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Virtual Reality Provides Real Benefits

Oct. 15, 2014
Immersive 3D environment enhances training of operators

What if an operator doing rounds on a massive floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) unit comes upon a visible gas leak and also someone down. To avert a potential crisis, the operator must react quickly and correctly. That’s why oil and gas giant, TOTAL, Paris, is relying on an immersive training simulator (ITS) for operators at two FPSO projects off the coast of Angola, Africa.

“We have to have training that reaches everybody,” notes Nicolas Tarisse, field operations training manager at TOTAL Exploration & Production (E&P).

The simulator provides an accurate 3D immersive environment where a worker can visualize tasks to perform as well as assess and rehearse ways to conduct certain workflows that involve any number of scenarios. TOTAL turned to Siemens Industry for the ITS, which uses its COMOS Walk inside technology.

The ITS enables training to begin before the real plant is in operation. The ITS provides an easy, fast and game-like navigation already familiar to many younger workers, as they have grown up playing video games. An Xbox controller can even be used to provide easy, familiar navigation.

TOTAL does have different types of training for workers but the ITS puts staff in a true 3D virtual environment that effectively teaches them what to do and when to do it. This makes personnel more productive and aware of safety procedures as quickly as possible to maximize profitability.


Figure 1. Located about 100 miles offshore of Angola, the installation has a processing capacity of 220,000 bbl/d.

A KEY ROLEThe ITS helps transform a novice operator into someone certified to do the job. “These are basic questions a novice would ask: Where am I? What am I looking at? What am I supposed to do? How should I do that? How fast? Where are my teammates? What are they doing? How can I collaborate with them? These are a number of the questions we want to address to convert a novice into an expert,” explains Marc de Buyl, vice president, 3D Visualization Solutions for Siemens Industry.“In essence, what we are looking to do is prepare for ORDs [operator routine duties] and DILOs [days in the life of],” he says. “We want to make sure what we are scripting in building those scenarios either matches or improves those DILOs. We do that through the import of standard operating procedures [SOPs] that capture the knowledge that experts have converted into scripts. That is how that knowledge gets transferred from novice to experts.”The ITS not only prepares workers for daily tasks but also for uncommon scenarios that raise operational and safety issues. “When we prepare for tasks under normal conditions, we are also trying to prepare them for the unexpected,” deBuyl notes. “That is where the operator can inject spurious events — explosions, gas leaks, man down — which is what TOTAL has done to see how people react to them. What do you do first? There is a man down. Do you hit the alarm? Do you call for help? Do you help the man directly? There are three choices there. What are the recommendations? Are you jeopardizing the lives of others by immediately going and doing CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] on the guy that is on the ground and forgetting to launch the alarm or call for help or shut down the system.”The proper order of actions is to secure, alert and then rescue, Tarisse explains.The ITS also can bolster communications among workers involved, e.g., in shutting down a subsystem or performing a maintenance procedure. “The team building and the rehearsal of scenarios like that is very key,” stresses de Buyl.INITIAL USEThe first implementation of an ITS has been for the Pazflor FPSO unit, which is about 100 miles offshore and is moored at a depth of 2,500 ft atop 25 subsea oil wells, two gas-injection wells and 22 water-injection wells (Figure 1). At full output of 220,000 bbl/d, the installation can bring in $20 million daily. Any type of delay in production can cost millions the company never would get back. “If you use an ITS you have less loss of production due to human error; we minimize the loss of production,” Tarisse says. TOTAL was able to increase safety and efficiency, lowering risk and raising asset uptime, which enhances the return on investment (ROI). With first oil slated for 2011, the ITS was available one year before commissioning because TOTAL knew training couldn’t wait until the arrival of the FPSO unit.“The FPSO was built in South Korea and not all the operators were available or involved for the commissioning,” notes Tarisse. “We had a very short time between the arrival of the FPSO in Angola and first oil — only four months.”“The first goal is to have the operators become familiar with the installation and to train them on the equipment. There is some equipment they would need to find rapidly for them to restart if there is a local restart on a valve. If they spend too much time looking for the equipment, there is a loss of production because the time to restart increases,” he explains.The ITS garnered positive feedback: 58% of trainees found it to be very useful, while 34% found it interesting.“It’s a good tool to know the FPSO without seeing it,” commented one trainee. “It was capable of giving me the image of the Pazflor installation details,” said another.Most of the operators are young and grew up playing video games. “They were able to use the simulator quite easily,” remarks Tarisse. “It was funny because I was on the FPSO when the first operators arrived on board. It was interesting to see how rapidly they were able to get the information and they were not completely lost when they arrived due to the fact they played some weeks on the massive training simulator.”ONGOING EVOLUTIONThe Pazflor project was a huge success. So, TOTAL decided to take the ITS to the next level and add another phase for the next project — the CLOV FPSO. That unit, which will have a nameplate output of 160,000 bbl/d and about 1.8-million-bbl storage capacity, should reach first oil this year.“With the CLOV project, we wanted to go beyond the familiarization of the Pazflor project,” Tarisse says. “We wanted to develop some training scenarios, some operations procedures and some HSE [health, safety and environmental] procedures as well.“We also involved the maintenance personnel with CLOV. It was five weeks on the ITS for operators and two to three weeks for the maintenance personnel.”

