Oil and Gas Industry Training Requires Rich New Technology by Oliver Diaz April 15, 2014

The stakes are incredibly high for the safety and compliance efforts of today’s oil and gas industry. Engineers and crews must be trained for increasingly complex processes and procedures used aboard drilling rigs and production platforms. The consequences of inadequate training during oil production can be disastrous to both operator crews and the environment. However, there’s a growing deficit of knowledge and expertise among young workers who are rapidly recruited to keep up with the current oil and gas boom. This has not gone unnoticed, and the industry is responding by devoting resources to technologically advanced training methods.

Technologies such as simulations, augmented reality and real-time data give industry contractors the most effective and efficient training methods to mitigate risks without slowing down operations. Drilling rigs are a perfect example of a highly instrumented environment in which these new training technologies can make an enormous impact.

Mission-critical training simulations
Richly interactive training can now incorporate advanced simulation technologies so trainees can be prepared for real-life scenarios. They can learn complex procedures and processes quickly and without the risk factors involved in real-life situations or real equipment. And the simulation technologies create an immersive world in which the learner is in the first-person position, making mission-critical decisions.

Adult education research has shown that trainees retain significantly more instruction and perform better on competency tests by experiencing simulated real-life scenarios in which they can practice, and even fail, without risk. Such training rewards the application of both newly acquired skills and previous experience, so learners develop competencies rather than just memorize correct answers. Simulations have long been used as a training method in critical, high-risk environments such as flight or medical training. Pilots in training need extensive practice in an extremely risky activity in order to succeed. And critical patient care has enormously increased in quality when nurses and other members of surgical teams are trained with simulations. When used for the oil and gas industry, simulations provide the same benefits: risk-free, real-world practice opportunities that greatly increase learners’ success in performing complex, critical procedures onsite.

The oil and gas industry requires flexible and highly effective training delivery options for workers who spend most of their time in the field, not in an office. Simulation training is ideal for the operation of remotely operated vehicles and tubular handling equipment and other cranes, for instance. Training simulations emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, and the correct application of skills to a situation.  Because it provides practice-oriented training, it makes the most of workers’ training hours, and it is more efficient than time-consuming synchronous classroom training.

On-demand training with augmented reality
For those in the oil and gas industry, training no longer has to interrupt production; it can be integrated into production.

By integrating the real world with the virtual, augmented reality (AR) anchors information when and where people need it. Whereas a simulation is an entirely computer-generated experience, AR superimposes computer-generated information or imagery over the user’s view of the real world. Enormously influential innovators such as Google, Microsoft, HP and Logitech are all working on augmented reality displays that help with way finding and technical visualizations, among other applications.

In the energy industry, AR is used to provide on-demand, on-site training for any number of complex instruments and equipment used during oil exploration and drilling. Job aids delivered via AR have many benefits: they can be easily and remotely updated whenever equipment or procedures change, they mean less reliance on synchronous classroom training that interrupts workers’ productive time and they accommodate a variety of experience levels and skills. It enables workers to quickly synchronize their tasks with the appropriate equipment and precautions.

For example, operations equipment can be made “intelligent,” orienting workers to how the equipment is constructed, how it functions and safety precautions for its use. Or a drilling rig can include a virtual health, safety and environment guide that walks trainees through safety and compliance procedures, pointing out hazardous areas and showing what protective equipment to wear.

Real-time data for training and monitoring
The most advanced AR technologies not only provide on-demand training, but allow engineers and crew members to access real-time data as well. The same assets developed for training can be used by workers to understand their environment and feed them live digital readouts and instructions on what to do next and how to do it right. Using this real-time data, it is possible to now track processes and crew tasks, monitor equipment conditions, and even assist in equipment operation. Just as Boeing is equipping their workers with virtual-reality glasses to assemble 747s, it’s very possible that “augmented” drilling rig operators may soon be an oil and gas industry standard.

This merging of physical and digital worlds has the potential to advance workers’ knowledge and technical acumen in using complex equipment, and also to bridge the oil and gas industry’s experience gap. The possibilities are vast. Drawing from real-time data, AR-enhanced protective eyewear can display critical information that would otherwise be difficult to see in low light conditions, or provide enhanced situational awareness for safety during hazardous tasks. Underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) can be equipped with an AR display using real-time acoustic and optical data to help the operator navigate the undersea environment when performing inspection, maintenance, and repair tasks. At the operational planning and compliance level, real-time safety and security software can be integrated with equipment in order to better plan and coordinate tasks for safety and efficiency, mobilize responses to an emergency or reconstruct events for incident investigations.

As many in the oil and gas industry are discovering, interactive simulations and augmented reality visualizations are becoming integral tools in improving industry efficiency, safety and training.