Remote simulators skill up in lockdown

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With global lockdowns affecting every workforce, training and maintaining skills has never been more important. With the ability to provide immersive experiences and accurate data from anywhere in the world, new remote training simulations may hold the key.

Industry training has come a long way since the days of lecture notes, textbooks and slides. The advent of digital technologies and rich media have enabled a revolution in the form of e-learning, video training, interactive assessments and, increasingly, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). With much of the globe having experienced lockdowns and restrictions on movement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, tools like these are also supporting a change in strategy as the oil and gas sector looks to impart new skills and maintain existing ones.

While technologies like these cannot (and should not) replace practical courses such as Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET), simulators now offer an increasingly realistic experience for specific scenarios and skills. In addition, training providers can now offer them as a remote service, either with plug-and-play hardware that can be set up in offices and worksites, or via cloud-based platforms – all of which is reshaping how companies plan their training requirements.

Wireline spoke with two leaders in the field to learn more about the capabilities and potential for these technologies.


Emergency response

Founded in 2017, Erisort Risk Management is a consultancy and training company that provides health and safety, emergency response and crisis management services.

Having delivered sessions around the world for over 20 years, director Dougie Macleod is well versed in the traditional delivery methods for emergency response training. Typically aimed at offshore installation managers (OIMs) and site mangers, these are scenario-based assessments which explore managers’ ability to respond to process safety events ranging from minor fires to uncontrollable situations requiring evacuation. “Until lockdown the majority of our work was servicing clients overseas, flying into a country and delivering a body of work. Predominantly we were very much focused on emergency response training, delivering it either at client facilities or through established training partners.”

“Every keystroke that someone does on the sim is tracked. I can see exactly when an action is taken and it’s all evidence-based – that’s what a lot of organisations want to see now.”

However, having been grounded in March (along with most of his clients) he set about developing a system that would allow Erisort to deliver the same outcomes as its existing Mobile Training Unit, but using an online, remote setting. He was, he says, sceptical about how that might be achieved: “For decades we’ve delivered the training in the same fashion, we’ve always had a physical simulator where we can watch someone perform. I was one of the people who wondered if in developing an online solution we’d still be able to maintain a level of realism and give people the opportunity to demonstrate their competencies.”

The resulting solution – E-Sim – has put those fears to rest. This cloud-based suite allows anyone to login from anywhere in the world and interact in a way that reflects as closely as possible what they would do in a real situation. Created in partnership with Aberdeen-based developer Pisys, the simulator recreates an emergency command centre and includes all process, fire and gas detection systems, as well as a full information management system including telephones, radios and public-address. Even corporate email systems can be simulated to offer a more realistic record of the team’s decisions and responses to the scenario.

Alongside the realistic interface, E-Sim also mimics the process controls that an OIM would have access to. Macleod adds: “[It] has full cause and effect built into it, so we can fail various valves, vessels, pipes, wells, whatever it might be. We can fail them open or shut, and really create process upsets that reflect what the person would face in the real world.” Moreover, most elements can be tailored and altered according to the organisation, asset and even individual job level, adding to the sense of realism.

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Erisort’s E-Sim in action.

All scenarios are controlled and overseen by an Erisort assessor, with virtual break out rooms where they and the students can offer feedback and discuss the team’s performance. Indeed, despite the lack of a physical presence, the assessor’s feedback is enhanced by the online suite, largely because of the greater ability to capture data during the exercise, “far in excess of what you can do in a traditional sim,” Macleod notes. “Every keystroke that someone does on the sim is tracked. I can see exactly when an action is taken and it’s all evidence-based – that’s what a lot of organisations want to see now.”

The opportunity to conduct training sessions without co-located teams offers additional flexibility for clients as well, enabling Erisort to run weekly or monthly sessions as opposed to concurrent days. This frees up travel budgets and managers’ time – both valuable commodities – and in turn may help to reduce the carbon impact of international travel. (Macleod’s office in Lewis is also powered by a 5kW turbine, meaning the whole company is, at present, net zero carbon).

“When we started, we were looking very much at a solution based on COVID restrictions. But what we’ve learnt developing this is that a lot of clients are looking at it from a broader base and with a longer-term vision. One of the great things we can do with this software is to help reduce the carbon impact through training and contribute to organisation’s net zero targets,” he continues.


Transforming through technology

Despite the setbacks of coronavirus, 3t Energy Group president Paul Stonebanks is upbeat with regards to the impact of lockdown on the group’s plans. With demand for training steady or rising, the ability to manage and provide many of those services has helped grow his pipeline of new business. “It’s proved huge, in terms of further tangible opportunities, and the team has been able to improve products and develop some of the more innovation type projects. I’m more than pleased with our progress,” he tells Wireline.

