Process plants to get interactive 3D gaming technology for training

06 March 2009

Invensys Process Systems (IPS) announced its Immersive Virtual Reality Process technology, which combines the interactive VR technology found in video games with process plant simulation models. See photos. Link to video.

Invensys Process Systems (IPS), a global technology and consulting firm, unveils its Immersive Virtual Reality Process technology, a next-generation 3D interactive human machine interface (HMI), which combines the interactive VR technology found in video games with process plant simulation models to revolutionise how engineers and operators in and out of the control room interact with the plant and processes they control. The system, which lets users interact with photorealistic renderings of a plant via stereoscopic goggles and gesture-sensitive handheld devices, is combined with the company's Dynsim process simulation software to create an accurate, three-dimensional, virtual experience of the plant. The announcement was made Feb. 25, 2009 based on prototypes being tested by large process-industry clients. A commercially available system is expected later this year.

IPS expects the new system to revolutionise how engineers and operator trainees see and interact with the plant and the processes they control. The technology has potential to train operators more quickly and thoroughly, and improve plant safety, advancing what's now considered state-of-the-art control rooms. According to Tobias Scheele, IPS vice president of advanced applications, testing of the prototype system is revealing how control room operators and field operators can be trained simultaneously in a safe and accurate simulated environment that allows them to cross-check procedures, realistically assess task timing, and improve communication among team members.

‘What we're seeing [in the prototype environment] is extremely promising,’ said Scheele. ‘A passive 3D training environment, which is available today, can train a person, but you don't have any idea of the timing of events. With Dynsim linked to it, you are following the plant exactly, and you can train the team to save time and operate more efficiently.’

When it becomes commercially available later in 2009, IPS expects Immersive Virtual Reality Process to deliver a wide range of client benefits: help improve plant safety and security, ensure environmental and regulatory accountability, and increase production and efficiency. Energy, chemical, oil and gas, and other process industries will be able to apply the technology to meet the knowledge-management, training and retention challenges they encounter in the face of an ageing and dwindling industry workforce.

IPS will make Immersive Virtual Reality Process realistic by applying its proprietary Dynsim software to emulate the plant environment, linking process simulation models with physical-spatial models to create virtually any scenario that a user could encounter in real life. ‘The inherent flexibility of IPS’ technology results in fast and economical program configuration,’ says Scheele. ‘The virtual environment is rendered at 60 frames per second, significantly faster than what can be achieved by traditional, non real-time rendering.

Those software linkages mean that, ultimately, the immersive 3D environment can be used to virtually control the plant itself. Scheele declined to speculate on a timeframe for that level interactive human machine interface (HMI), saying only, ‘We have a vision and timeline. The control room of the future shouldn't be flat.’

As with golf or flight simulators available today, operator training is the first and best use of the technology. ‘The ability to simulate complex processes in connection with virtual actions allows the user to directly experience an environment that changes over time, making it more effective at transferring skills learned in training to the work environment,’ said Maurizio Rovaglio, director, IPS global consulting.

‘And because rarely performed volatile tasks such as plant shutdowns can be rehearsed in a stable, realistic environment’, Rovaglio continues, ‘users and operator trainees have the opportunity to learn and make mistakes without putting themselves, the community or the environment at risk. In addition to that, using computer models of real equipment allows endless experimentation without ever taking the equipment off line, mitigating risk to production as well.’

The new environment has been designed for a wide range of scenarios, including process design, maintenance engineering and plant safety, but Scheele says test users are already discovering new benefits. ‘Immersive Virtual Reality Process is another example of IPS developing and delivering innovative solutions that help our clients solve their most critical business issues,’ he said. ‘The solution continues to be tested in a variety of installations, and we are beginning to realise its full potential and value-add possibilities."

– Reported by Renee Robbins and Mark T. Hoske

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