Virtual reality and training in the energy sector

Companies in the global energy industry are under intense pressure from all directions. The exponential growth of power demand must always be met. Compliance with increasingly stringent health, safety and environmental regulations is mandatory. New facilities must be brought online quickly, an ageing infrastructure must be upgraded and modernised and retiring workforce with the potential loss of know-how and experience must be replaced — all with minimal service interruptions. All the while, companies with trillions of dollars of assets in the field need new solutions to keep a lid on staggering operations and maintenance costs.

The oil and gas segment in particular has significant challenges. Refineries, offshore rigs and other processing plants are some of the world’s largest, most complex facilities, operating around the clock at peak capacity under some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Many upgrade, refurbishment and maintenance projects involve hundreds of workers who must be thoroughly trained – especially in safety-related operations such as handling fires, toxic chemicals, high-pressure leaks and other emergency incidents. Scheduling requires precise choreography to ensure each step occurs on time and in proper sequence.


3D Virtual Simulation Technologies Address Critical Issues

A growing number of companies in the pipeline and gas industry are addressing these challenges through the use of innovative 3D virtual planning, simulation and visualisation technologies. Such systems allow people to plan and schedule operational procedures, train workers and meet health and safety requirements by interacting with a computer-simulated 3D environment, including cranes, plant assets and workers to determine the best process to minimise costly project delays and mitigate project execution risk.

By studying procedures in this virtual world, engineers, planners, safety experts and workers can identify problems, explore options and determine the best remedy without disrupting actual plant operations. With lifelike 3D models, simulations and visualisations, planners can test their project plans virtually, and workers can see precisely what they need to do before they attempt it on the job. In this manner, optimal procedures and scheduling of operations can be worked out before projects are started in the plant or along the pipeline and workers can be safely trained off-site.

These simulations also can include lifelike models of humans or manikins for a wide range of virtual ergonomics or human factors studies. Digital manikins are built using anthropometric specifications for male and female (Name, Gender, Weight, Height, etc.). Manikins possess fully articulated hand, spine, shoulder, and neck models to accurately reproduce natural movement such as reaching, grasping, walking, and lifting.


Increase Productivity and Lower Costs by Better Planning Operations and Maintenance Procedures

The traditional ways of planning rely on the experience of the workers and subcontractors to execute the required maintenance tasks. But 2D drawings and historical information are often inaccurate and outdated leading to miscommunications between the various project teams during the actual execution, resulting in expensive delays to the project, unsafe working conditions and costly project rework.

3D simulation-based systems for planning scheduled maintenance or new operational procedures provide an effective way for engineers to develop precise and detailed plans to execute work “right the first time” by studying various scenarios and performing what-if evaluations well before tasks are attempted with actual equipment. Digitally planning and optimising processes lowers the risk of mistakes and increases overall performance for operations and maintenance procedures.

In advanced systems, scheduling software is often coupled with process planning simulations in an integrated solution that optimises schedules for day-to-day plant operations as well as periodic maintenance tasks. By iterating with process planning in evaluating various ‘what-if’ scenarios, the scheduling solution analyses alternative sequences and arrives at an optimised master schedule. This output is invaluable to project managers and others in determining budgets, manpower requirements, critical timelines and operating efficiencies.


Promote Safety, Lower Risk of Mistakes and Eliminate Disruption of Work with Virtual Training

Virtual Reality (VR) training systems create a lifelike, immersive environment that adds another dynamic dimension to 3D simulations. VR technologies enable users to interact with computer-simulated equipment and surroundings in lifelike realism. Most of these applications are used in worker training,where some of the most advanced systems use 360-degree wrap-around theaters with photorealistic imagery viewed with stereoscopic glasses. Multiple speakers generate high-fidelity sound effects to familiarise workers with the harsh and sometimes subtle sounds found on the actual jobsite.

Head-mounted goggles track head and eye movements, allowing the system to recognise where users are focusing their attention in the overall scene. In this way, workers can be trained off-site using VR without disrupting normal work routines or exposing them to the hazards of performing an untried or unfamiliar task in a real-life setting.

In any of these systems, different maintenance and operations scenarios can be easily performed without workers being on the actual plant/rig site. Workers can gain familiarisation with the plant or pipeline layout, equipment operation, walking paths and evacuation routes and memorise the location of safety devices. Workers can learn specific operations and maintenance procedures such as plant start-up and shut-down, equipment maintenance, inspection and replacement so they are immediately productive. A report issued at the end of virtual reality training indicates which tasks were successfully performed and which mistakes were made so employees can be “coached up” on individual skills while the company is able to create regulatory documentation.


Conclusion

Companies in the energy industry are leveraging simulation technology to ensure workers are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to work safely in an unforgiving environment. These organisations are increasing productivity and lowering costs by better planning operations and maintenance procedures, maximising workflow and utilisation of resources with detail and coordinated scheduling and making plants safer and more efficient with comprehensive simulation-based training. The business value of these applications is immense in reducing the costs of nonproductive time measured in hundreds of millions of dollars annually and avoiding the billions of dollars lost every year in this complex industry due to operating inefficiencies.

By Stephen Chadwick MD Dassault Systèmes EuroNorth


Edited from source by Joe Green

Published on 19/01/2015


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