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Tackle trials with training

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LNG Industry,

Philipp von Breitenbuch and Feras Alhothali, Linde Engineering, Germany, explain how the brain drain and the COVID-19 pandemic are shining the spotlight on the possibilities of virtual reality training, especially in the LNG and NGL industry.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the need for remote and virtual training. Suddenly, companies across almost all branches of trade and industry are moving education and capability-building to an online-only setting as social distancing regulations and travel restrictions make in-person classroom or group-based training sessions difficult, if not impossible. The need to adapt rapidly from presence-based learning to the virtual world presents many companies and training providers with new challenges. However, it also provides a host of new opportunities, including cost efficiencies and a lower carbon footprint thanks to the elimination of travel, and the possibility to bring rich, immersive online learning experiences to remote locations in real time.

Fortunately for some companies, they were already poised to take advantage of the remote learning trend even before the safety and hygiene concerns of COVID-19 took hold. Linde Engineering is one such company. For several years now, the company has been developing virtual reality (VR) training modules aimed at increasing safety and efficiency in gas processing plants such as those deployed in the oil and gas industry.

Tackling the brain drain

COVID-19 is not the only force of change accentuating the need for training in the oil and gas industry. Shifting demographics, for instance, are having a particularly strong impact on this sector in Western countries. Experts predict a large and growing gap in terms of both available workers and skillsets in oil and gas. It is expected that around 50% of experienced employees will retire from their current jobs within the next five to seven years. It is assumed that only 50% of these retirees will be replaced, which means a smaller, inexperienced workforce will be challenged to compensate for the gradual brain drain.

Looking beyond the importance of experience in maximising operational efficiency, the loss of knowledge and experience can – far more importantly – translate into serious safety risks. A 2017 Salford University study revealed that, on average, 70% of all accidents are caused by human error. Training and proactive skill-building is the most effective strategy to mitigate the rising risk of failures and safety incidents in the coming years. Given the limited scope and reach of live training in existing plants, due often to the fact that many critical scenarios are difficult or dangerous to simulate, VR is emerging as the most effective way to build safety-critical capabilities. Following in the footsteps of other industries such as the airline business, which has been training pilots in simulators for decades, oil and gas companies are now increasingly looking to VR as a way to bring an immersive, real-life training experience to up-and-coming plant operatives.

The effectiveness of VR training is undisputed. Studies have shown that VR training is 15 times more effective than traditional classroom training thanks to the interactive, realistic learning environment. It is particularly appealing to those who prefer a blended learning experience or are quickly overwhelmed by technical jargon in a static classroom setting. This is because VR is amazingly close to real life. Virtually exposed to an emergency scenario, participants in a training situation react as they would in the real world, even registering an increase in heart rate.

This is an abridged version of an article that was originally published in the September 2020 issue of LNG Industry. The full version can be read here.

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