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The Oil & Gas sector is poised with complexities and challenges and ranks among the many high-risk industries such as construction, military, aviation or energy. Virtual Reality (VR), which uses immersive experiences for training and a host of other purposes, is regarded as a medium that could effectively rectify the issues faced by these major industries and thus create a transformation that caters to workplace safety and productivity. It falls under the umbrella of Immersive Technologies – which are modes of altering, replicating or enhancing reality. This article particularly deals with the impact of VR in the oil and gas industries.

Challenges Faced

Here’s a brief on the challenges faced by the Oil & Gas sector:

High Cost

The Oil & Gas fields are located in remote locales such as deserts or open sea. To provide on-the-job-training here, companies must make significant investments in terms of the cost of commutation, accommodation, and other essentials that the employee needs. The ratio of such investments to the training effectiveness falls way below the stipulated standards of safety and productivity.

High Equipment Complexity

There are multiple operational areas in the Oil & Gas sector. These diverse processes are carried out using a complex and industry-specific machinery.  The cost of installation of such machinery is considerably high, which makes it impractical to install the same for training purposes. Notwithstanding that, the demands of the industry, combined with the pace of innovation, makes it imperative for the companies to frequently train the new and existing workforce and render them capable of operating the new machinery.

The Risk Factor

Operations in this sector come with enormous risks, to both people and equipment. On one hand, it could potentially lead to the injury of the experienced or new personnel in an oil field. On the other hand, novices to the industry may damage the equipment due to inexperience.

Value of the Process

Traditional training hasn’t proven to be consistently effective, especially in the domain of safety training. Nothing perfects as real-life experience, especially when it comes to demanding and hazardous scenarios.

Assessment Capability

Theoretical tests pose theoretical (and not practical) challenges. We live in an era where only the finest can survive, and this is most relevant in the Oil & Gas sector – where time, money, and resources are so crucial. The likes of theoretical assessment such as exams, tests, quizzes, etc., doesn’t validate the preparedness of a trainee. As many professions in the Oil & Gas sector are subject to certification, it is the need of the hour to verify whether or not the training provided here is highly impactful.  

How Does VR Help?

Skim through those challenges again and consider this – VR is an immersive training experience that could help alleviate every one of them. It reduces the high costs incurred through physical training thanks to hands-on remote training facility; reduces or even nullifies the risks posed by traditional training but makes it highly effective through the depiction of real-life experiences; takes away the need of handling equipment during the training process (though the workers will have the experience of using the same); and increases the capability of work assessment through experiential testing. Given these benefits, companies are now exploring use cases of the technology and are moving beyond pilot applications.

VR Setup

Virtual Reality, as the name suggests, emulates the real-world environment and immerses the user in a virtual setting that takes him/her away from their physical environments. All the users’ need here is a specialized headset, which may/may not be tethered to a computer, and the user could find himself in the middle of an oil field. Some of the tethered headsets include the HTC Vive, Vive Cosmos, and the Oculus Rift; and the non-tethered ranges include Vive Focus, Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, Magic Leap One and HoloLens. 

The platform offers the users with the repository of data and objects, option to add new scenarios/objectives into the training program, visualization of 3D views of scenes and objects, configuration of training and assessment, the option to create a guided training module, etc. 

The beauty of this platform is its potential to configure a training model that caters to the specific training purpose. It helps in building situational awareness and information and increases the responsiveness of the on-ground enforcement personnel. Besides this, the technology is brimmed with potential and applies to various domains across industries. Its vast applicability is all set to herald a change in the way we work, live, and consume entertainment. 

It is also noteworthy that Haptics Technology, which is again a part of VR, induces a sense of touch into the experience, adding to the immersion levels of the already immersive VR environment.

Benefits

VR offers a plethora of benefits to various industrial sectors. Here’s a brief on what it could offer to the Oil & Gas Industry:

Faster Learning

Virtual Reality provides an immersive experience to the trainees, leading to faster absorption of knowledge and its retention. Also, it facilitates real-time feedback that helps in the timely correction of mistakes. This is especially relevant in sectors like Oil & Gas, where faster and updated learning is essential to keep up with the cyclical nature of the industry. On this note, the training material can be modified and kept up to date to cope with an influx of new trainees.

Real-time Contextual Knowledge

Virtual Reality works on the premise of reality. It is quite impractical to provide hands-on and on-the-job training to both new and experienced employees in an industry which is known for its hazards and remote locations. Virtual Reality provides trainees with an experience of working in the very dangerous oil fields by allowing mistakes, which in real-life could have devastating consequences. Apart from its practical training feature, this training methodology displays the relevant information during the practice, the likes of which must be known by all trainees. 