3t is a four-strong group of companies focused on transforming learning with training, simulators, software and technology. Comprised of AIS Training, Survivex, Drilling Systems and latest spin-out Transform, it offers training services across the energy sector – from fire, safety and BOSIET through to e-learning and role-specific simulation modules for drilling or crane operators – as well as the tools and management systems to help businesses keep track of staff training and competency.

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3t’s OTR (On The Rig) simulator system.

The year began with a statement of intent, with Transform moved from a supporting unit of AIS and Survivex to a standalone business within the group. Now with its own locations in Newcastle and Aberdeen, as well as global capacity in China, US and the Middle East, Stonebanks says this is a key part of the group’s strategy going forward.

Transform provides smart software to help manage the end-to-end journey of workforce management including training. This runs from recognising a trainee’s location and advising them and their employer of the nearest training location, priming them with information ahead of the session, right through to recording and integrating their results within their employer’s HR systems. “It has developed technology for a number of years, and it’s actually helped differentiate ourselves from the standard training business into something a bit more,” he explains.

This extends even after the training has finished, with the goal of boosting trainee retention. Paul says that typically, retention at the end of week-long course might be 80-85%, but within three weeks this may dip to 35%. Transform’s suites will recognise and record this, sending short exercises to help support the remaining 15% that the trainee might have struggled with. “It’s all about helping you retain but just as part of your daily life,” he says.

“When people learn on simulation it’s very slow on the front end while they get used to it, but then it’s three times quicker than standard training.”

Having built up experience with simulators as part of 3t’s Drilling Systems business, Transform is now set to launch its own simulator package this year. The system uses a single console, with different hardware control suites added on top – this might be joysticks for a crane, a choke panel for drilling or a VR set. Provided under a licence model, it means users only request what they need. It’s also portable, in the same manner as 3t’s existing On The Rig (OTR) sims, allowing it to be transported and set up easily offshore and fully integrated with the group’s overall technology stack.

3t’s goal is to offer a low barrier of entry to higher training standards. “We know the drilling segment is under pressure so this is an opportunity for these guys to save on cost but keep performance high,” Stonebanks says. “They can make sure any new starts are skills tested and they can progress, anyone that’s qualified can maintain competency, and then they can expand on that with other video learning.”

While OTR packages have historically been provided with coaches, recent projects have proved that remote sim learning can be just as effective. In April 2020, Drilling Systems offered a web-based version to students at Louisiana State University (LSU), allowing them to train remotely in light of COVID restrictions. It was the first time the company had offered such a solution, but he believes the results point to a “major success”.

“When people learn on simulation it’s very slow on the front end while they get used to it, but then it’s three times quicker than standard training,” he adds. “If you imagine, it’s like jumping in a new car and you have to get used to the controls, that’s when the learning is slow – but then it accelerates.”

However, it is the holistic approach of all these training elements, controlled under the smart Transform management system, that he believes is the key differentiator for the future of 3t’s business: “This for us is where we have evolved, taking all the parts of the group and brought it into this cost-effective, high-value proposition… We have created an ecosystem with over 4000 business users and over 300,000 users that allows people to retain knowledge, have access to it anywhere, any time. It’s cloud-based so it’s online and offline. It’s a really powerful tool.”

“Five years from now there’s going to be a much more sophisticated strategy towards learning in different ways, via the use of technology, and that includes simulation.”

Work smarter, learn faster

The advancements in training and online sims all point to a future environment in which the employer and the trainee are all granted much more flexibility and control over their learning environment. With the aforementioned exceptions aside, it would seem the days of four-day residential lectures may be behind us.

3t sees its strengths in handing that control back to clients, while providing smarter management tools such as those from Transform. Says Stonebanks: “We can see that the market is already going towards a more ownership model… The customer demand and the understanding that they need to change from a digital technology perspective, that’s very apparent.”

In turn, he says, this is filtering back into the longer-term planning around training, especially as more people become aware of the power and benefits of these kinds of technologies. “There will be a bit of education as people watch others, but if you fast forward to five years from now there’s going to be a much more sophisticated strategy towards learning in different ways, via the use of technology, and that includes simulation,” he adds.

Industry’s rush to consider new, remote solutions to training and skills has evidently been spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, and it is unlikely that it will recede once restrictions dissipate. Systems like E-Sim and 3t’s, coupled with the ability of smarter management systems to boost knowledge retention and help students learn more flexibly, are certain to become standard for the offshore industry and others. The test will be in how quick organisations are willing to adopt and embrace these technologies as empowering tools for their workforce.

For Erisort’s Dougie Macleod, much of the proof will be in users experiencing these types of training for themselves to realise the power they can have within their organisation. “A lot of people started off like me, unsure of whether it can be achieved,” he says. “But once we do the E-Sim demonstration they come away overwhelmingly positive about the software, the ability to train people and also about the enhanced benefits of doing it online in terms of data, and the safety element of being trained in their office or home.”

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2020 Issue of Wireline.


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