Computer-based training systems are playing an increasingly important role in process industries, and particularly in training people for upstream oil and gas roles.
Earlier this year, Rigzone reported how Royal Dutch Shell plc was responding to how it trains staff for well operation activities at the firm's Rijswijk technology center in the Netherlands. Shell, mindful of the huge cost and damage to the reputation of rival oil firm BP due to the Macondo disaster, uses real-time training methods that employ aspects of virtual reality (VR).
Now, thanks to engineering firm Invensys' EYESIM technology, it looks likely that the trend for using VR to train oil and gas workers is set to increase.
EYESIM is currently being used for training projects by the Department of Energy, BG Group and Sumitomo.
Invensys describes EYESIM as a comprehensive training solution for linking control room personnel to field operators and maintenance professionals by means of "a high-fidelity process simulation and virtual walkthrough plant environment".
A demonstration of EYESIM to this writer by Invensys Product Manager Peter Richmond at the recent Gastech show in London showed an immersive virtual reality training system where engineers and other technical professionals can move seamlessly through a very realistic-looking plant in three dimensions.
Richmond explained that Invensys has put together a number of components to make EYESIM work. At its center is a modeling engine powered by the company's SimSci-Esscor business unit's DYNSIM software – a state-of-the-art dynamic process simulation program that has been used to model more than 100 process plants around the world. A plant can be scanned into DYNSIM using special 3D modeling/scanning tools before being rendered into virtual reality by a high-performing VR engine, so the user can then move around the virtual plant and interact with it.
"The principal thing about the EYESIM technology, and included in our patent, is the connection of the virtual reality world to a dynamic simulation program," explained Richmond.
"So, the idea is that you can take an action in the virtual reality world, let's say open a valve, and that opening of a valve will have a real-time reaction. Opening the valve might increase the flow, increase the temperature and increase the pressure in the dynamic simulation model. The results of that action can then be fed back to the environment, whether through gauges or through things that happen to the virtual reality environment, so you've closed the loop, if you like."
This makes for a more realistic training environment for familiarizing technical professionals with equipment they are likely to come across in a process environment, such as on an oil rig.
"Using that facility you are then able to build a number of 'training missions' so that the outside operator can practice their actions and get real-time, live responses to their actions," Richmond added.
EYESIM is an immersive 3D virtual reality training tool designed to train personnel to work on facilities such as oil and gas rigs.
Invensys, a worldwide business with its headquarters in the UK, is a specialist in industrial automation that has for a long time had an interest in developing training environments for engineers and technicians within process industries.
"We issued the [EYESIM] patent in around 2009, but we'd been developing the idea long before that time. On the general side of the training for dynamic simulation and control room people, Invensys have been doing that for 25 years or so. So, in 2009 we brought in the concept of adding the VR world and since then we've been developing the features and functionality of that technology."
Department of Energy
So far, Invensys has six main reference sites for its EYESIM technology.
"The main one is the Department of Energy in the [United States]," said Richmond, who explained that the DOE is using the technology to help it train power plant operators on gasification processes.
"They have built an entire gasification and combined cycle plant in Invensys technology. So, they have an Invensys dynamic process model, an Invensys model of the control room with HMI [human machine interface] and an Invensys EYESIM of the entire plant."
Meanwhile, Invensys is also working with gas firm BG Group on an upstream application that uses EYESIM as well as with Japanese firm Sumitomo Chemical for a refinery project.
As far as price is concerned, an EYESIM system is not is certainly not aimed at junior energy businesses.
"The system that demonstrated at Gastech was our EYESIM kiosk version of the technology – and that is aimed at providing small packages of training exercises… So it starts at around $200,000 for those sorts of systems and, if you build, say, 10 or 20 training exercises, an incremental cost on top of that," said Richmond.
There are other possibilities for the EYESIM technology beyond training and as a way to demonstrate industrial processes to people. For example, because of its real-time nature it could even be linked up to a refinery, factory or some other kind of industrial installation so that processes could be controlled remotely by an operator off site. But for now, according to Richmond, the focus is on EYESIM being used as a training tool.
"It's early days for people who are using it in anger. There's very good feedback from the Department of Energy because they are now running regular training courses," said Richmond who explained that he is confident that EYESIM will play a big role in training people for roles in activities find in sectors like upstream oil and gas in the not-too-distant future.
"I strongly believe that in maybe five or ten years it will become common practice," he said.
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