Production operator pressing a button on the control panel

Welcome Home: Production Operators Arrive for Their First Shift in Shell Polymers' Finished Control Building

In a momentous milestone, Shell’s construction team hands off the control building to the Shell Polymers production operators as the Monaca, PA polyethylene plant progresses closer to start-up.

By Shell Polymers on Feb 12, 2021

From the construction crew that built it to the operators who have tirelessly trained to manage it, lots of time and energy went into making this moment possible. Kristi Jones, Utilities and General Facilities (UGF) Production Supervisor, excitedly explains that this huge step forward means “we’re getting that much closer to starting plant activities and bringing things fully online.”

Shell Polymers leadership closed out 2020 with a bang by announcing that the construction of Shell Chemicals’ polyethylene plant in Beaver County was about 70% complete.1 As the team turned the corner into a new year, production operators excitedly arrived for their first on-site shift in the newly-constructed control building. This was an eagerly-anticipated occasion for the whole Shell Polymers team as it marked a major milestone in the plant’s progress by beginning the transition from being a construction site to an operating site.

In this first shift, the production operators were able to start on-site training of the activities they’ve been training on the simulator to perform for the last two years. The building allows UGF production operators to come together as one team to help identify challenges and how to overcome them so the site can run seamlessly once fully operational. The operators arriving for their first shift is also another breakthrough to the industry that the Shell Polymers polyethylene plant is progressing closer to start-up.

Shell Polymers welcomed the UGF operators to their first shift.
Shell Polymers welcomed the UGF operators to their first shift.

There has been a lot of anticipation and training leading up to this handoff to the UGF operators. Now that it’s finally here, the move into the control building is being met with excitement as the operators settle into their new home away from home.

One Step Closer to Making Polyethylene

Building a business from the ground up is no minor undertaking. With major projects like this Monaca, PA polyethylene plant, each milestone is both anticipated and joyously celebrated by team members across all departments. The operator’s first shift is the rewarding result of over nine years of work leading up to this moment. General Manager of Shell Polymers Monaca, Jeff Krafve sums it up best, “This is the control building that will bring the entire plant to life and realize our aspirations for this site.”

“This is the control building that will bring the entire plant to life and realize our aspirations for this site.”

General Manager of Shell Polymers Monaca, Jeff Krafve

Simulator Training Prepared Operators for New Equipment

To help production operators get familiar with a unit before it’s fully constructed, Shell Polymers commissioned a custom, state-of-the-art simulator. The system was designed to replicate the plant’s behavior and control systems to train operators with a customized series of immersive experiences using 360° virtual reality video. This training could also be accessed remotely, which enabled production operators to stay the course through the pandemic-related challenges of on-site capacity restrictions and lockdowns.

Learn more about Creating a reliable polymer supply with leading-edge simulation technology

Codey Hunter, UGF Production Operator, shares, “we’ve been going through the simulator to ensure we’re equipped to run the plant, units, and systems before even having them physically handed over to us.”

Although plant simulators are relatively common in the polyethylene industry, they tend to be generic, rather than specific to a plant and its unique traits. For Shell Polymers, training its production operators on a generic system wasn’t going to cut it.

“The difference with ours is that it uses the same interface and graphics as the control system in the live unit,” says Dominic Lavora, Production Supervisor. “That’s so important because it means that when we switch to the live environment, it isn’t going to be something the operators have never seen before.”

“As production operators, we play a critical role in the plant’s safe and efficient operation, so we need to have a thorough understanding of how it all works.”

Production Operator, Lacree Parrish

Lacree Parrish elaborates, "As production operators, we play a critical role in the plant’s safe and efficient operation, so we need to have a thorough understanding of how it all works. We're learning, we're training, and we're writing procedures… To be a part of this and to see the plant being built from the ground up is an unreal experience."

In closing, David Agnello, Production Operator, exclaims, “This moment, it’s the start of the rest of our career here at Shell Polymers.”

1 https://www.timesonline.com/story/news/2020/09/29/cracker-plant-70-built/3573027001/