The creation of pyrometallurgical pilots is a particularly important step in metallurgy. It enables a new process to be tested on a representative scale, for a few days or a few weeks, in an intermediate-size furnace – midway between a laboratory furnace and an industrial furnace. Managing a process in this type of furnace is a delicate operation, which poses many challenges in terms of process, safety, environment etc. For this reason, the SPYRO project intends to develop e-learning and virtual reality modules that will provide a better understanding of pilot management.
This joint SPYRO project (Sharing best practices in PYROmetallurgy) is an interactive training program designed for employees and especially for newcomers (new employees, employees changing jobs, PhDs etc.) in the field of pyrometallurgical process management. The sharing of best practices and skills – in particular by allowing engineers to participate in pilots carried out by other manufacturers or other research centers with pilot-scale furnaces – is at the heart of this educational project. By teaching employees the best practices related to these high-temperature processes and enabling them to better understand the risks and safety issues related to these pilots, the e-learning modules will enable them to get up to speed more quickly upon taking up their positions in pyrometallurgical facilities.
SPYRO brings together a consortium of three partners, Eramet and ELKEM, both manufacturers, and the Materials Processing Institute, a British research center. It will begin in January 2020 and end in December 2022. Its budget is close to €500K and almost 85% of its funding comes from the EIT-Raw Materials, a European Union body. In the course of this project, nine e-learning modules and one virtual reality module will be developed by its partners.
The challenge: to foster understanding of the issues and risks associated with a pyrometallurgical pilot
Pyrometallurgical pilot furnaces are furnaces specially designed and equipped for testing a specific process. They are smaller scale replicas of industrial furnaces and are equipped with numerous sensors allowing the monitoring of the furnace and thus providing a better understanding of what is going on inside. The challenges are thus significant, namely successfully conducting operations over the short course of the pilot in an environment that reconciles safety and the need to faithfully represent pyrometallurgical processes.
Currently, there is no academic training course that allows employees to learn step by step how a pyrometallurgical facility works; what the risks and complexities are, or how to build a pilot and operate a furnace in industrial conditions. Only companies with pyrometallurgical pilot facilities can offer new employees the opportunity to gain initial exposure to the world of pyrometallurgy without the risk of disrupting expensive production processes.
For this reason, the SPYRO project, which brings together partners who have such pilot plants, aims to bridge the gap between what can be learned in theory and the actual operation of industrial facilities. Their solution: to offer training that will enable employees working in the field of hot processes (researchers, engineers, technicians and PhDs) to become accustomed to the "pyrometallurgical environment" via e-learning or augmented reality modules, hitherto covered only in books.
Work that will be carried out during the project
This training program aims to take an industrial and pragmatic approach based on the best engineering and operational practices. As with all e-learning, the first stage will involve developing the content of the training program and the different aspects of the work to be covered (process, raw materials, safety, environment, etc.) and to determine the best ways to present the training content. The second stage will consist of collecting and compiling data from the two manufacturers and the research center involved in the project, but above all a methodology will need to be defined for the gathering of this data. The last step will be the actual implementation of the e-learning course, starting with the creation of a summary and then a storyboard outlining the course as a whole. The modules will be tested with a group of beta testers, all experts in their field. Particular attention will be paid to the augmented reality module, which will be designed to meet specific industrial needs and will help to reduce risks during actual operations. This will help to avoid many accidents and errors in terms of processing or operation of the facilities due to lack of knowledge.