Thursday 11th August 2022

Industry collaborates with specialized compression schools

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Oklahoma State University’s Institute of Technology gives its students a firm grounding in all aspects of the compression industry: compressors, drivers, components, coolers and scrubbers. (Photo: Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.)

Partnerships are essential for both industry and academia, with clear benefits for both sides. These partnerships give industry access to a skill workers and academia the ability to keep a given curriculum relevant to the evolving needs of industry.

Bob Firth, Dean of School of Engineering & Construction Technologies, at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, said the partnerships the school has with its industry partners through Advisory Committees are essential to keep the curriculum relevant.

“They give valuable insight into the industry and the way it is going,” he said.

OSU Institute of Technology, based in in Okmulgee, OK, has the largest two-year associate program in gas compression in the U.S. At any time, there are about 35 students enrolled. The school of Engineer & Construction Technologies has a 92% placement rate. Most of those who do not have jobs upon graduation have decided to pursue advanced degree programs, he said.

The school gives its students a firm grounding in all aspects of the compression industry: compressors, drivers, components, coolers and scrubbers. “We teach everything from the inlet valve to the outlet valve,” he said.

In addition, it requires each student to complete two separate internships. “This gives them the opportunity to practice the trade,” he said.

Younger generation

In general, younger students adapt more readily to technology than a previous generation of students. For this reason, the school is collaborating with Tulsa, Oklahoma-based XALTER to develop a series of virtual reality training modules to give its students insights into how a compressor works and how it is maintained.

The technology includes a VR headset that allows students to see a visualization of a complete compressor in its newest state.

The headset, often called an oculus, allows them to visualize the compressor on a skid, rotate it, turn it upside down and to view it from angles that are sometimes difficult in the real world.

“You can climb into the compressor crankcase and look inside. It’s an excellent visual tool,” he said. “The technology allows students to look inside a compressor before tearing it down, giving them a better sense of what they are about to work on.”

“You can see every inch of it. You can turn it. It will move with you and you can walk into it,” he said.

The technology gives students the freedom to make a mistake while tearing down a compressor without putting themselves or others in danger. In addition, they can put on the headset and have a look at the interior components and understand what it looks like when it’s brand new. They can then compare those images to what they see as they tear down the compressor.

“They can look at the wear patterns, which helps them understand and dig into that more closely.”

Although the students readily embrace the new technology, Firth said it does not replace hands-on instruction from experienced instructors who are industry experts. The school has a range of compressors, drivers and components that give their students the opportunity to put their hands on the equipment and tools needed to maintain it before they go into the field.

A second institution which benefits from partnerships with the compression industry is Panola College, based in Carthage, Texas. Daniel Hall, Department Chair at the School of Energy at Panola College, said the school meets regularly with an advisory board to keep its program relevant. The board includes representatives from all sectors of the energy industry, including Chevron, JW Power Company, Enterprise, DCP Midstream, Eastman Chemical and CSI Compressco.

“We have been fortunate to get all three sections of the energy industry to partner with us,” he said. “They steer us into what they are looking for in a workforce.”

In addition to giving the college guidance on how to keep its program relevant, they routinely recruit from the college. The newest program in Panola’s School of Energy is a two-year associate’s program in natural gas compression, which is designed to produce graduates who can work as entry-level compression mechanics.

The school has a hybrid approach to instruction. It uses online and classroom instruction for lectures and homework. In addition, its technical courses in the energy department rely on an array of equipment, including professional simulators and donated equipment, to give students hands-on experience.

The compression program gives students skills and knowledge of both compression and drivers. The program has a basic and advanced engine course and three levels of instruction for compressors. In addition, it has a series of related supported technical instruction that include valves, alignments, pulleys, bearings and other components.

Panola College has a trailer which is used as a mobile teaching facility and as a recruiting tool to draw the attention of prospective students. When not in use with other programs at the college, Panola uses it as a mobile classroom that can accommodate up to 10 people.

The trailer also allows the college instructors to give specialty classes on safety and other industrial topics. “We’re open to the idea of coming to you and teaching a course,” he said.

Virtual reality as a recruiting tool

Clark White, executive vice president at Targa Resources, said the company encourages training programs for students in an effort to keep ready access to a skilled workforce.

Most of the field technicians in the compression industry who started the industry in the late 70’s boom are now in their mid-60s and are starting to retire. As a result, the company is hiring many younger workers due to retirements and increasing field compression due to increasing gas volumes, he said.

“There is a big need for an influx of new young talent to perform mechanic duties in the field. We’re struggling to find and hire new employees — and we’re not alone,” White said.

To help train its workforce, Targa is working with XALTER to develop a series of interactive virtual reality training modules to train a young workforce and to keep the skills of an experienced technician sharp. In addition, the technology is a valuable recruiting tool the company can use to draw and train a skilled workforce, he said.

“The younger employees adapt more readily to a virtual reality training module than they do to a classroom setting with a power point presentation,” he said. “We think they learn and develop more quickly with that technology.”

The modules allow a new technician to practice maintenance on an engine before going out into the field. They learn what all the parts are and how they go together, he said.

The modules also teach the steps needed to lock out and tag out a compressor and the steps needed to safely change hot valves. The modules give young technicians the opportunity to make a mistake without putting themselves or others at risk.

“We can run through this and, if they do something wrong, it will simulate what happens, but they don’t get hurt,” he said.

A new age of training

Kodiak Gas Services, a compression services provider based in Montgomery, Texas, has developed an extensive and robust training program designed to bring new employees up to speed quickly and to keep the skills of its current employees sharp.

“We consider training to be a significant investment in our employees,” said Cory Roclawski, Chief Human Resource Officer at Kodiak. “We are proud of our training and development department and the strategic partnership they have with operations.”

The company’s field technicians make up approximately 80% of its workforce and require thorough mechanical, electrical, and troubleshooting skills. Kodiak’s technical training department, led by Melody Shulse, Director of Training and Development, includes in-house technical trainers and an instructional design team to ensure the customized curriculum is cutting-edge and effective. Traditional instructor-led courses offer hands-on training with compressor components, tools, and standard equipment used throughout the industry. Kodiak regularly partners with OEM vendors, like Ariel and CAT,…

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