South / Regional Reports

Texas College System And ABB Train Students On Use Of Drives

Dave Polka's book, “Motors & Drives: A Practical Technology Guide," was published by ISA (Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society).
NEW BERLIN, Wis. — The Workforce Development Center of Texas State Technical College (TSTC) and ABB University conducted a school to train students employed by U.S. Gas Pipeline Companies in the fundamentals of installing, operating, and maintaining variable frequency drives.

TSTC is a system of public two-year institutions with four primary campuses and three extension centers located throughout Texas. ABB University drives training is based at ABB Inc., Automation Technologies, New Berlin, Wis.

“Evaluation of a week-long training session of eight students at our Sweetwater campus in May has given us complete confidence to extend this training throughout the TSTC system,” said Dixon Bailey, dean of Workforce Development for TSTC.

Organized under the title “Basics of Variable Frequency Drives,” and taught by Dave Polka, manager of ABB University Training Center, the students included maintenance and service technicians and team leaders that work throughout gas pipeline systems in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

“We start with general principles of basic drives and then get more technical and combine both book and lab exercises on real drives. Using this method, there is no essential difference between the ‘school’ environment and students' real-world-in-real-time operation of these motor speed controllers, once they are back at their jobs,” noted Polka.

As TSTC and ABB were setting up the Sweetwater training earlier this year, Polka's book, “Motors & Drives: A Practical Technology Guide," was published by ISA (Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society). The book introduces engineering concepts of motors and drives in a way designed to be easily understood by both engineers unfamiliar with the technology and technicians who are technically literate but not accustomed to complex theory and mathematics. It features simple explanations, summaries, review questions, glossaries, and reference tables for formulas and conversions.

“That publication by an ABB author who turned out also to be our instructor only increased our anxiousness to conduct the school at Sweetwater, and beyond,” said Randy Suhm, director, Energy Management Program, at the TSTC Sweetwater campus. Course evaluations following the week of training “were some of the highest on record,” Suhm said.

Extension of the program offered at Sweetwater may be included in TSTC's mobile training strategy. “We are mobilizing specific types of training to locations more conducive to the client,” Bailey said. “We feel ABB drives training is presented in a format that we could take to our clients. Depending on demand, we can explore offering drives and other ABB courses across the entire system of colleges and extension centers.”

TSTC, with its locations throughout the heart of America's oil patch, provides training to technical personnel from a host of energy-related companies, including former Enron employees, Conoco Phillips, Kerr McGee Corporation, CenterPoint Energy, Wood Group, ESP, Chevron Texaco, and Western Container.

Student response to the college system’s “Controls Level I” curriculum was so strong that Suhm and Bailey added Level II and Level III sections to the training. ABB's instruction is part of the Level II coursework. “ABB's faith in and support of our work has been more than lip service,” Suhm noted. “To date, the company has donated approximately $10,000 worth of variable frequency drive trainers, units, components, and motors.

“The classroom sessions are very hands-on and extremely interactive, which lends itself to on-site training,” said Polka. Training includes use of drive demo cases and written material both provided by ABB.

TSTC is the only state-supported technical college system in Texas, offering specialized, hands-on instructional courses in Harlingen, Marshall, Waco, and West Texas. For more information, visit

ABB Inc., Automation Technologies, Drives and Motors, is a manufacturer of electric motors and drives. For more information, visit

Publication date: 06/09/2003

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