CREWS Workforce Development awardee creates virtual reality water plant simulation

01/06/21 by madison
Virtual reality water plant

City College at Montana State University Billings is the only institution in Montana that offers a Process Plant Technology program. As students are spread across the state, gaining hands-on experience in the process plant field can be challenging. City College instructor, Andrew Sullivan, aims to address this issue using virtual reality to construct a water plant treatment simulation funded by a grant he recently received from the Montana NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ESPCor). The aim of this grant is to encourage continual water quality research and education of the Consortium for Research on Environmental Water Systems (CREWS).

Sullivan will design the project with Process Plant Technology students. Designing the program will involve construction of 3D modeling to represent the physical aspects of the plant and computer programming to provide interactivity.

Water treatment facilities can be hazardous, expensive, and complex. Sullivan aims to create an environment that provides training at an affordable cost. “Virtual environments allow process technicians to rehearse high impact procedures in a safe environment, so they are ready to execute hazardous procedures perfectly the first time, every time, in a plant environment,” states Sullivan.

Construction of the virtual platform will begin this month and will be implemented within the Process Plant Technology curriculum starting in the fall.

The Workforce Development Program Award is open to two and four-year institutions across Montana. Faculty from City College, Carroll College and Salish Kootenai College have been awarded grants based on their project proposals:

"Next-Gen Sequencing-Based CURE for Undergraduate Research" PI: Ashley Beck, Carroll College

"Improving Wetland Characterization Using Remote Sensing Tools and Environmental DNA" PI: Georgia Smies, Salish Kootenai College

"Learn to Operate a Water Treatment Facility in Virtual Reality" PI: Andrew Sullivan, City College at MSUB

"Learn to Operate a Water Treatment Facility in Virtual Reality" will be a virtual water treatment plant training facility that will offer realistic scenarios and applications to students across Montana. It will include processes of bar screening, grit chamber, primary clarifier, aerator, secondary clarifier, disinfection, and sludge processing unit.

Sullivan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has 28 years of experience in technical and operational refining specializing in operations, competency, training, process safety, and personnel training. Sullivan joined MSUB in 2013 as the Process Plant Technology instructor. Previously, Sullivan worked at ExxonMobil and held positions as Operations Coordinator, FCC Business Team Lead, and Engineering Supervisor.

To learn more about virtual training facilities, Sullivan discusses the background in the following video.