One of the most powerful innovations in training staff for offshore oil rigs was developed thanks to the video game industry. Virtual reality, also known as augmented 3D training, has been used by companies such as BP, Shell and others with great success not just for training new personnel, but also for reducing maintenance expenses and increasing safety.
While on-the-job training for onshore oil and gas carries its own set of challenges, offshore platforms can be dangerous places to learn. It’s also expensive to transport and house trainees on a platform while the training is occurring. This relatively new modality makes it possible for recruits to supplement traditional learning methods such as classroom lectures, reading and quizzes with first-person-perspective 3D virtual reality technology exercises. Since many new recruits are millennials who have grown up gaming on increasingly sophisticated systems, the technology is a natural, intuitive way to learn.
Companies such as Program-Ace, Aveva and Siemens have developed interactive 3D solutions that are available off-the-shelf or in completely customized formats. Programs can take trainees right from the first view of a rig as they fly in a helicopter to the site through drilling operations or operating equipment, including valves and actuators on a particular rig. Staff members are also trained to handle accidents, including evacuating in emergency situations.
Virtual environments can be created so precisely they reflect every detail of the rig. Users can virtually perform everything from a simple inspection patrol to vital maintenance work on malfunctioning controls or drilling equipment. The virtual environments, which are constructed entirely from clients’ own 3D designs, allow multiple avatars to interact with each another as well as with the various pieces of equipment that would be on a real rig.
This ability to interact is especially important because the teams on rigs constantly change. Additionally, the technological complexity of equipment on these rigs means the ability to virtually update operational details goes far toward ensuring that training is always up to date for each recruit. In other words, when a valve is replaced on the physical rig, that information is input into the simulation software, and all data including maintenance records is available while virtual training or maintenance is occurring.
Training also can be done before a rig is actually built so that when it’s ready, operators are already accustomed to the environment and have “hands-on” training to ensure safe and efficient operation. Using detailed engineering plans, platform simulators can be adjusted to the needs and peculiarities of each platform even as changes are happening during construction.
Several studies have shown that such immersive training courses are highly effective and trainees are much more likely to remember actions they have performed themselves than those taught in classrooms or shown in videos.
MAINTENANCE AND SAFETY PROCEDURES
Another huge advantage of virtual or augmented reality is that maintenance can be planned and conducted from a remote location, increasing profitability and reducing potential for safety issues. This is accomplished because the operator has already experienced situations before conducting the activities on the rig.
Current plant data can be accessed from the cloud or through proprietary systems and be used for maintenance that can be carried out through immersive operator training. Participants can move freely throughout the virtual environment, talk to one another and work together on a variety of scenarios. By using 3D simulation-based systems, engineers can develop precise, detailed plans so they can execute work correctly from the outsight by going through various scenarios virtually before attempting work on the actual equipment. This lowers the risk of mistakes, delays and reworking, and increases overall performance for operations and maintenance procedures.
Mandatory training for workers and subcontractors a few weeks a year is common in the offshore industry even though rigs are accessible only by helicopter or boat. Meanwhile, teams of crews are generally replaced every six weeks. That means transportation is a huge expense for the industry. Since on-site training is expensive and disruptive to routine work, conducting training exercises off site while the crews are on land is common. However, off-site mock-ups are expensive to construct and often do not realistically replicate the real-world scenarios on the job. Thus, many companies are turning to virtual reality for supplemental operational and safety training for seasoned workers as well as new employees.
Fires, gas leaks or accidents can be simulated so that operators are fully prepared and trained to deal with them should they happen. Siemens gave an example of the value of this type of training by citing the scenario of a leaky pipe on a production platform that catches fire. With intense heat and dense black smoke, a crew would have only seconds to respond. Inexperience in situations like these can be deadly, but with virtual 3D training, technicians have “experienced” such scenarios already so they can respond precisely as needed to avert disaster.
Platform operators naturally want to reduce downtime and save money on transportation and training costs. With virtual reality making it possible for technicians to operate processes and handle emergencies more efficiently and safely, there is little doubt that 3D, virtual and augmented reality may become a standard for training offshore personnel.