Changing realities

October 2, 2014

Oil and gas companies are turning to new high-tech gadgets for workplace solutions. Audrey Leon spoke with Houston-based FuelFX to see how this new reality can be implemented.

FuelFX’s Oliver Diaz demonstrates the Oculus Rift system.

Photos by Audrey Leon/OE. 

In order to reach the next generation of engineers, the oil and gas industry will have to speak their language by using high-tech gadgets, apps, and even video games.

“It takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something,” says Oliver Diaz, president and CEO of multimedia and design firm FuelFX. “Most young adults have played over 12,000 hours of games by the time they are 21. What are they experts in?”

Reality in the oil and gas industry is already changing, and it’s getting more virtual. In 2013, Maersk Oil launched its web-only video game “Quest for Oil” with the purpose of making the oil and gas industry more accessible. Maersk Oil CEO Jakob Thomasen told OE last August that the company’s goal was to inform, educate, inspire, engage and create a dialogue. “We hope that a game like this can create some awareness about the industry and how exciting it is to work here, that we have jobs in the future, and that you can have the world as your playground.”

Many companies currently provide simulated training options. Kongsberg Maritime, Maersk Training, Rolls-Royce, and GE all offer solutions for DP course training (OE: May 2014), for example. This type of immersive and interactive training can help adapt workers to the facilities on which they will work, before they ever set foot on an offshore rig or before they every get behind the controls of a crane that may lift a two ton topside module into place.

FuelFX is one company aiming to help translate the oil and gas industry through use of 3D modeling, animation, and motion graphics solutions that can be displayed through apps created for portable devices, such as tablets or smartphones. It is also developing training simulations that can be run through wearable peripherals, such as glasses. The peripherals utilize augmented reality (AR) technology, which allows the user to see both the real-life environment and also the scenario designer wants them to see.

FuelFX Oculus Rift system view.

FuelFX, which began in 2007 as Bullfighter Design, rebranded in 2013 with the industry in mind. FuelFX’s Vice President of Business Development Gavin McMillan says 80-90% of its current business is from oil and gas. And the company has already worked with BP – helping to illustrate Macondo – Nabors, and Schlumberger.

McMillan, himself, studied mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, before pursuing a master’s degree in visualization science from the Texas A&M University.

Laughing, he says, “I had a very renaissance education. I studied pretty much everything under the sun.” That varied education took him to Los Angeles where he spent 10 years in the visual effects industry, working on Oscar winning films such as Life of Pi and Golden Compass. After seeing the visual effects industry struggling despite award-winning success, McMillan returned to Houston where he considered falling back on his engineering degree, but eventually turned to media, finding FuelFX instead.

The company is testing the latest gadgets on the market such as Google Glass, Epson Moverio (a Google Glass competitor), as well as the Oculus Rift, to see which creates the best overall user experience, and determine what will work best for a client’s needs. While these devices are more closely associated with consumer-focused video game experiences and next-wave socializing and computing, they can be used for more.

McMillan says with the younger demographic coming into the oil and gas industry, it is important to reach them on their terms. “Building simulations that are built upon video game technology increases retention value,” McMillan says. “Right now, there’s very little interaction in training. It should be immersive and interactive.”

With the Oculus Rift in particular, the user is able to see a 360° view of a virtual environment. The scene can be an offshore drilling platform, with specifications provided by the customer, with the various obstacles and views tailored to that specific platform.

FuelFX CEO Oliver Diaz shows off one of the company's custom iPad apps.

MacMillan says the company is not focused on any one single peripheral, and has conducted tests on quite a few. However, he finds that Google Glass is the most problematic for the type of industrial use that oil and gas companies need.

“Google Glass is a neat peripheral, but it has a lot of limitations,” he says. “Google doesn’t have the processing power for 3D and overlay that were important to us, and for AR.”

Other limitations FuelFX found were poor battery life, overheating and Google’s lack of development toward fixing those technology limitations, McMillan says.

While investigating what other types of wearable technology were out on the market, FuelFX found Epson’s Moverio glasses, which McMillan says gives Google a run for its money.

“If you look at Google Glass – it was developed for consumers, individuals,” he says. “It wasn’t the best for a Business to Business (B-2-B) or industrial solutions.

“Epson didn’t try to be the consumer solution,” he says. “It was a use-case solution. It had more power, more processing, and a lot more interactivity. They were developing for the industrial aspect.”

Some of the technology available in FuelFX’s laboratory included an iPad app that showed real-time recognition of objects in a simulated refinery. The app shows what tasks the user will have to complete, and will also warn of dangerous objects, and inform the user of how to avoid them.

The app, called Scaffold, is the company’s AR-integrated rapid e-procedure development tool. McMillan says it allows the customer to build a target and build a procedure.

“In the enterprise version you can upload that procedure and target, edit and then push it back out,” he says. “That essentially allows you to run Nested procedures with measures of video and text.”

The one in FuelFX’s office shows refinery facilities, where McMillans says you would have measures of awareness. “You can go in and build the facility, and have the peripheral recognize the aspects of the facility – the tanks and piping – and that can be recognized by the target recognition.”

Diaz demonstrated the app via an iPad that turned the screen red to alert him when he walked too close to an object in the room that was off-limits.

This technology has potential applications for all knowledge levels and job functions. McMillan is positive about the outlook.

“Typically oil and gas is fairly conservative,” McMillan says. “This movement in technology and this demographic shift is really well-timed in order to introduce these measures of technology, to help in safety, training and efficiencies, in ways that didn’t exist before.”

FuelFX’s interactive iPad app uses augmented reality to simulate a refinery situation, and includes a duties checklist as well as information on how to navigate around hazardous obstacles.

Industry applications

In July, Netherlands-based Applus RTD, which specializes in non-destructive testing, announced it would incorporate AR into its RTD IWEX system, giving the company more detailed inspection and mapping capabilities to discover weld defects within pipework pieces. Rienk de Vries, technical director at Applus RTD, said in a statement, “The augmented reality application is great for training purposes, and helping to understand the 3D presentation of the weld. We believe it is a revolutionary step in NDT technology.”

Other uses of AR include engineering firm Ramboll’s work on Maersk Oil’s Dan Bravo field in the Danish North Sea. In 2012, Ramboll created 3D models of the four Dan Bravo platforms, which could then be modeled for as-built geometry, which could be used to create walk-through simulations for access route verification. Ramboll said the project allowed Maersk to gain instant access to field information, and allows employees to perform measurements at their desk thereby cutting the number of offshore trips.

Click Here to see a photo gallery of FuelFX’s office. 

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