Productivity Through Engagement

Traditional methods are time-consuming, costly, and not consistently effective. Experiential training through VR grabs the attention of the otherwise impatient viewer. Knowledge begets confidence; hence it is pivotal for employees in this sector to have a thorough understanding of the know-how of the operations and the usage of equipment. 

The Safety Angle

As already observed, Oil & Gas is a highly hazardous industry, which renders it impractical and unreasonable for on-the-job training. VR emulates these dangerous scenarios, thereby providing the trainees with a license to learn from errors. At the end of the session, the trainee would be fully equipped with the essential know-how without suffering any injury or endangering the equipment.

Assessment

VR provides plenty of scope for assessment; it can be a repository of all sorts of analytical data that could be handy in assessing the trainee’s performance. This helps the evaluator in not only evaluating the result but also the precision of an employee’s movements – which involves delays, the steadiness of the hands, and other specific variables, thereby enabling the evaluator in deciding if the trainee is ready for certification or requires more training.

On-demand and Custom Training

On-the-job training, which is usually conducted on the oil fields, requires the gathering of the entire workforce for training (for reasons of cost-efficiency and time). VR training, on the other hand, requires no interruption of work processes or assignment of dedicated personnel or facilities and can be held specifically for different personnel.

Apart from this, the technology offers custom or updated training based on operational needs; it gives more freedom in designing programs as per different operational aspects or skills.

Use Cases

  1. VR helps a subject matter expert in guiding new technicians through a complex task from a remote location. Engineering specialists from Baker Hughes found it beneficial in guiding technicians through the process of replacing components in a Malaysian turbine plant using VR. Notably, the specialists in-charge of guiding these Malaysian technicians rendered the same from their California offices. 
  2. It improves the maintenance efficiency of the assets. California-based PG&E, which operates more than 1,50,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines (running across remote and inaccessible areas) has invested in this technology after foreseeing this promise. 
  3. It bolsters the confidence of employees and improves the quality of work. It may be noted that this is the belief on which Kuwait Oil Company adopted this training methodology. 
  4. It helps in practising emergency responses to different accidents and testing new facilities at the early stages of construction. Siemens is using a VR simulator for these purposes. 

Some of the Training Modules

The following are some of the popular training modules in this sector:

VR Training – Compressor Operation

VR training renders a series of immersive, exciting acclimatization opportunities for trainees, which in effect leads to user engagement, thanks to environments that emulate reality. It facilitates trainer-led and trainer-less practice sessions, as well as the creation of updated VR lessons based on the convenience of time.

Oil Field Visualization and Simulation

Subjects such as geology and facilities planning are better taught through real-time feedback and interaction with existing geoscience applications. Using VR, the user could freely navigate and manipulate an oil field through 3D virtual models. It enables analysis, optimization, and experimentation in an environment that captures the entire details of the operations. It helps in reducing downtime, improving preventive maintenance, and increasing production levels.

Emergency Training

Emergency situations could be a rare occurrence in a person’s life, and yet, reactions under these circumstances could simply be the difference between life and death. Virtual Reality allows people to practice in virtually dangerous situations without the risk of injuries. One of the great examples of this module is VR fire safety training, which educates the people concerning the prevention and control of fire accidents. The training is so expansive that it even deals with the usage of appropriate extinguishers.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics, as the name suggests, aids employees in determining and predicting their safety. The feature is rendered through specialized VR gadgets, the likes of which include vest – monitors heart rate, blood pressure, quality of air, geolocation, weather conditions, and other safety precaution metrics; and  Goggles – checks eye movement for evidence of fatigue, disorientation, and other signs of visual impairment.

Fall Protection

The basic thought of working at heights without any protective gadgets indicate danger, and the number of accidents reported on this account testifies the same. Virtual Reality fall protection training ensures that the worker is fully trained on all aspects concerning height safety, which includes the appropriate usage of safety equipment. This is done by providing an experience that deals with the consequences of not complying with the prescribed safety procedures.

Conclusion

Virtual Reality is a flexible, immersive and hands-on approach to the various challenges faced by the sector. Its range of customized solutions is proving to be successful in addressing the safety issues in the most hazardous of industries while enhancing the productivity levels. It is a technological wonder that deserves widespread adoption.