Eaton's Experience Center Provides Comprehensive Electrical Training Experience in Pittsburgh

In September, Eaton hosted a media event at its Power Systems Experience Center outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. The Experience Center gives visitors a concentrated, hands-on training experience for virtually every electrical system.

Dan Carnovale, Experience Center Manager, led the tour through the training facility, relating its history and calling it an "electrical Disneyland."

In 2004, Carnovale created it as a single room called the "Power Quality Lab." Now, it features over a dozen training stations and classrooms, and according to Carnovale, the Experience Center sees 6,000 people come through each year.

Carnovale said the center addresses a larger issue in the electrical industry: electricians frequently set up electrical systems and have to move to another job before seeing their equipment activated.

"Electricians come in, do their part, and they've never seen these things run," he said. According to him, once they visit the Experience Center and witness their operation, they can recognize the benefits of them.

The focal point of the Experience Center is its central electrical neighborhood, a system of interactive and observable displays designed to familiarize visitors with outside linework, utility equipment and much more. It is a hallway and atrium space in the building, but Eaton has built it to resemble a winding road through a residential area complete with telephone poles, trees, and even a coffee shop called the "PSEC Cafe."

Almost everything in the training facility is powered up to 480 volts, Carnovale said. Anything above that is not energized but does have power to make it act realistically for simulation purposes.

(Editor's note: The coffee shop is real. We tested it.)

The goal of the Experience Center is to provide real-world-like immersion. In fact, the center, itself, is powered by a microgrid, combining utility power, a 30-kilowatt solar power system, generators, battery backup, and an Eaton optimizer, which automatically manages power sources. The microgrid is on display for visitors to inspect and learn from.

The programming at the Experience Center is flexible, from full-day classes to one-week classes designed for apprentices of IBEW Local No. 5 in Pittsburgh. In addition, Carnovale said the center conducts some five-week classes. He also said the program is structured firmly for apprentices, but the center will educate anyone from third graders to CEOs (Editor's note: also magazine editors).

"I don't want [the students] to hear about these things for the first time in front of a customer," Carnovale said. "It's all about hands-on and eyes-on and full scale."

Carnovale said he had noticed a problem in the electrical industry in which electrical engineers knew what equipment looked like on paper but had never seen it in person, and electricians knew what equipment looked like in person but weren't familiar with the design work. The Experience Center provides an opportunity for cross-training.

"Engineers learn the hands-on stuff," Carnovale said. "Electricians learn the applications."

Part of the immersion and interactivity of the Experience Center is the training staff not only show how equipment works but also how it fails.

"It's more interesting when things break," Carnovale said before triggering a simulated lightning strike dropping a tree limb onto a power line. This demonstrated a grid automation software system, which uses reclosers to try to clear a fault four times before automatically rerouting power.

The tour carried on from generation to transmission and distribution to microgrids, voltage regulators, and voltage drives, each a station within the facility, offering visitors the chance to see this equipment in action and interact with it.

However, it isn't all high-tech. Some stations demonstrated basic electrical principles. For instance, one display uses a water analogy to demonstrate the voltage, current, and resistance in Ohm's Law.

Dan Carnovale demonstrates Ohm's Law with how valves reroute water pressure.
Dan Carnovale demonstrates Ohm's Law with valves rerouting water pressure.

The center also has constructed mobile benches for universities to demonstrate variable frequency drives.

The Experience Center even has a data center room, which demonstrates power redundancy. Each rack has two power sources. This room also is used to familiarize visitors with "hot aisles" and "cold aisles," which means the exhaust from the equipment is faced the same way to better vent heat and keep the room cool.

"Data centers are 100 percent inefficient," Carnovale said. "You dump all this power in there just to create heat."

To illustrate just how much power data centers consume, he said Pittsburgh's steel mill uses 100 megawatts (MW) of power; some data centers use 150 MW and the world's largest data center being built in Norway may eventually consume up to 1,000 MW. He said data center owners used to be concerned only with reliability, but now they're concerned with efficiency.

Following the tour of the Experience Center, there was a roundtable discussion involving representatives from IBEW Local No. 5, Ferry Electric, Eaton and Electrical Contractor magazine. The group discussed workforce development and how IBEW Local No. 5 is addressing the issue with outreach and apprenticeship programs. The group also discussed safety issues, job site culture, and the contractor's role and responsibilities to the worker.

At the conclusion of the event, Carnovale drew attention to the Chinese proverb posted by the front door:

Tell me, and I will forget.

Show me, and I will remember.

Involve me, and I will understand.

Thus, the Experience Center's mission and training methodology was reinforced.

For more on Eaton's Experience Center, to take a virtual tour, or to schedule a visit, click here.

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