Shankar Bhat and his daughter, Tanisha sitting on a couch in their home
Engineer Shankar Bhat and his daughter, Tanisha

Shankar Bhat has his 10-year old daughter, Tanisha, to thank for an idea that helped bring a touch of virtual reality (VR) to safety training procedures in a new deep-water oil project.

In the summer of 2016, the engineer’s daughter persuaded her father to buy tickets for a VR booth in a shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Inside, the pair put on goggles and sat in mechanised chairs that moved and shook as they entered a Jurassic Park-style world of terrifying dinosaurs.

The short but unforgettable experience triggered an idea in Bhat, who was working for Shell on the Malikai project.

He was already familiar with the 3D simulation rooms commonly used in the oil and gas industry to map geological conditions when companies explore for energy resources that are beneath the ground or seabed.

Now he wondered whether VR could be used to recreate physical conditions for employees undergoing safety training. “Those 3D rooms are mini-theatres with a large panel display, but they cannot project floating or moving facilities,” he recalls.

“In contrast, the VR goggles and the motion and movement in the two-seater dinosaur movie booth made the experience feel so real. VR technology is now easily portable so I thought it could be customised for other applications, and that got me thinking about how it could be used on Malikai.”

Digital potential

Marc Waterman, in charge of safety on the Malikai project, saw the potential. VR could have an impact on training in operational safety procedures by having people navigate the decks and spaces of the Malikai platform as if they were actually there.

“We decided also to insert into the VR experience our life-saving rules and basics of process safety so that the information supports the visual and physical experience,” says Waterman. “In this way, we can train our technicians to be more effective in identifying and taking steps to remedy unsafe conditions, or actions."

Malaysia’s new platform 

Malikai, which started production at the end of 2016, lies 100 kilometres off the coast of Sabah. It is Shell’s second deep-water project in Malaysia and uses the country’s first tension-leg platform, which floats at sea while anchored securely to the seabed 500 metres below. Steel tethers allow the 27,500-tonne platform to move flexibly in the strong currents, while staying stable enough to continue production.

Production is sent by pipeline for processing on the Kebabangan platform 50 kilometres away.

Malikai’s project manager Momas Modon says that as the project moves from one phase to the next, VR technology can be used to transfer knowledge from one team to another, and save time.

“The VR kit shortens the learning time for new teams as they come onboard,” he says. “They can learn and familiarise themselves with the project, even before they step foot on the platform.”

 

By Soh Chin Ong

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