Create an inplant training center by design

Do any of these training experiences sound familiar? "I don't know if I can sit in this chair for another hour, let alone another day!" "Why don't they arrange these chairs so I don't have to sit sideways half the time?" "I wish the guy in front of me would sit still so I could see what's going on." "That glare on the screen sure makes it hard to see the slides.

By Richard L. Dunn, Executive Editor, Plant Engineering June 1, 2005

Do any of these training experiences sound familiar? “I don’t know if I can sit in this chair for another hour, let alone another day!” “Why don’t they arrange these chairs so I don’t have to sit sideways half the time?”

“I wish the guy in front of me would sit still so I could see what’s going on.”

“That glare on the screen sure makes it hard to see the slides.”

“It’s so dark in here it’s hard to take notes.”

“I don’t know what the racket is next door, but I can hardly hear the instructor.”

These are just a few of the commonly experienced, facility-related problems than can turn a training program into an endurance trial. Yet, they are easily solved with awareness, planning, and relatively small investments.

The facilities factor

Clearly, facilities-related issues can impact the effectiveness of any training program. Providing a certain level of comfort and eliminating distractions are key to getting the most out of a training experience.

But, of course, even the best facilities don’t ensure good training. “Good facilities will not overcome a bad instructor or content,” Kevin Ives, manager, Commercial Marketing Programs, Rockwell Automation Customer Support and Maintenance Business, points out. “But, a good facility enhances the experience.”

Good training programs are tied directly to improving job performance. In fact, Ives says research shows that companies that invest in training as a component of their strategic maintenance plan outperform their markets by more than 45%. That investment includes appropriate training environments.

The cost of those environments is small when compared to other training expenses. Establishing an effective training strategy, developing course content and materials, instructors, and time away from work all add up to substantial investment.

Actually, that investment is the major factor supporting the need to eliminate anything in the training environment that detracts from the learning experience.

“If you have a strategic approach, and you’re looking at training from a proactive perspective, you can very effectively set up a good training center,” advises Mike Burrows, communications manager for Rockwell Automation. On the other hand, “if you’re totally reactive and just throwing some guys in a room, not only is your knowledge transfer lessened, the overall effectiveness of the program and your ability to follow through are lessened.”

Joe Bruno, director, training and development, SKF, has traveled widely presenting training programs in industrial facilities. “Sometimes it’s discouraging,” he reports. “There’s certainly a disconnect between management’s willingness to spend some money to train people and then putting them in an environment that’s conducive to learning. There’s a big gap there. In many plants, it’s obvious that somebody just said, ‘Okay, here’s a room, here are tables. Sit and learn.'”

Providing a facility that assures a comfortable, distraction-free learning environment is one aspect of maximizing your training investment.

Here’s a collection of facilities factors to be considered in designing a training center.

General considerations

Ives and Burrows argue strongly that training facilities need to be planned in support of the plant’s training strategy. As Ives advises, “It’s not just about training, but it’s about what workers need, how you go about training them, who you need to have trained, what they need to know, and what technologies are involved.”

The wisdom of this approach becomes clear, for example, when one considers the three basic approaches to training: classroom, computer-based, and shop. Each of these demands very different facilities. It’s highly unlikely that any single room can serve all types of training. But they do share a few basic considerations, including:

  • Training facilities should be segregated from close proximity to normal day-to-day operations with access control to the training room. Training in areas that are prone to noise, interruptions, and other distractions is always less than optimal.

  • Training is best accomplished in a comfortable environment. Adequate space and work surfaces, good lighting, comfortable seating, and temperature control are factors in all training situations.

  • Nearby restrooms, break areas, and eating areas are recommended.

  • Allowance needs to be made for moving equipment, machinery, and training materials into and out of the training area.

  • Adequate utilities (electricity, water, compressed air, ventilation, etc.) need to be provided.

  • Storage areas for tools, materials, teaching aids, A/V equipment, computers, and other items should be conveniently located and easily accessible.

  • Wall space should be available for posting notes, posters, instructions, and other communications.

  • Whiteboards or chalkboards (preferably wall mounted) should be available.

