Business Value of 3D Virtual Planning and Simulation in Employee Training

Companies in the global energy industry are under intense pressure from all directions. The exponential growth of power demand must always be met. Compliance with increasingly stringent health, safety and environmental regulations is mandatory. New facilities must be brought online quickly, an aging infrastructure must be upgraded and modernized and retiring workforce with the potential loss of know-how and experience must be replaced — all with minimal service interruptions. All the while, companies with trillions of dollars of assets in the field need new solutions to keep a lid on staggering operations and maintenance costs. According to the 2004 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report, nearly $16 billion is lost annually in the industry due to interoperability challenges. No segment of the energy industry is exempt.


The oil and gas segment in particular has significant challenges. Refineries, offshore rigs and other processing plants are some of the world’s largest, most complex facilities, operating around the clock at peak capacity under some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Many upgrade, refurbishment and maintenance projects involve hundreds of workers who must be thoroughly trained – especially in safety-related operations such as handling fires, toxic chemicals, high-pressure leaks and other emergency incidents. Scheduling requires precise choreography to ensure each step occurs on time and in proper sequence.


Many companies typically have mandatory training for their workers and subcontractors a few weeks a year. Challenges to meet training requirements are compounded at offshore oil and gas rigs accessible only by helicopter or boat, which drives up transportation costs for personnel and equipment. Teams of crews generally are replaced every six weeks on offshore drilling platforms, where on-site training is hugely expensive and highly disruptive to routine work. Conducting training exercises on-site using actual equipment presents a higher risk of damage to valuable equipment and the safety of the crew, especially subcontractors and new personnel who are unfamiliar with the site. On the other hand, off-site mock-ups are expensive to construct and often do not realistically replicate real-world scenarios.


The industry needs capabilities that allow owner/operators to execute programs safely, on time and on budget, ensuring both continuing supply for an energy-hungry world and a fair margin for those who meet the demand.


3D Virtual Simulation Technologies Address Critical Issues


A growing number of companies in the pipeline and gas industry are addressing these challenges through the use of innovative 3D virtual planning, simulation and visualization technologies. Such systems allow people to plan and schedule operational procedures, train workers and meet health and safety requirements by interacting with a computer-simulated 3D environment, including cranes, plant assets and workers to determine the best process to minimize costly project delays and mitigate project execution risk.


By studying procedures in this virtual world, engineers, planners, safety experts and workers can identify problems, explore options and determine the best remedy without disrupting actual plant operations. With lifelike 3D models, simulations and visualizations, planners can test their project plans virtually, and workers can see precisely what they need to do before they attempt it on the job. In this manner, optimal procedures and scheduling of operations can be worked out before projects are started in the plant or along the pipeline and workers can be safely trained off-site.


Typically, digital models are created from a combination of plant drawings, CAD geometry, 3D master models of the plant and laser scans of the facilities. Such digital models are highly detailed and significantly more accurate than physical mock-ups which, in most cases, are no more than rough approximations. Digital models also can be enhanced to incorporate representations of equipment such as cranes and the movement of such equipment in relation to interaction with the human workers and surrounding environment. In addition, the inclusion of physics representations can be used to simulate the realistic action of equipment such as the resistive force workers would encounter in turning a valve. All of this contributes to a virtual environment that looks and behaves realistically.


Leverage Virtual Ergonomics to Eliminate the Need for Physical Mockups and Ensure

Health Safety Requirements


These simulations also can include lifelike models of humans or manikins for a wide range of virtual ergonomics or human factors studies. These 3D manikins are more sophisticated than the commonly known human avatars used in Virtual Reality (VR) or gaming systems. These manikins are built using anthropometric specifications for male and female (Name, Gender, Weight, Height, etc.). Manikins possess fully articulated hand, spine, shoulder, and neck models to accurately reproduce natural movement such as reaching, grasping, walking, and lifting. This allows the choreography of multiple workers working in tight spaces as biomechanics tools can be used to examine worker posture, comfort, safety, strength, fatigue and efficiency in performing required tasks.


Virtual ergonomics simulations can be validated against ergonomic requirements for compliance with US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Quality Health and Safety Environment (QHSE). In this manner, operations and maintenance procedures can be thoroughly analyzed to ensure they are safe for workers, protect the public from potential hazards and lower the risks of damaging expensive equipment. Human factor studies are also useful in evaluating equipment layouts and accessibility, plant workflow, lifting requirements and more.


Increase Productivity and Lower Costs by Better Planning Operations and Maintenance Procedures


Planning for operations and maintenance procedures in the pipeline and gas industry encompass a wide range of diverse tasks. Major pieces of heavy (several tons) equipment such as generators, coolers, valves and piping must be installed, replaced, inspected and repaired. Operational tasks such as crane operation and valve actuation must be performed. Complex sequences of actions must be completed quickly and flawlessly. The traditional ways of planning rely on the experience of the workers and subcontractors to execute the required maintenance tasks. But supporting 2D drawings and historical information are often inaccurate and outdated leading to miscommunications between the various project teams during the actual execution, resulting in expensive delays to the project, unsafe working conditions and costly project rework.


