The lower cost of technology in recent times has led to greater use of virtual reality (VR). Historically, VR has been used in video games and the entertainment industry, but as the technology advances and VR headsets become more affordable, it is becoming increasingly common in other industries as well. For industries like oil and gas, where plants are complex, remote, and potentially unsafe, this immersive technology can improve efficiency, safety, and productivity. Use of a VR headset can help operators and maintenance technicians interact in innovative new ways.
There are many ways to leverage VR, depending upon the extent of virtual interaction required. Here are some examples:
1. Training new employees and contract workers to improve compliance with safety standards
Contingent workers comprise much of the workforce in the oil and gas industry, and these workers must be properly trained and certified before they enter plants or perform maintenance and repair tasks. Traditionally, this is done through classroom training or video tools. Using software to create virtual models of plants, refinery units, and work areas would be a simple and effective way for newly hired employees and contingent workers to assess safety requirements and get a “first-hand view.” The 3D model and virtual view of a facility will improve general understanding, making it easier for workers to practice safety requirements in plants and work areas and better able to respond to potentially unsafe situations.
2. Training maintenance technicians to improve first-time fix rates
Oil and gas installations, especially in upstream segments, are usually found in remote or offshore locations, and many of these facilities are difficult and expensive to access. To help address the cost and ensure that maintenance is done in a timely manner, technicians can use VR technology to familiarize themselves with facilities prior to physically going there. Improving first-time fix rates and reducing maintenance times can easily offset the cost of creating virtual 3D models that clearly highlight the complex assemblies and sections within facilities.
3. Providing first-level diagnostics to improve maintenance efficiency
In the event of an equipment failure, technicians must perform the first level of assessment to identify all necessary parts and tools. This first-level diagnostic can take time, as technicians must obtain a requisite safety clearance and permit prior to visiting the site. Using of a VR headset that integrates a virtual view of the facility with real-time data from operational systems, technicians can assess the extent of the problem before they physically visit the site. This can significantly reduce the time required to complete the maintenance, and more importantly, ensure that technicians are better prepared before performing the work. By integrating data from operational systems, VR can be augmented with real-time historical data of key parameters, which can help technicians make better decisions.
These are just three examples of how VR can impact the oil and gas industry. As the technology matures and usage evolves, VR can play a critical role in many other areas as well.
The key to driving adoption and maximizing the benefits of VR is to move beyond the “virtual view” to a “data-led virtual view.” This enriched virtual view should provide access to both historical information, which can be accessed from enterprise systems, and real-time IoT-based systems, which provides historical inputs (date of installation, part details, etc.) and a real-time view of key parameters (temperature, vibration, etc.) associated with the equipment.
Many oil and gas organizations have already started to experiment with VR. California-based PG&E, for example, has already invested in the technology to help improve its operations. PG&E operates more than 150,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines running across remote and inaccessible areas, and virtual reality holds great promise to help improve maintenance efficiency of these assets.
It’s only a matter of time before VR plays a central role in increasing efficiency, improving safety compliance, and lowering maintenance costs for the oil and gas industry.
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