Training 2004: Stay right where you are, it’s coming to you, Solutions!, Onlines Exclusives, March 2004

online exclusives


By Dave Polka, ABB Inc.

Training is evolving. It is the kind of “new” training that respects the way we like to learn best—at the pace of our own skills!

The type of training you choose depends, in large part, on your familiarity with the given subject matter and/or the equipment that you are training on. For example, training that teaches engineers how to physically start up, program and/or maintain motor drives continues to be available in classroom settings. Those are classrooms either at manufacturers’ sites, or classrooms set up at or near sites of customers.

However, training designed to familiarize you with the basics of such equipment—the various types available and the functions they provide, for example—is now available through a whole array of non-classroom tools.

remote training
Remote training–Dave Polka trains mechanical contractors in LA from the Steamfitters’ Union office in Milwaukee via a live videocast.

You go to the training
Current training classrooms provide traditional learning, where students migrate to a gathering place that is semi-formal. Some students thrive in these settings, because they like the interaction with teachers, fellow students and equipment. They have the confidence to learn at whatever level they are at.

Often, classroom courses include lecture time and hands-on work. Much of the training in ABB’s case involves physical products such as motors and drives, so hands-on instruction for students that are at advanced levels is a necessity.

Costs for this traditional training in classrooms are a consideration, and they can add up. For ABB, part of the cost involves shipping up to 1,000 pounds or more of drives, motors and training equipment to a customer site. Typically, the company looks for a minimum of six students; it wouldn’t pay for anybody to have us come out for fewer than that. When trainees travel to a manufacturer’s training facility for coursework, the costs are similar. They include time away from the job, travel and lodging costs, in addition to tuition.

The training comes to you
Necessity brought on by such considerations has mothered a whole crop of new inventions. There’s a fast-growing interest from customers in CBT (Computer Based Training) and web-based training that can be delivered remotely, and at a lower price—for skills that don’t require hands-on interaction with equipment and instructors.

During the past two to three years, more customers with large manufacturing operations have begun making training a formal part of the buying process, according to ABB. Customers might write into the system specification that a certain percentage of training be interactive and self-paced, for example. This trend can be attributed to continued cost sensitivity/pressures on customers, as well as a desire for more flexibility. Customers aren’t necessarily cutting their training budgets, but they’re asking for more combinations of how to get training.

In response, ABB and other vendors are developing more alternatives. ABB offers various CD-ROM-packaged courses for self-paced, interactive computer-based learning. The company is also developing self-paced web-based training modules and offers live, Internet training using voice-over-IP technology.

CBTs help you remember what you learn
CBTs, as one training tool ABB uses, help both individuals and companies take full advantage of the extensive library of pre-programmed application macros that are programmed into the company’s HVAC (Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning) drive line.

The interactive, self-paced program maximizes convenience and helps the start-up personnel and the end user when they take delivery of drives. Randy Stevens, ABB CBT/web developer, said that “during a three-to-five hour session, a drive user can become very familiar with the macro options built into the drives. The CD-based CBT simulates how to apply the macros, which dramatically increases a user’s comfort level and enables a smooth and effective installation and start up.”

The comprehensive program can ensure that individuals and/or entire groups receive the same training and shared knowledge. The program also saves customers equipment costs, reduces the need for training equipment, and enables users to take fuller advantage of features and benefits built into drives. Students find their drives’ performance is optimized, and a faster diagnosis of system problems can occur, Stevens noted.

“CBT programs are so effective at adapting to a user’s speed, questions and progress, and often increase trainees’ retention by up to 40 percent,” Stevens said. CBTs also can be revisited as needed, and new employees can be trained without additional expense. “The commonality of training and reference enables everyone to work from the same song sheet. It’s efficient, and it promotes maximum uptime and productivity,” he said.

Videocasts and web-based classes
Live videocast training programs bring training to where you are, as well. Typically, these are full- or half-day training sessions, and they are conducted via real-time interactive video cams.

This technology expands the array of training tools and options customers can tap into—and they can save companies a pile of money. The beauty of videocast is being able to go to students, wherever they are, in a live-remote format. The training can include use of demo cases and written material sent ahead to each of the participants.

Dial up, log in, and follow at your own pace. ABB is in the final testing stages of an almost completely automated certification exam system. “We’ve matched the classroom/lab training curriculum with an on-line curriculum,” said Stevens. And, coming soon, the moment you pass the online exam following the course study, the program will send the certificate of completion and certification number right back to you and your printer!

Training is about helping customers—literally, anywhere and everywhere. The technology tools are being developed at a gallop pace. The tools grew up, in part, to accommodate this careful economy. In the training arena, the future is very present.

About the author:
Dave Polka is a training instructor for ABB Inc. Drives, Motors and Power Electronics. For the past eight years, he has conducted distributor and customer classes on drive - applications, programming and operation, for ABB University. His new book, Motors & Drives: A Practical Technology Guide, has been published by ISA (Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society).
Contact him by phone at 262-785-3517 or by email at

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