Richard Coates, Director of Tech Operations at 3t Transform, part of the 3t Energy Group, spoke to HazardEx about the growing demand for digital twins.
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Working in hazardous environments comes with inherent risk and training is vital. Although classroom training has its place, nothing quite compares to ‘hands-on’ workplace training where the practical application of ‘doing’ rather than ‘watching’ helps knowledge and skills stick.
The aviation industry realised decades ago that a ‘hands-on’ training experience can be created using simulators, allowing pilots to practise skills in a safe environment. Even when mistakes are made, no-one gets hurt.
Technology advances means we can now create a ‘hands-on’ workplace environment digitally. Highly immersive, with the same look and feel of a real workplace environment, these virtual reality worlds can comprehensively prepare personnel for the real world of work – particularly useful for hazardous areas, where there’s a high risk to health and safety. The statistics prove it – with many studies showing strong learning retention rates of up to 75% for VR training – significantly higher than a comparative 10% retention rate for simply reading the information.
These benefits, along with the backdrop of Covid-19, are resulting in a growing demand for digital twins and at 3t Transform we are seeing a surge in enquiries from many sectors.
So, what is a digital twin?
A digital twin, in essence, is a digital representation of a physical object, room, or work site. From a single space to a building, FPSO vessel or an entire site – even Chernobyl – anything can be developed into a digital twin. There are no limitations.
As well as a physical entity, digital twin technology can replicate your worksite procedures by using advanced analytical, monitoring, and predictive capabilities, test processes and services. This means a limitless range of scenarios can be developed to train and test your workers before they enter a live working environment.
Developing digital twins
A strong gaming background is a huge advantage when creating high fidelity environments like digital twins and you should look for evidence of this when choosing a supplier.
The production of a digital twin starts with a CAD model of the area required. This is processed through a proprietary optimisation tool set, while photographs and 360-degree video footage are used as a reference to ensure visual realism. Getting the visual quality high is essential when making a digital twin. It’s all about immersion and tricking the brain into thinking it’s actually in that environment.
A digital twin needs to look and behave as it would in real life. Fires need to feel realistic; explosions should behave as expected; and pipes and levers need to move as they would in the real world. When you get this right, you can see it in the behaviour of people when they put the VR headset on. They become completely immersed in the virtual environment and are oblivious to real world surroundings. This is perfect for hazardous area training where students can learn about safe operating procedures and practices without ever being exposed to risk.
Depending upon the complexity of the asset to be created, the quality of the CAD model and the size, it can take anything from one month to six months to develop a digital twin.
How much do they cost?
This question could be rephrased as ‘how long is a piece of string?’ It really depends on your objectives and how complex the area is to recreate digitally.
Although it’s hard to put a price on development costs, it’s safe to say digital twins are extremely cost-effective. When you compare the cost of arranging training for hundreds of people and tot up the travel and resource implications versus the cost of creating a digital model, which can be rolled out globally to limitless numbers, the savings becomes evident. There is also an argument that says what cost do you put on a life or life-changing injury? Digital twins can certainly mitigate and reduce the risks.
To run a digital twin effectively the best way is by using a VR headset but they can also be used with a mouse and arrows on a computer screen. Mobile phones can also be used, however the quality of the platform dictates the visual quality of the digital twin. For the best experience, you will need a fairly powerful gaming laptop or a PC to run a digital twin. Once deployed, the experiences can be run offline and if you are using a learning management system, they can be synced back to this periodically via wi-fi.
What are the benefits?
There are very real benefits to using digital twins. For workforce development, the advantages are clear:
– Time-saving: a digital twin can be used to save time and money whenever a product or process needs to be tested – this includes anything from design, implementation, monitoring or improvement.
– Cost reduction: Virtual learning dramatically reduces the need for instructor-led courses and reduces the time and money spent travelling to training centres. Training can also be done on site or remotely for global workforces.
– Increased employee effectiveness: Being able to practice in a virtual environment which replicates the real one, helps to build competency and ensures your workers are work-ready. Studies show that the information is also retained better.
Digital twin applications
Digital twins can be used for all sorts of applications and, once they are developed, we are seeing clients maximise their investment by using them across a range of applications.
With a few minor tweaks, the same digital model could be used for marketing to showcase a product or place and also as a sales tool. For example, the creation of digital twins to showcase new apartment blocks before they’ve even been built, allowing customers to customise interior upgrades like changing carpet for tiles or real wood flooring. As well as helping make customisation decisions, digital twins are being used for hazard awareness training, health and safety inductions and company presentations.
Case study – Digital twins in action
We’ve worked with a range of global companies to develop digital twins. For BP, 3t Transform is developing a bespoke four-week training programme for operational personnel on the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim development project, which includes creating a virtual reality digital twin of BP’s facilities, to help deliver an immersive experience of the project. Using the digital twin, the operational personnel will be able to familiarise themselves with the layout of the facilities and learn operating systems and procedures.
3t Transform has also worked closely with DNV to create a virtual reality training programme for the management of emergency situations in the oil and gas industry. Over a period of 18 months, we developed storyboards, captured 360-degree video footage and developed a range of learning scenarios to be delivered on our virtual reality platform. Many of the scenarios created were based on actual events or events which could have happened to add to the realism. For example, in one particular virtual reality scenario, a relief valve on top of a pipe is swapped out for maintenance by the user. The user is then made to incorrectly tighten the temporary stopper and fail to record the action in paperwork. This activity eventually results in the temporary stopper being knocked out by accident and a spark igniting the gas within the pipe causing a jet fire. By actively involving the user in making these mistakes you ensure better memory retention. Essentially you learn more from your own mistakes so a delegate seeing the consequences of their actions will remember the experience.
The project is helping oil and gas personnel to learn lessons from past events and potential hazards to ultimately improve safety in the industry. As well as being well received by clients, the DNV VR programme was recognised by the oil and gas industry for its innovative approach after winning an award in the Offshore Achievement Awards.
Another example of how digital twins are adding value is a project for Saudi Aramco Nabors Drilling Company, or SANAD.
SANAD wanted an effective and standardised way of training its land rig workers in hazard awareness. We created a digital twin of a land rig and developed an engaging virtual reality training programme to teach land rig workers shut-down procedures and how to work safely at height and on the drill floor. Active learning at its very best, the highly realistic virtual reality programmes take delegates through procedures. When the correct actions aren’t followed, delegates see and experience tragic outcomes such as explosions, suffocations and critical accidents. As well as improving awareness of the hazards on site, our programmes are helping to speed up workers’ competency rates assuring SANAD of the highest levels of safety across its assets.
These examples highlight some of the very real benefits of using digital twins to train and assess personnel in a realistic ‘hands-on’ virtual environment. After all, for potentially dangerous and hazardous environments, encountering an emergency situation in the virtual world is far better than confronting one in the real world.