March 10, 2014

Aker Solutions' Kjetil Notodden discusses benefits of the latest drilling simulator technology, developed in response to new SEMS requirements.


Drillers receiving training in an Aker Solutions 240° dome simulator in Katy, Texas

The drilling industry is changing rapidly, and equipment manufacturers are making equipment safer by reducing the possibility of human error. At the same time, the equipment and its operations are becoming more complex. When high-tech and expensive equipment is operated by young and inexperienced staff, the need for proper training through risk-free, simulator-based operating conditions becomes crucial. Training in a simulator is an excellent way to gain experience in a safe environment, without the potential cost or hazard of failing offshore.

Post-2010 requirements

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) enacted federal safety and environmental management systems requirements in response to the deadly 2010 Macondo blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. These regulations require employers to provide more safety and operations training, as well as periodic refresher courses. The goal is to make operating a drilling rig easier, cheaper, faster and safer in years to come. To facilitate operator training Aker Solutions developed a versatile three-dimensional (3D) Drilling Equipment Simulator (Xfactor DES), which generates mathematically correct and accurate replicas of rigs. Each model can be treated as a virtual asset, including the complete drilling package with one-to-one control system configuration. The 3D capability and top-of-the-line software generates realistic visuals that make the simulator experience as close to real life as possible, enabling onshore training and detailed operational planning in virtual environments identical to those offshore.

Simulators around the globe

Aker Solutions has simulator training facilities in Kristiansand and Stavanger, Norway; Katy, Texas; Rio das Ostras, Brazil; Geoje Island, South Korea; and Singapore.

Aker Solutions has two types of simulators: a flat screen version and a 240° dome. The dome is the latest technology and provides a view of what is above the driller’s cabin without having to “fly” there via the simulation.

All the simulators offer favorable conditions for learning in a safe and forgiving environment. Not only are the operators trained in procedures and technicalities, they are also trained in interpersonal communications, a vital skill in today’s multinational work environment.

Key differentiators

The type of control system is a key differentiator when it comes to simulators. Most simulators in the industry run only on animated software. This limits them to operational training in perfect conditions, without the added benefit of simulating more challenging conditions. Quite a few simulators are unable to obtain real-time feedback on the trainee.

Real drilling operations on a rig are not always perfect, so it is important to practice how to handle deviations. This enables trainees to prepare better for reallife situations that can be expected, and allows them to obtain real-time feedback on how such deviations are handled.

This approach is an integral part of training. “At Aker Solutions, our priority is to enhance skills in such a manner that the operations on the rig become safer, smoother, and, of course, faster, as well as to have minimum downtime,” says Senior Technical Instructor Manas Goyal.

“This is achieved by first collecting the information from real-time situations, and real-time faults and alarms that have been encountered on the rigs in the past, then re-creating those in the simulator exercises designed by Aker Solutions, so that the training is meaningful and prepares the trainee for handling the problems in a better, quicker and safer way.”

When downtime occurs, Aker Solutions devotes a lot of time to troubleshooting and fault finding. The overall aim is to prevent or reduce downtime by preparing the trainee in advance.

“Our goal is to make them skillful at fault-finding so that they know ‘where to look’ for a potential problem. Such integrated training and scenarios together are key success factors in maximizing uptime and ensuring safe operation of drilling equipment,” Goyal says. “Our simulator (training) exercises are specifically prepared for operators, electrical and hydraulic technicians, to ensure greater emphasis on operations, control systems, and hydraulic systems, respectively.”

Avoid shortcuts

Aker Solutions’ aim, Goyal adds, is to provide operators with sufficient knowledge of control systems and hydraulics to understand the consequences of taking shortcuts. Operations training also works to ensure that technicians understand how the equipment should work in real-life conditions.

“We consider this to be absolutely critical for safe operations: If operators and technicians have a mutual understanding of each other’s problems and limitations, this will promote better team work and eventually contribute to better and safer output.”

Simulator-based training has changed the concept of training dramatically, and has become so advanced that simulators can now deliver training to rig personnel while the rig is still under construction at a shipyard.

Due to the advanced technology in Aker Solutions’ simulators, they can be used also for things other than training, such as:

  • Commissioning: Access to complex information in the form of 3D images helps to simplify project planning and execution and to reduce the time needed for commissioning and risk-mitigation, thereby potentially lowering costs.
  • Rig optimization: Software and procedural changes can be tested and verified safely before being implemented on a rig.
  • Aid for hands-on training: Every component of the equipment is simulated individually through control systems. This makes it possible to remove layers of equipment to demonstrate the internals of the machine, which are not normally seen by technicians.

Highly advanced anti-collision system

Aker Solutions’ philosophy is “No personnel on the drill floor.” To achieve this, (internal & external) interlocks are put in place and a Smart Zone Management System is installed to prevent machines from colliding. The simulators provide near-perfect scenarios of such safety features, and they demonstrate what happens if the safety measures are physically bypassed or neglected.

Making affordable mistakes

Simulator training makes rig personnel familiar with the equipment without risk of expensive mistakes on the rig. During training, operators get to try out operations they are familiar with performing, and the equipment gives them instant feedback. This lets them experience the consequences of potentially dangerous situations, without actually causing damage. Operators can afford to experiment and make mistakes in the simulator, but not on the rig.

Today’s technology has moved from brakes and handles, to interactive interface screens. So it is extremely important for operators to get used to touch screens and joysticks, and get accustomed to the response times associated with the commands.

Kjetil Notodden, PMP, is manager for technical instructors at the Aker Solutions Drilling Technologies training center in Kristiansand, Norway. He has been a project manager for Aker Solutions for five years. Notodden attended the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy and is studying for an MBA at Agder University.


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