Dynamic Vision pioneers 3-D training tools
Simulators modeled on aviation and military applications
Steve Fisher is worried. The principal with Calgary-based centrifuge manufacturer Kayden Industries Inc. has plans to expand his business. But with 150 employees spread across North America and only two people to train them, he’s more than a little concerned that information about operations, safety and maintenance procedures could slip through the cracks.
“What we want to do is get some consistency back into the company,” he says in a telephone interview. “So when we get someone that’s new to the industry, within a few months or even a few weeks, they have the ability to know as much as the inventor.”
That’s where Russ comes in. Russ has all the qualities of an ideal employee, only he isn’t real. Instead, he’s a 3-D avatar created for Kayden by Calgary-based Dynamic Vision Inc. as part of an animated training simulation program, similar to those used today by the airlines and the military. Executives at Dynamic say the technology can play an important role in recruiting a new generation to the oil and gas industry, just as the sector grapples with a wave of attrition-related retirements.
“The young generation is all about tactile, hands-on, multi-stimulus; they’re just not linear,” says company president and animation director Steve Zurakowski. “When you’re hiring these young people, since they’re the next generation of workforce, you want to give them a tool set that they can relate with.”
The virtual training simulations are not merely a replacement for PowerPoint presentations and thick instruction manuals. Zurakowski says they can also make workers more productive.
Dynamic spent more than two decades pioneering the simulations, but only got started with immersive technology a few years ago.
Two years ago, Zurakowski brought an immersive technology system to the company’s office, located just east of downtown in the Calgary neighborhood of Inglewood. He brought in some clients for a demonstration, and although the feedback was positive, nobody was willing to spend the money implementing what is still considered an expensive tool.
Zurakowski wasn’t deterred. He showed off the system again at the Gas and Oil Exposition in Calgary in 2011. The response was positive enough to stage another open house in the basement of the company’s office earlier this summer.
It works like this: Users wear a head mount with what looks like night vision goggles on the front and a heavy-duty cable coming out of the back. The outside world is blocked out and users can walk around the room, while simultaneously walking around the virtual environment.
Another application has users wear 3-D glasses to view the simulation on a projector screen. Users then interact with the simulation using a device that’s half remote control and half laser pointer. Russ, the avatar, shows off different controls and guides trainees around a virtual environment. This might involve opening one of Kayden Industries’ centrifuges to see the parts in action, for example.
Kayden builds real centrifuges in a 15,000-square-foot facility in southeast Calgary. The units, which helped Kayden earn $40 million to $50 million in revenues last year, are shipped to drilling sites where they’re used to separate solids from drilling fluid.
Fisher says he would use the animation to augment current training manuals. “Our training manual now is about two inches thick,” he says. “This animation would cut through a lot of that. In five seconds of animation you can explain a lot and they get it. Visually we can show them the consequences of doing something and I think it will have much more impact than a sheet of paper with a red ‘x’ through it.”
Dynamic Vision also created a demonstration for Nexen Inc. This time, Dynamic created an immersive model of a modular design for well pads used in the oil sands. “One of the things we’re trying to do right now is make things smaller and cheaper to get our costs down,” says Glenn McClement, Nexen’s area project manager, oil sands project development and execution.
That effort has left the company with a lot of questions: Are new designs constructible? Are they operable? Can they be maintained? Is there enough room for the operator to walk down aisle ways? “Usually, what we’re used to now is we’ll have someone operating a mouse and we’ll be going through a 3-D model on a flat screen and, as good as that is, it really takes a long time,” McClement says. “There are 10 different people wanting their own view and one guy operating it as you’re trying to look at this together.”
McClement brought in employees working in operations, maintenance, engineering and design to look at the immersive demonstration. “I couldn’t believe the interaction and dialogue as they’re looking at it,” he says. “It just seems like you can go through things a lot faster and have a lot more meaningful discussion.”
But there’s still a matter of cost. In the 21 years since Zurakowski launched Dynamic Vision, he says the price tag for creating and using animations or simulations hasn’t come down. “But you’re getting way more value for your dollar,” he says. “Back then we would spend 80 per cent of the budget converting a 2-D drawing into 3-D and then trying to animate and do some process flow stuff. Now that everyone is designing in 3-D, all we have to do is focus on optimization.”
Using immersive technology also means forking over money for equipment: the head mount or 3-D glasses, wall screen and projector. Zurakowski wouldn’t disclose exact costs. The company maintains a product demo at its Calgary office for clients who want to purchase an immersive program but aren’t interested in spending money on the equipment and someone to operate it. “What we are very firm in is saying this is not for everybody,” Zurakowski says. “You have to look at the cost of development and base it on the value of your application.”
For Kayden Industries, those costs have so far proved prohibitive. The company hasn’t committed to implementing the technology, but Fisher says it’s the type of advance the industry will ultimately have to adopt if it’s at all interested in attracting a tech savvy generation to blue collar work.
“I would have absolutely everyone in the company run through it because even human resources or reception or accounting need to know our business, where we’re situated on a rig and what we’re doing,” he says. “Young people want to be in a fun environment, they want lots of training and they like working with new products.”