Virtual Training & Operations

Virtual Training & Operations

 
By Bill Lydon - Contributing Editor
 
From 2009 IPS User Group Conference
 
The most thought-provoking demonstration at the 2009 IPS User Group Conference was the new EYEsim virtual reality system. It puts a user into a virtual plant and allows interactive operation, just as in a real plant. The user wears 3D glasses and uses a joystick to interact with the simulation. It is like playing a video game, which most people are very comfortable with today.  While experiencing this system, I had a real sense of being at a field site. Activities include walking through the virtual plant, checking controls, closing valves, reading gauges, and other tasks. The demonstration was complete with a simulated plant fire and the operator was guided to the shutoff valve to suppress the fire.
 
 
The virtual simulation is linked to first-principle simulation to enable engineers and operators to interact with the plant and the processes. Invensys is using the power of Virtual Reality technology to provide real-time rendering of equipment views and high-fidelity simulation in a cost-effective system for improving multimedia training, process design, maintenance and safety. The virtual plant is created from CAD drawings and digital photography.
 
"Called EYEsim, the system extends the scope of traditional simulator training to include not only the control room, but the field as well," explains Maurizio Rovaglio, Invensys Operations Management group leader for innovation technologies and emerging services. "Control room operators, as well as field operators and maintenance technicians, can now be trained in tandem, interactively solving problems over walkie-talkie under trainer supervision," he explained.
 
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 can be achieved by traditional, non-real-time rendering.
 
The interactive system is a server-centric distributed application that centralizes the scene update and enables scene rendering on many concurrent stations. It has a central server that synchronizes directly with the Invensys Operations Management’s SIM4ME® simulation engine so the properties of each plant element in the Virtual Reality scene are updated with the process simulation. The Virtual Reality system has additional stations for various roles in the simulation.
 
Training
Using this as a training tool can provide a much more realistic “feel” of how control room interactions impact operations. In addition, operators can do virtual plant tours to do manual control in the virtual plant including opening/closing valves, turn motors on/off, and change local setpoint.
 
"The increasing complexity of plants, combined with a changing workforce, demands next-generation tools that can safely and interactively train new operators and engineers without putting them, the community or the environment at risk," added Tobias Scheele, vice president, advanced applications, Invensys Operations Management. "This system provides a stable, realistic environment for practicing routine operational and maintenance functions, as well as rarely performed volatile tasks such as plant shutdowns.  In addition, using computer models of real equipment allows endless experimentation without ever taking the equipment off- line, mitigating risk to production as well." 
 
Richer HMI Implications
The broad possibilities of this technology come into focus as you can put virtual system screens right at the equipment in the simulation. Using VR to drive the HMI in a real system provides a significantly richer user interface to understand what is going on in a plant. Seeing the physical representation in 3D along with systems screens relating to the equipment allows operators and engineers to really get the “feel” of what is going on in a system.
 
 
This could easily become a major part of the actual operating HMI to improve operations.
 
Vision
I am impressed that Invensys management has the vision and is willing to risk supporting this type of activity using the latest technology to improve training and operations. It would be very easy for management to view this simply as a novel exercise for technologists to “play in the sandbox.” Rather, they have the vision to allow development people to pursue use of new technology. The team of people I met is creative and enthusiastic. I am sure we will see more interesting things as they develop these concepts further.