Immersive virtual reality comes to industrial training
Players of 3D games like Halo may one day get to find out what it’s like to roam the scaffolding of an oil refinery putting out fires, literally and figuratively. Today, though, some industrial process engineers are experiencing game-like virtual reality simulators to get trained for their jobs. Invensys Operations Management announced the commercial availability of its new EYESim virtual reality immersive training solution, the first industrial virtual reality training solution based on first-principle simulation and augmented reality,
EYESim technology enables engineers and operators to see and safely interact with the plant and the processes they control. It combines virtual reality technologies with high-fidelity process and control simulation, computer-based maintenance and documentation management and other applications to provide a highly realistic-and completely safe-training environment. Simulations are driven by Invensys’ Dynsim process simulator, FSIM Plus software, I/A Series control system emulation, and other compatible programs.
Just as flight simulators have taken the risk out of training exercises, EYEsim technology provides engineers not just procedural information, but actual experiential learning. "An eight-hour plant start-up procedure can include 250 tasks, with more than 100 that need to be done in the field," explains Tobias Scheele, vice president, advanced applications, Invensys Operations Management. "The virtual environment links control room operators to field operators to maintenance operators, as if they are on site and provides a stable, realistic environment for practicing specific functions. Trainees get not only the knowledge, but also the skills."
Users can practice routine procedures as well as rarely performed volatile tasks such as plant shutdowns. In addition, using computer models of real equipment allows experimentation without taking the equipment off line. This mitigates risk to production as well.
By merging virtual plant imagery with screens from asset management or other application software, the Invensys solution creates a computer-generated representation of either a real or proposed process plant. Using a stereoscopic headset, trainees enter a completely immersive environment in which they can move throughout the plant. Such freedom is possible because the virtual environment is rendered at 60 frames per second, significantly faster than what can be achieved by traditional, non real-time rendering.
The virtual reality station uses a commercial off the shelf (COTS) high-speed PC with a specialized graphics card that enables stereoscopic graphics processing at 120 Hertz (double typical laptop speeds). A COTS stereoscopic projector is needed, as are powered virtual reality glasses that communicate with a receiver like a Wii remote control. Glasses are expensive-about $600 each-but the projector is only about $4,000.
Creating the virtual reality environment of the plant can be the greatest expense, but the process is helped tremendously by DynSim modeling software. The demonstration system, which Invensys showed at its North America Client Conference in Houston, September 21 to 24, was the result of collaboration with a French refinery that already had extensive DynSim models of its plant. The system shown required more than 1,800 photographs of the plant to be combined with the models, and took four developers about five months to complete, said Scheele. The extensive walkthrough areas shown were still only one-fifth of the full refinery complex.
Scheele said EYESim technology is geared toward the energy, chemical, oil and gas, and other vital process industries as they face knowledge management, training and retention challenges brought on by an aging and dwindling industry workforce. Using and applying gaming and other skill sets, the EYESim solution could help with getting the next generation of engineers interested in process control applications
– Edited by Renee Robbins, senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk