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Video game technology transforms operator training

12.01.2013  |  Coppin, D.,  AVEVA, Cambridge, UK

Thanks to advances in gaming technology with detailed 3D modeling, it has become practical, affordable and quick to create a navigable, hyper-real equivalent of a facility.

Keywords: [simulation] [process control] [training] [safety] [experience] [video game] [operator]

Virtual reality technology that was developed in the entertainment world can now be applied to the process plant industry. Thanks to advances in gaming technology, with detailed 3D modeling at the core, it has become practical, affordable and quick to create a fully navigable, hyper-real equivalent of a facility, whether already operational or yet to be constructed.

Gaming, with its commercial potential, has come a long way since the 2D platform games of the 1980s. The sector has entered a period of democratization and diversification, with exciting ramifications for industry.

The change is partly due to the fact that the sophisticated graphics and complex physics engines that lend the games realism can now run on entry-level hardware and multiple platforms. Meanwhile, increased Internet speeds and bandwidth have also seen massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) explode in numbers, with every player’s actions updating in real time worldwide and with audio links to further enhance the live-action gameplay. The market conditions are right for a new genre to emerge: industrial gaming.

This might sound interesting, but what are the business justifications for the creation of an industrial virtual world? Why would an owner/operator want to invest in industrial gaming? At the lowest level, the objectives of gaming for entertainment and those of industrial gaming are relatively similar: practice makes perfect.

Dr. Michael Platt, a human performance engineer at Lockheed Martin, has said that people should not be trained until they get it right; they need to be trained until they do not get it wrong. Similarly, gamers are only allowed to progress when they no longer make errors, trying again and again until they get it right. If they do not get it right, their characters crash or disintegrate.

Central to the application of industrial gaming for oil and gas organizations is a desire to create and maintain skills and understanding in all site personnel through familiarization and repeated practice. Human error is widely recognized as the No. 1 cause of safety incidents, and so, while the enhanced skills gained through repeated practice could aid productivity, they could also serve to eradicate human error from operations.

  Fig. 1.  Virtual reality: People need operational experience
  to be able to work to the very high standards of safety required.

A new approach

The ability to not just to understand information, but to also retain it is critical to ensuring safety in high-risk environments, and a heuristic or trial-and-error approach to learning significantly improves retention. It utilizes self-educating techniques where individuals evaluate the feedback resulting from actions to improve performance.

However, in the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI), allowing trainees to learn by doing in a live environment can be costly, disruptive to production and potentially hazardous to the individual or the facility, and the consequences of a mistake can be catastrophic.

“Never has the need for improved training in the oil and gas industry been more important,” said Derek Middlemas, COO and head of enterprise solutions for AVEVA. “A lack of experienced engineers combined with more complex and automated assets introduces new risks into safe and effective operations. This is where virtual reality comes in. Using industrial 3D gaming technology to supplement physical on-the-job training can greatly increase operator effectiveness at zero-risk and optimize training costs.”

The use of advanced visual simulation technology, such as that which underpins industrial gaming, enhances data assimilation. In the report “Why Simulation Games Work,” the authors note that, in many cases, industrial gaming can help make the information more relevant and easier to understand, which is critical for high-risk activity training where full comprehension and retention of safety information are paramount.

Similarly, in a study conducted by New South Wales Mines Rescue Service, it was identified that traditional classroom training (including demonstrations and video presentations) led to, at best, a 50% retention performance. Simulator-based training, where trainees performed actions themselves, lifted that retention level to 75%.

But this perspective is not new; the HPI is playing catch-up. The development of flight simulators has contributed enormously to improving air safety by enabling crew members to learn and practice their skills in perfect safety and at a fraction of the cost of flying a real aircraft.

Within a virtual reality environment, trainees can be provided with full on-screen details to follow when introduced to the training program, and the advice can then be steadily reduced to hints and finally to no-help test modes to ensure complete comprehension of a process. The ability to make mistakes and repeat a course program with no safety or cost consequences ensures that the different learning and retention speeds of each employee can be accommodated easily through self-paced learning.

  Fig. 2.  In addition to mimicking the exact layout of a facility,
  industrial gaming environments can reflect different
  environment conditions (daytime, nighttime, fog/smoke, etc.)
  for maximum realism.

Increased safety and compliance

Many of the recent investigations into incidents in the HPI have highlighted a level of commonality as to probable causes. These include:

  • Limited awareness of operating procedures
  • Improper identification of safety hazards and hazardous processes
  • Inadequate inspection
  • Inadequately trained workers.

The first step toward a safer workforce is ensuring that, before they set foot in the facility, all site personnel are fully familiar with the environment in which they are working. Many new recruits will not have an understanding of full-scale operational plants and may not even be able to identify some of the main components of a facility. To compound the problem, the facilities themselves are often remote, difficult to reach, infrequently accessed, and sometimes even unmanned.

In such circumstances, there may be no supervisor or safety professional present to review the site for hazards and to instruct remote workers or new site visitors in avoidance. Using an immersive environment built from the 3D model of the asset, workers can prepare fully for a site visit, by reviewing the layout, hazardous locations, emergency egress routes and assembly areas, and the locations of the nearest safety stations like eye-washes, showers and emergency call buttons.

Adding procedural training to the immersive environment also enables operators to educate new employees, remote workers and all those on site, in site-specific emergency procedures, ensuring they respond appropriately in the event of an incident and do not unintentionally compound risk by failing to follow the defined process.

Regulations around the globe already demand it: the forthcoming ISO 55000 regulations will enumerate that safety training is a central recognized and generally accepted good engineering practice (RAGAGEP) pillar for operational readiness. Meanwhile, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), via its regulation OSHA 1910.119(g)(1) indicates that topics covered by training should, at a minimum, include the following:

  • Lock-out/tag-out
  • Hot work
  • Line and equipment opening
  • Confined space entry
  • Emergency response
  • Operating procedures.

Findings published by the Politecnico di Milano Department of Materials and Chemical Engineering reveal that process sequences including startups/shutdowns, hot work and lock-out/tag-out, as well as abnormal conditions (like confined space entry), alarms, failures and accidents are not easily replicable in a real plant. The ability to create an immersive virtual environment with comprehensive step-by-step instructions and opportunities to repeatedly test comprehension and retention provides a far better option for ensuring safety.

It is true that improving the speed-to-proficiency in key areas like safety, reliability and risk management prior to entering the field has productivity benefits for operators, but immersive training is not just for new employees; it is important to ensure that bad working practices do not slip into regular activities. For example, one of the problems that caused the BP Texas City refinery explosion was that operators relied on knowledge of past startup experiences (passed down by the more skilled veteran operators) and developed informal work practices. The ability to train or evaluate operators at any time, in any location and as often as necessary, allows immersive simulation training to be a vital tool in refresher training for existing employees, too.

  Fig. 3.  By enabling repeated practice of complex or high-risk
  activities, industrial gaming could serve to eradicate human
  error, the No. 1 cause of operational safety incidents.


The increasing presence of intelligent 3D models in HPI engineering means that the process for creating specific virtual reality environments using industrial gaming development engines can be straightforward and cost-effective. The usability and affordability of the technology means that specific application of the technology to the HPI is limited only by the imagination of operations and maintenance (O&M) and training departments. Some of the use cases have already been outlined:

  • Facility familiarization: The orientation of personnel new to a facility, including preparation for emergency procedures and evacuation response. Similarly, preparation for a change to the working environment is an intrinsic element of effective management of change (MoC)
  • High-risk or complex activity training and rehearsal: The risks of process failure carry significant consequences for individuals and for the facility’s operation, including lock-out/tag-out, safety system isolation, pressure testing or work with dangerous materials, startup/shutdown checks, hot work, line and equipment opening, confined space entry, fire simulation training and other emergency responses
  • Refresher training for collaborative activities: Improving or maintaining the safety and productivity of cross-functional teams required to collaborate, ensuring that bad practices do not appear and are not replicated
  • HSE compliance requirements: The advanced planning and rehearsal of toolbox meetings, HAZOP assessments prior to completion of construction, rehearsal of inspection line walk-downs and testing understanding of equipment-level relationships.