  • Capability for connecting to the plant’s LAN and the Internet should be provided.

    • Other factors for shop-type training (hands-on work on equipment and machinery) are so widely variable that they are beyond the scope of this article.

      Computer-based training

      Centers for computer-based training also tend to be quite specialized. In any case, it is advisable to work with IT personnel and computer-based learning specialists for these facilities.

      A primary consideration is whether students will be working at individual, self-instruction computer stations or group instruction. For the former, work-stations should be partitioned.

      Each workspace should allow sufficient room for the computer and any peripherals, as well as for student notes and papers. A minimum of 36 inches wide is sufficient, but 40 to 48 inches is preferred.

      Desk-type chairs are the recommended seating.


      Classrooms are perhaps the most prevalent training facilities in industry, but very little guidance concerning classrooms is available outside of academic circles.

      Industrial classrooms differ from their academic cousins in that they must be as versatile as possible to accommodate a number of training situations, class sizes, and instructional techniques. Industrial classrooms should include as many options as possible. Even so, many of the same design considerations must be dealt with.

      Room orientation. For a rectangular room, consider using a longer side as the front of the room. This wide and shallow orientation provides a larger front wall for more board space, multiple screens, or displays.

      Most instructors prefer the door(s) in the back of the room to minimize disruptions from people entering or leaving the room.

      Room size. Space per student varies with the arrangement of the seating. In a theater-style arrangement, the requirement may be as small as 12 square feet per student. Various arrangements using tables require anywhere from 20—40 square feet. These requirements are in addition to the presentation area.

      A common error is to not allow adequate space for the presentation area. Recommendations for this space run from 9 to 13-feet deep for classrooms 27 to 42-feet deep, respectively.

      Allowance should also be made for extra aisle/table space on the sides or in the back of the room.

      Windows. If your training room has windows, make sure you can control the light coming through them. Use blinds and/or shades to block any sunlight that makes it difficult to see the projection, TV, or computer screen. A combination of blinds and shades can provide extra control.

      Lighting. It is imperative to have full control over the room’s lighting. All lights should be dimmer controlled. When all lights are on, light levels should be uniform throughout the room. Ideally, the lights will be divided into four zones: the front presentation area, center seating area, back of the room, and side lighting. There should also be separately controlled lighting for the lecturn.

      Design lighting so it does not create glare on a whiteboard, video or computer screen, or projection screen.

      Lighting controls should be placed near the presenter’s area. All controls should be clearly labeled.

      Boards. Whiteboards and chalkboards in the front of the room should be as large as possible to provide plenty of writing/drawing space. Mount boards 32—34 inches above the floor. Tack strips above the boards are a useful addition.

      HVAC. Classroom should be provided with an independent thermostat for the classroom only. The presence of groups of people for long periods of time and the use of heat-producing projectors often call for cooling or ventilation beyond the requirements in other areas.

      Noise criterion rating should be less than 30.

      Electrical power. Training rooms should be equipped with as many electrical outlets as practicable. Outlets are needed front and rear center for projectors. The lectern and equipment cabinets should have outlets for computers and A/V equipment. If possible, floor outlets should be provided throughout the room to allow for flexible seating configurations and computer users.

      Consider whether you will have any special power requirements. Might you have a need for dc as well as ac power? Will you be using or demonstrating equipment that requires higher or lower-than-standard voltage?

      Noise. Efforts should be made to minimize the intrusion of noise from outside the instruction room. At the same time, it is desirable to minimize reverberation within the room. Use of noise absorbing materials (such as carpet) on the floor and walls is useful in this regard. Ceiling should be acoustically tiled.

      A/V technology. Every classroom today needs to be “plugged in.” In addition to a dedicated computer, provide for easy connection of portable computers to the digital projector as well as to the Internet. Wireless keyboards and mice are preferred, if possible.

      Provide connection to video sources, including cable, satellite, or antenna (depending on what is available at your plant). Include provision for connection to distance learning resources.

      In large rooms, wire multiple TV distribution (coax) outlets to allow use of more than one TV screen. Microphones, if they are to be used, should be wireless.

      Controls for all computer and A/V equipment should be centralized in a location convenient to the presenter.

