Hands-On Facilities Improve Ammonia Refrigeration Training

The ideal training for ammonia systems should include classroom training coupled with a hands-on component in which operators and technicians can combine book learning with practical application, according to some industry training specialists.

“Ammonia refrigeration operators tend to have learning styles that hinge on them being able to put their hands on the system to make it make sense,” said Dallas Babcock, an ammonia program instructor at Garden City Community College and a past committee member for the IIAR joint operator training guideline committee.

Vern Sanderson, Safety Services Group Leader with Wagner-Meinert based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a member of RETA (Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association) Board of Directors said, “If you’re not getting your hands dirty with training, you probably need to do more training.”

Currently, a number of training programs, both domestic and abroad exist for ammonia, and they vary based on the skills individuals are trying to acquire. Companies also hold training in-house and can utilize training from equipment providers and contractors.

Doug Reindl, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the IIAR board, said there are several locations around the country that have operating ammonia refrigeration systems to support operator training, including two separate programs in Garden City, Kansas— Garden City Community College and Garden City’s Ammonia Program, the Tex Hildebrand Training Center by Wagner-Meinert in Fort Wayne, the Industrial Refrigeration Technical College in Lyndhurst, Virginia, and Lanier Technical College, in Georgia.

“Facilities with operating ammonia refrigeration systems for training have grown up in various locations. Some of the programs were driven at a local or regional level by end users wanting opportunities for their operators to receive structured training in their area,” Reindl said, adding that industry partners are another resource for more specialized product-specific training.

“Many of the equipment manufacturers, valve manufactures, compressor manufacturers and larger component manufacturers offer training on their specific products. In addition, the contractors that build and install ammonia refrigeration systems conduct quite a bit of training on the specific systems they build for their clients.”

Sanderson said training is becoming even more important as equipment and systems become more complex. “As an industry, we probably have less experienced operators today working on more advanced equipment, than we had 20 years ago” he said.

Bruce Nelson, president of Colmac Coil and a member of IIAR’s board of directors recently visited an ammonia operator training facility that opened in 2014 in Bogota, Colombia — Centro de Capacitacion Refrisistemas Industriales (CCRSI). The location is operated by IIAR member Juan Carlos Hencker and can be used by end users with facilities in Latin America.

“It is the first training center in Latin America with pumped, flooded and DX ammonia, single- and two-stage systems, a CO2 /ammonia cascade system and a Freon system,” Hencker said.

Nelson said, “The Columbia location offers industrial refrigeration users in Latin America a place to send their operators for training on the safe operation of industrial ammonia systems, which hasn’t been possible before.”

Bogota provides an ideal location to serve the Latin American market because of its central location between North and South America, Hencker said. He expects 200 students per year to train at the location.

Because the ammonia refrigeration industry is so varied, Babcock said it is important for programs to have a range of equipment. “We have four different systems in our lab and the four systems are as different as we could make them,” he said.

Sanderson said the differences between equipment become more apparent when more detailed maintenance is done. “As you get into more advanced work, the differences in equipment and manufacturers are more profound” he said.

In the spring, the Garden City Ammonia Program plans to launch a technician course that will involve charging a 13-compressor engine room. Jeremy Williams, a voting member of IIAR’s education committee and directing manager of the Garden City Ammonia Program, also known as GCAP, said that to his knowledge, the program is the first of its kind.

“Trainees will be charging a system from a delivery truck. They’ll do pressure tests and bring over an ammonia charge and try to get that mechanical refrigeration system going in four days. It is kind of like commissioning a new plant,” Williams said.

In addition to the new engine room, GCAP has several other pieces of equipment for trainees to use. “During training, we’re trying to show one way of doing everything that can be done in the industry. They might not be able to relate to an entire system from their plant, but there are things in each system they can relate to,” Williams said. “Once they have the opportunity to see the mechanical concepts, they can take it and have it for a lifetime.”

In addition to giving students the opportunity for hands-on instruction, Sanderson said he believes facility specific training programs should incorporate block flow diagrams into the instruction. “A block flow diagram gives you the opportunity to see how the system operates as a unit. Every facility is required to have one but very rarely are they ever used,” he said. “After acquiring a baseline knowledge of components and their operations, operators can then expand their knowledge to the system level by incorporating the use of block flow diagrams. Ultimately this allows for a transition to the use of process and instrumentation diagrams as well as standard operating procedures in training.

The kind of training and the frequency of training that operators need varies. Facilities that utilize certain amounts of ammonia fall under Occupational Safety and Health Administration Process Safety Management and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plant programs, which have training requirements.

“One aspect of these regulations is that operations staff receive training on the specific operating procedures applicable for their own systems,” Reindl said, adding that there are additional training requirements that apply to maintenance, emergency response, and other aspects of systems depending on the work the facility does and the staff involved.

Wagner-Meinert offers 24 refrigeration and emergency response-related courses out of its training center in Fort Wayne, through an agreement with Polk State Corporate College in Bartow, Florida, and outreach locations throughout the country. However, the majority of classes the company does are onsite at their customers’ locations. Sanderson said the two types of training—on-site and offsite—complement each other. “They need to have exposure to what they’ve got and what they’re likely to encounter in the future,” he said. “A well balanced training lab, one consisting of old and new equipment, is vital to the training process. Understanding their system and having training specific to their system is also vital.”

Babcock said learning within a training facility can be more effective than on-site training because it removes distractions and training can be consolidated into a shorter timeframe. “The [average] plant isn’t going to stop production for training,” he said.

Training facilities typically offer a variety of programs, based on the level of education technicians need, Babcock explained. Garden City Community College, for example, offers five different one-week seminars, which start with basic theories of operations. Garden City Community College’s programs pack a semester of learning into one week, and the condensed timeframe is particularly useful for those who are entering into the ammonia refrigeration industry as a second career, Babcock said.

Williams said it is important for people to have the right expectations of any third-party training program. “Training isn’t the end of the story. It is a part of the process. Companies need to have a vigorous training program within their facility that is specific to the plant,” he said. “Education starts somewhere and then you apply it to daily experience and then it becomes knowledge.”