In addition, there are a multitude of further applications to improve teamwork and increase productivity, including:

  • Construction, operations and maintenance planning: Test the feasibility of planned works from construction through operations and maintenance and simulate the processes involved to test new working methods and to conduct clash detection or hazard spotting
  • Remote problem solving: Allows remote teams to review and address construction or O&M challenges and repeatedly model scenarios in a virtual environment to predetermine the optimum solution prior to arrival on site
  • Sign-off for certification and operational readiness: Access need not be limited to internal teams, as commissioning and completions companies can now allow the certification authorities to undertake virtual plant walk-throughs. This will enable the certifying body to view punch-lists and compare against the design intent well before going to the site, and will speed up the certification process.
  • Complex storytelling: Create a sequence of individually driven, interactive, animated environments to demonstrate progress of a particular maintenance activity, or activities associated with field operations. Storytelling provides improved stakeholder comprehension, communication, speed and proficiency for completing planned and unplanned daily activities.

The application of advanced technology to enhance the safety of all field operations personnel is expected to increase significantly over the coming years. Clearly, there are many opportunities to make full use of existing asset information, including documentation, maintenance histories and 3D models in the creation of sophisticated virtual reality environments and scenarios. But this is not merely a long-term vision, the use case exists today.

The forthcoming ISO 55000 standard outlines six different asset management subject groups, and details the requisite processes and capabilities required in each subject group. The application of immersive environment training supports processes and capabilities across all of the categories.

Virtualization can make a real difference to the safety and reliability of a field operations team. HP

  Fig. 4.  The usability and affordability of the technology
  means that specific application of visualization technology
  to the HPI is limited only by the imagination of O&M and
  training departments.

The author

Dave Coppin is executive vice president for AVEVA. 


Have your say
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Knowledge is Power!
Being a HSE professional ,I salute to author, such type of topic or detail increasing knowledge and preventing accident.
Topic was Excellent define to get employee understand to prevent accident too, also its good for knowledge as well. I highly appreciated author who has details too.
Best regards
HSE Manager
Construction Phase Oil & Gas and Infrastructure
Email ID:shah.muhammad@descon .com
Cell # 00923030095959

Janice Abel

ARC is an advisory research firm that researches operator and worker training technologies for the manufacturing space. Growth in simulation and immersive technologies are increasing and the ability to implement is getting easier because the technologies are changing. The new tech savvy worker generation really likes this type of training - but experienced workers also like the training because it gives them a different perspective than traditional training. The training is also highly motivational. For more information see our web site arcweb.com and videos on you tube.

David Esquibel

I would like for someone on Dave Coppin's staff or himself to contact me on presenting the virtual operator training software. I am on the planning committee for the North Amercia Process Technology Allance Instructor's Conference. I believe this would be a great opportunty for the community college instructor community and industry learning advisors to see this technology as we usher in a new generation of learners...Tks!

David Esquibel

I would like for someone on Dave Coppin's staff or himself to contact me on presenting the virtual operator training software. I am on the planning committee for the North Amercia Process Technology Allance Instructor's Conference. I believe this would be a great opportunty for the community college instructor community and industry learning advisors to see this technology as we usher in a new generation of learners...Tks!

Prof. Shahram Kouhsari

Power system real time simulator for oil & gas industry has become like playing with your network.



Mark Fabre

How will development cost be funded with such a low volume of sales? Madden Football by EA Games for example sells an average of 5 million units a year. At $30 average retail sale price per copy, that provides a $150 million pot to fund development, manufacturing, advertising and distribution each year.

Luis Marcelo Arce Mosqueira

Please send me more info, where i can buy the video game ?

Hernan Pena Galarza

Please send more information.

Ejaz ul Haque

In this time of lean management, training of work force is a major issue to safeguard asset and prevent human injuries and loss. This is bigger and better than process control simulators used in CPI and HPI. Availability of plant learning games will surely reduce the headache of plant managers.

Mohammed Al-Saraf



This is indeed the technology of the future when the degree of catastropic incidents are increasing with advent of time. Though, SAFETY remains the topmost spot in the policies of all Oil & Gas companies, it remains to be seen how the Investment Portfolio will be adapted by global Oil & Gas companies in future to use such futuristic safety methodologies.

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