      Be sure that all wires, switches, and connections are clearly labeled.

      For best viewing by a group, a TV should be mounted with the center of the screen about 66 inches from the floor. Tilt the set forward slightly to eliminate glare. In general, one TV can serve up to 35 students. A 27-inch TV is best viewed between 9 to 15 feet from the screen; 10 to 19 feet for a 31-inch TV.

      From strategy to details

      Planning a successful inplant training center of any kind doesn’t have to be a difficult project. As always, good advance planning prevents expensive changes later. Two rules will serve you well:

    • Begin the planning by clearly defining your training strategy, objectives, and methods so that the facilities will support the types of training to be conducted.

    • Once the larger issues are settled, pay close attention to the details. In the end, it is often the “small stuff” that makes a big difference in the students’ learning experience.

      • More Info:

        More information on classroom design is available on these web sites: .

        PLANT ENGINEERING appreciates the assistance of Rockwell Automation, SKF Reliability Systems, and Scot Forge in the preparation of this article.

        Basic seating arrangements

        Style Advantages Drawbacks
        Theater Good for large groups. Largest number of seats in smallest space. (Note: center aisle should be avoided.) Discourages audience interaction. No writing/working surfaces. Potential for numerous obstructed sightlines.
        Classroom Good for medium-to-large groups. Good use of space. Focuses attention on presenter. Discourages student interaction. Potential obstructed sightlines.
        Herringbone Good for medium groups. Provides natural clusters for group work. Facilitates student interaction. Some students must turn chairs to view presenter. Potential for some obstructed sightlines. Some students have no writing/working surface when viewing presenter.
        U-shape Good for small groups. Encourages interaction of entire group. Can accommodate more students than conference setup. Potential sightline problems for students on sides. Students can’t see others on same side of table.
        V-shape Good for groups of all sizes, but especially for small-to-medium groups. Good sight lines to presenter. Particularly good for presenter demonstrations. Tends to discourage student interaction.
        Rounds Versatile arrangement for medium-to-large groups. Encourages student interaction and cluster-group work. (Note: avoid seating with backs to presenter. Potential sightline problems. Some students must turn chairs to view presenter. Limited table/work space for each student.
        Conference Good for small groups. Encourages interaction of entire group. Sightline problems for students on sides. Students can’t see others on same side of table.

        Rules of thumb for screens and projectors

        Distance from projector to screen, ft
        Room depth, ft Min. screen width, ft Overhead (14-in. lens) 35 mm slide (4-6-in. zoom lens)
        Less than 25 6 8.6 27
        25-30 7 10.3 32.1
        30-35 8 11.8 36.6
        35-40 9 13.3 41
        40-45 10 14.8 45.5
        45-50 11 15.3 50
        50-55 12 17.7 54.3
        55-60 14 20.6 63.2

        Inplant design produces model training center

        In 1988 when Scot Forge, Spring Grove, IL, decided to build a new training center, its engineering department went to work to design and construct the center in a basement storage room of the administration building. The result demonstrates a number of recommended practices for training facilities.

        The most striking design element is the three-tiered, U-shaped seating (photo) that provides clear sight lines for everyone in the room. Permanently mounted tables with swivel seating ensure comfort and adequate space for each student.

        The room design offers presentation space at the front. The other three sides have space between the seats and walls for tables or auxiliary seating. Forwardmost tables and chairs can be removed for additional presentation space.

        The front area (photo) has reduced lighting to ensure clear viewing of the whiteboard and ceiling-mounted screen. Although there are support columns on each side of the room, seating is arranged for an unobstructed view of the large whiteboard on the front wall. The whiteboard is mounted as high as possible to assure good viewing.

        A media center in the front corner provides convenient stationing for the computer and accessories as well as storage. A triangular room in the corner provides convenient storage — good use of what might otherwise be dead space.

        For sound control, the room has an acoustical drop ceiling, and carpeted floor and walls.

        Configured as shown in the photos, the center has seating for 55. Ceiling lighting is bright and even with dimmer controls. With the indirect lights mounted on the side walls, a variety of lighting effects is possible.