3D simulation-based systems for planning scheduled maintenance or new operational procedures provide an effective way for engineers to develop precise and detailed plans to execute work “right the first time” by studying various scenarios and performing what-if evaluations well before tasks are attempted with actual equipment. Digitally planning and optimizing processes lowers the risk of mistakes and increases overall performance for operations and maintenance procedures.


For example, simulations can be performed to determine optimal paths for removing or installing equipment, minimizing interferences and identify areas where structures or piping must be removed to clear the path of obstacles. Software developed specifically for such studies provides visual alert notices during the simulation and detailed clash reports listing all interferences. Engineers use this information to study and modify motion paths until a feasible plan is determined. Likewise, the kinematic motion of cranes, robotics or other equipment can be accurately simulated to check that the devices can perform the required operations. In addition, a company’s valuable know-how and intellectual property (IP) can then be captured and retained in the 3D environment for future project planning.


Maximize Workflow and Utilization of Resources with Detailed Planning and Coordinated Work Schedules


Properly executing planned operational and maintenance procedures is the critical function of scheduling – that is, the development of timelines, asset utilization resource allocations and personnel

requirements. Scheduling takes this into account as a basis for construction and process planning, operations and maintenance tasks, and personnel assignments. Effective scheduling requires output on individual task durations, equipment needs, and resource requirements. Leverage existing schedule and resource information created in standard applications (such as Primavera or MS Project) by importing it to the project’s 3D work breakdown structure (WBS), which combines information on timelines, activities and resources. Linking the schedule to the 3D WBS and the 3D process simulation model creates an animated, time-based 4D representation (3D plus the variable of time) that enables users to more easily visualize and understand operations and timelines. In this way, scenarios can be rearranged to more readily spot conflicts, find an optimal critical path and develop an optimized schedule taking all interrelated operations and processes into account. This approach is far better than conventional static, paper-based scheduling schemes that are difficult to interpret and hard to relate to actual plant operations. Cost as a 5th dimension can be added to the simulation.


In advanced systems, scheduling software is often coupled with process planning simulations in an integrated solution that optimizes schedules for day-to-day plant operations as well as periodic maintenance tasks. By iterating with process planning in evaluating various ‘what-if’ scenarios, the scheduling solution analyzes alternative sequences and arrives at an optimized master schedule. This output is invaluable to project managers and others in determining budgets, manpower requirements, critical timelines and operating efficiencies.


Promote Safety, Lower Risk of Mistakes and Eliminate Disruption of Work with Virtual Training


After optimal maintenance scenarios and related work schedules are developed, companies can save and capitalize on this captured knowledge: replaying the simulations as needed, easily making changes to adapt to different conditions, and leveraging the information throughout the entire lifecycle of the plant.


Reusing and leveraging the operations and maintenance planning simulations for virtual training purposes is of particular value. Planning and training can be done separately, but tightly integrating these two functions within a single-platform vendor environment is the most efficient approach for creating training scenarios and ensuring they reflect current operations and maintenance planning procedures. procedures immediately in a safe environment. Virtual reality guides workers through procedures interactively, indicating when they’re wrong and showing them correct sequences of operations.


Virtual Reality (VR) training systems create a lifelike, immersive environment that adds another dynamic dimension to 3D simulations. VR technologies enable users to interact with computer-simulated equipment and surroundings in lifelike realism. Most of these applications are used in worker training,

where some of the most advanced systems use 360-degree wrap-around theaters with photorealistic imagery viewed with stereoscopic glasses. Multiple speakers generate high-fidelity sound effects to familiarize workers with the harsh and sometimes subtle sounds found on the actual jobsite.


Head-mounted goggles track head and eye movements, allowing the system to recognize where users are focusing their attention in the overall scene. In this way, workers can be trained off-site using VR without disrupting normal work routines or exposing them to the hazards of performing an untried or unfamiliar task in a real-life setting.


In any of these systems, different maintenance and operations scenarios can be easily performed without workers being on the actual plant/rig site. Workers can gain familiarization with the plant or pipeline layout, equipment operation, walking paths and evacuation routes and memorize the location of safety devices. Workers can learn specific operations and maintenance procedures such as plant start-up and shut-down, equipment maintenance, inspection and replacement so they are immediately productive. A report issued at the end of virtual reality training indicates which tasks were successfully performed and which mistakes were made so employees can be “coached up” on individual skills while the company is able to create regulatory documentation.




Companies in the diverse energy industry are leveraging simulation technology to ensure workers are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to work safely in an unforgiving environment. These organizations are increasing productivity and lowering costs by better planning operations and maintenance procedures, maximizing workflow and utilization of resources with detail and coordinated scheduling and making plants safer and more efficient with comprehensive simulation-based training. The business value of these applications are immense in reducing the costs of nonproductive time measured in hundreds of millions of dollars annually and avoiding the billions of dollars lost every year in this complex industry due to operating inefficiencies.


With the support of HD, DS.

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