Constellation Energy Uses Video Conferencing to Facilitate Training at its Nuclear Power Plants
The use of video conferencing technology has facilitated face-to-face -training classes among all three
By Nina Parker
Recognized as a 2009 Fortune 500 corporation, Constellation Energy is one of the nation's largest providers of energy products and services. The company is headquartered in Baltimore, MD, and generates and distributes electricity, nuclear power, coal, natural gas, and renewable resources to points throughout the United States. As a publicly traded company with responsibility to its shareholders and the local communities in which it operates, Constellation Energy has taken steps to increase efficiency within the organization and to support eco-friendly initiatives. One of the ways the company is achieving these goals is though the use of video conferencing technology, which it has implemented at corporate offices located in more than twenty cities nationwide.
Constellation Energy uses video conferencing to facilitate collaboration among remote locations. Video is used to conduct executive and board meetings, sales conferences, for collaboration among various internal business groups, and to communicate with external businesses partners. Through its extensive use of video, Constellation Energy has greatly reduced the need for business related travel, saving the company valuable time and travel related expenses. The use of video in place of air and automobile travel has also had a 'green' effect - eliminating thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.*
Given Constellation Energy's success with video conferencing, the technology was a natural choice when the company's nuclear power division needed an efficient means of training at its three facilities; Calvert Cliffs in Lusby, Maryland, and Nine Mile Point and Ginna in Lake Ontario, New York. Constellation Energy selected industry expert IVCi, with whom it has partnered on numerous video conferencing and audio visual installations, to help design and install training rooms that would facilitate face-to-face training sessions across the nuclear division's locations.
There are numerous disciplines in the field of nuclear power, each with its own subject matter experts. Constellation Energy utilizes these experts to train employees on industry related subjects and best practices, and to continually educate employees so as to ensure the safety of operations and comply with rigorous government safety standards. The design for the nuclear division's distance learning rooms had to allow an expert trainer at one nuclear facility to teach employees at all three locations in real time. This 'virtual training session' scenario would eliminate the need for a subject matter expert based at one plant from traveling site to site, teaching the same class multiple times to different groups. Having instructors deliver their courses over high quality video would allow all three sites to be taught effectively at once.
By integrating the technology into their training, Constellation Energy has created a virtual classroom that enables employees and trainers to attend sessions in person over video, from anywhere.”
IVCi's project management team and Constellation Energy's visual communications manager Jeff Cormier worked together to design and install two distance learning rooms at each nuclear plant. A similar layout was used in each room to facilitate management of the room's systems.
All training rooms were equipped with:
- Three 65 inch NEC displays, two high definition (HD) video conferencing codecs: the primary codec is used for the transmission of video and content streams, the secondary codec is used for the transmission of secondary content and to ensure the continuity of operations in the event of disruption to the first codec.
- Two Vaddio HD video conferencing cameras to capture the participants and the trainer, and a ceiling-mounted Vaddio document camera site to share course material such as PowerPoint presentations.
- Articulating mounts which allow the instructor to see the content before the displays are turned toward the trainees.
- Ceiling mounted microphones with options for presentation and question and answer modes.
- A dedicated PC for access to information on the power plant's internal network.
- Custom designed AMX touch panels for easy control and navigation of the system. A trainer or employee simply chooses from a series of simple icons, and all audio and video is managed from this one source.
- Access to a TANDBERG Codian bridge, which is used to schedule, manage, and monitor the video calls.
This room set up enables a training session that is happening in one plant to include the two other plants, eliminating the need for multiple training sessions on the same topic; the instructor and trainees at each location can actively participate by sending and receiving video, audio, and content in real-time.
After Constellation Energy's training rooms were successfully implemented, sessions began almost immediately and were held from 6:30am - 3:30pm five days a week. A trainer could be located at any of the plant's facilities, and a class usually included three rooms. Typically, there are two video sessions per day, consisting of three rooms. The other possible scenarios include three video sessions connecting two rooms, two video sessions connecting three rooms, and one video session with any number of rooms. According to Mr. Cormier, the company has received a return on its investment rather quickly. "In the field of nuclear power there are numerous disciplines, and each discipline requires a subject matter expert who is highly skilled and has the ability to train others on the subject," he said. "The cost of the room itself may be equivalent to one expert's annual salary, so the cost to install a room has the potential to pay for itself in the first year."
Mr. Cormier said a key element of the system's success is that much of it has been standardized and easy for anyone in any of the six rooms to use. For example, when calls are launched, the correct configuration occurs automatically in each room. The remote participants are viewed on the right display, the local instructor is viewed on the left display, and the primary content is viewed in the center display. The system was made to be intuitive in order to encourage employees to use it. "The use of video for training was new for the instructors as well as the students, and they had to learn it relatively quickly," Mr. Cormier said. "We saw that whatever resistance there was to using this technology for training sessions was diminished within a short time as the participants recognized the benefits."
Constellation Energy has more than 200 video and audio visual equipped conference rooms, many of which have been integrated with TANDBERG video conferencing systems. Rick Snyder, TANDBERG's president of global business, has consulted with Constellation Energy on its video conferencing requirements, and noted its success in meeting its initiatives. "Constellation Energy has done a great job of driving efficiencies and improving communication across its offices with video conferencing," he said. "By integrating the technology into their training, Constellation Energy has created a virtual classroom that enables employees and trainers to attend sessions in person over video, from anywhere. This has eliminated the need for multiple trainers at multiple sites, and employees no longer have to travel for training sessions. Not only does this save costs and help drive productivity by reducing the need for travel and duplicative training sessions, it is helping Constellation Energy cut its carbon footprint by keeping employees off the road and out of the skies."
Other players in the nuclear power industry have also taken note of the program. "Many of our peers who have visited us and have seen what we are doing with video leave wanting to implement a program of their own," Mr. Cormier said. "In many ways, we have set a benchmark for the industry. Years ago we started with five video systems and now we have 95, and we can train employees from anywhere. The video conferencing program has been a huge success."
*The TerraPass green calculator calculates one round trip flight from Louisville, KY to Baltimore, MD as creating 494 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
*Video conferencing case study photo courtesy of Constellation Energy.
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