Figure 2. An avatar can walk through the FPSO unit and encounter situations that raise operational and safety issues.

TOTAL introduced the CLOV ITS, which also uses the Siemens COMOS Walk inside technology, in two phases. The first phase was similar to Pazflor, where operators familiarized themselves on the equipment; TOTAL also introduced a connection with the documentation management system. The objective was to use 3D visualization to get workers to learn and understand the operation and specific safety issues of all equipment and processes from the wells to the export systems.Personnel took theoretical training courses mixed in with the ITS to improve their understanding.“The second phase was done in Angola and the training sessions took place during the first half of 2014 as first oil will not be struck until later this year,” Tarisse notes. “We introduced HSE aspects. Communication between trainees was like in real life; this enhanced operating scenarios.” Phase 2 integrated HSE objects and immersive effects to improve operating personnel’s reactions to unusual situations. Some of the HSE objects were fire, flare, smoke, gas leak, liquid leak and man down; the immersive effects included shower, extinguisher, alarm, phone booth, mask, warning screen and a mustering point. In the simulator, an avatar walking through a detailed FPSO (Figure 2) can encounter various incidents, thus enabling workers to learn what to do in such situations. The simulator can show all the intricate details of the FPSO, including items like the methanol pumps, living quarters and the dining room. “You can see all the procedures and all the data sheets of those procedures,” he explains. Even when CLOV comes online, ITS will continue to evolve. TOTAL has another FPSO that will start up in Nigeria and a platform in Norway and the next level of training will dive even deeper.“We want to develop HSE scenarios so we can train personnel on specific topics,” says Tarisse. “We can validate some maintenance procedures. We can view the equipment and see how it fits around the modules. We want to couple the operator training simulator and ITS to increase the scenario possibilities, for instance, if we want to work on black start procedures — that is, when there is a complete blackout and you want to restart the installation. That is very critical, especially for a deepwater installation. If you do not start your system after a period of time, you can lose your loop. Such blackouts do not happen very often, but everyone should be trained to minimize the startup time.”The goal is to accelerate the gaining of experience, so the workforce thoroughly knows the equipment and procedures and, thus, can make decisions quicker and with more efficiency in a pressure-filled situation. This leads to improved safety and uptime.


ITS technology promises to play a wider role. “The model has a life of its own where it can extend to real-time management, ongoing training, maintenance supervision and execution,” says Marc de Buyl of Siemens.

“We can have our walking avatars in the model. Those can represent the physical presence of the operators monitored through RFIDs, so the control room can know where people are and remotely see whether they are doing what they are supposed to be doing — positioning and execution. And when there are ambiguities and doubts, verbal communication can take place between the control room, experts and the people in the field, all of whom are looking at the same information on a tablet.”

MELISSA TOMPKINS is marketing specialist for COMOS Plant Engineering Software for Siemens AG, Alpharetta, Ga. MANUEL KELDENICH is product marketing manager for COMOS Walkinside for Siemens AG, Alpharetta, Ga.. E-mail them at [email protected] and [email protected].

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