A Loughborough University computer science expert has collaborated with BP on an immersive training experience that enables safety-critical tasks to be rehearsed in a simulated environment.
Believed to be a first for the chemical industry in the UK, the Igloo is an alternative approach to training. It allows trainee field technicians to practise safety critical tasks, such as safe start-up and emergency shutdown procedures, in a virtual production plant brought to life by integrating it with a fully dynamic process simulator and the control room simulator. A 360-degree projection screen enables trainees to learn as they go and allows mistakes to be made without disastrous consequences. Realistic sound effects mimic real life operation of the plant, and the dynamic process simulator produces the responses expected from the real plant in different safety critical operation scenarios.
Paul Chung, Professor of Computer Science at Loughborough University, and Dr Pablo Fernández de Dios, a Research Associate on the project, were responsible for implementing the communication bridge between the Igloo and the dynamic process simulator, resulting in a realistic plant environment that allows field and control room technicians to interact together. This is a new concept and, for the first time, the competence of entire shift teams can be assessed.
The collaborative project between BP European Acetyls, BP Information Technology and Services Digital Innovation Organisation, Loughborough University, and immersive technology specialist Igloo Vision, has been trialled at BP’s chemical manufacturing site at Saltend Chemicals Park in Hull – a top tier COMAH (Control of Major Accidents and Hazards) site. Following an evaluation study, which involved more than 50 BP and contract technicians and staff, the next stage will be to seek funding to develop the concept further. “The Igloo presents a fantastic opportunity to bring about a step-change for the chemical engineering industry; it is perfect for training and allows technicians to try out operations which they don’t do that often, such as an emergency shutdown. A tool like this could also be used to certify that a technician has been trained properly,” says Professor Chung.
“Accidents are costly and can affect companies’ reputation, but the quality of the training offered by the Igloo virtual environment could prove cost effective as it’s possible for technicians to be trained without interrupting plant production. The Igloo has the potential to play a big part in accident prevention; increasing safety, reliability and capability in the long run.”