quality as it relates to industrial automation and control.

One example can be found at the Electrical and Computing Engineering Department at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alta. Under the guidance of Dr. N.D. Rao, Professor of Electrical Engineering in the Electrical Power Group, the department has undertaken an initiative to enhance its curriculum to incorporate issues relating to adjustable speed drive (ASD) technology.

“These drives are now increasingly being used in the agricultural, oil and gas, pulp and paper and mining industries,” says Rao. “It is therefore important to educate and train our undergraduate students in using the latest in power electronics and control technology available in the marketplace. This will make them more useful to their employers, while giving them a competitive edge in regard to employment.”

Rao adds that a number of factors have converged to create the need to modify the course curriculum. “The combination of de-regulation in the utility industry and the proliferation of frequency-sensitive loads means that more people need to be trained in these areas. Industry and educational institutions must ensure that people are prepared and trained to deal with these new challenges.”

This is the first year that the department is incorporating the new course material into its existing curriculum. The course additions are part of the Power Systems (Steady State) course, a fourth year offering for engineering students in the Fall 2000 schedule.

One of the key factors in preparing students for this new course material is having the proper equipment on hand. To that end, Dr. Rao acquired a number of solid-state adjustable speed drives to use with the existing ac motors in the electric machines laboratory. There the students study such factors as PWM (pulse width modulation), speed control and reversal, and braking and regeneration, with particular emphasis on applications relating to the agriculture and oil industries. “By upgrading equipment, we can better reflect the power quality problems that engineers will encounter in the field,” he says.

The department also is acquiring more advanced test equipment specifically to meet the need to teach students how to install and troubleshoot these drive systems. “The distortion of the signals from this equipment creates a demand for proper test and measurement tools. More specifically, we require true-rms instruments that can measure non-sinusoidal waveforms for more accurate readings.”

David Green, Director of Marketing at Fluke Electronics Canada in Mississauga, Ont., says, “It is essential that educational programs have the right tools on hand to help engineers and technicians learn and fully understand the special test and measurement needs of this type of equipment.

“Troubleshooting power quality problems requires a high level of expertise and a specific set of tools, such as power quality analyzers,” he adds. “By improving the measurement accuracy with proper tools and equipment, students can acquire more meaningful data for the labs with non-sinusoidal waveforms that are typical in today’s drive systems.”

Although these instruments are readily available in many commercial and industrial environments, Green says, “students do not always have access to them in many of the courses they take today.

“There is no question that the demand for these types of skills will only increase in the years to come, and it is up to manufacturers and educational institutions to find more innovative ways to ensure that the demand is met by offering up to date training courses using the latest equipment available,” Green adds.

Dr. Rao agrees. “We are definitely seeing a lag between what is being taught and what is needed in the industrial world. The onus is on us to find ways to develop training programs that will allow us to bridge that gap.”

Incorporating power quality troubleshooting into an existing curriculum is not without its challenges, however. According to Dr. Rao, “There is so much to teach, it is not easy to make room for these additions to the course load, but obviously we must.” The department has spent a considerable amount of effort ensuring that the new material is incorporated without having to compromise existing course content. “Although we have to say goodbye to some course material, it is more of a case of modifying the curriculum than replacing it.”

The University of Calgary Engineering Department’s electronics lab now has seven new adjustable speed drives to add to its existing ac and dc motor workstations. In addition, it is using Fluke’s true rms-reading PQ meters to measure voltage, current, active, reactive and apparent powers, power factor and total harmonic distortion to provide students with a hands-on and accurate test environment.

“The University of Calgary is leading the way in developing relevant courses for the industrial and commercial environment,” says Green. “These courses and the practical nature of the labs–using real-world equipment–will make the courses more relevant to industry. It also exposes students to new and current technology and ultimately, could increase enrolment in power courses.”

Dr. Rao concedes that there is still much more to be done to develop course materials in the months to come. “This is just the first year we are offering the new program. We’re just making a beginning here and laying the groundwork for future development. In the meantime, it is up to industry and education to work together to help improve on what we have started.”

Denise Deveau is a Toronto-based writer.