Virtual reality

March 10, 2014

Current drilling simulators strive to offer operators hazard-free, cost-effective training solutions in a true-to-life environment. Greg App provides an overview of the latest technology.

Some of the most substantial technological innovations in drilling are concerned with safety and economic efficiency. The technological and training developments available for drilling simulators are at the forefront of this philosophy, with today’s technology utilizing ultra-realistic virtual reality software in conjunction with rig-specific hardware to create a life-like representation of various offshore drilling scenarios. As a result, those workers in training can obtain a “rig-like experience” before ever stepping foot onto a drilling platform.

Trainees can use the DrillSim5000 to perform drilling and well control simulations as a part of Shell's Advanced Well Control Training Program.

National Oilwell Varco

National Oilwell Varco’s simulator, the NOV Drilling HIL Simulator, has been on the market since 2010. In addition to representing operational rig models, the HIL can also be used to generate extremely accurate renditions of rig models currently undergoing development. The HIL can play a crucial role in the technical and operational development of these models by providing a safe, relatively cost effective process of highlighting various functionalities that may need improvement.

“The physical equipment and the virtual reality software can be altered to replicate many different offshore drilling platforms utilized by a number of different energy companies, including over 20 drilling contractors,” says Erlend Engum, a Product Technical Manager for NOV.

The ability to create such technically realistic simulations results largely from the HIL’s virtual reality software, called Autodesk Inventor. The 3D CAD softward projects life-like images onto the “half-dome” screen, similar to those used in a planetarium. This software enables the developers to develop 3D images that are mechanically identical to the objects seen from an operator’s control cabin. Thus, the physical behaviors and mechanical integrity of these objects are heavily influenced by the digital construction conducted by Autodesk Inventor. After the physical mechanics of these objects have been constructed, the virtual rig equipment is then imported into 3D Studio Max where realistic visual effects such as shading, texture, shadows, and physics can be applied. The result is a virtual environment that is both visually and mechanically realistic. In addition to being present in Norway; the US, Brazil, Singapore, and South Korea, The NOV Drilling HIL Simulator can be found at several academic institutions including the University of Texas in Austin.


While technological innovations are obviously crucial to the development of drilling simulation training, the training methodologies themselves are what transform these machines into effective educational tools.

Since 2011, Royal Dutch Shell has been using a completion and well intervention simulator in conjunction with their Advanced Well Control Training Program and DrillSim 5000 drilling module (both developed by Drilling Systems). Known as the CWI Management Trainer, this revolutionary completion/well intervention simulator is capable of recreating multiple operations including snubbing, hydraulic workover, wireline, and coiled tubing. Because the simulator requires multiple trainees to engage in the scenario (just like in a real-life well control/intervention operation), the associated program places a strong emphasis on collaborative decision-making in regards to unexpected scenarios. These ‘unexpected’ situations are chosen and implemented by an instructor overseeing the training exercise.


The iPad drilling simulator is an educational tool that is ideal for both driller ans apiring petroleum engineering students. This unique app provides graphical displays including (but not limited to) fracture and temperature gradients, fluid parameters, type of rig (floating or land rig), surface circulation volume, and hydrostatic calculations.

The introduction of these problematic scenarios represents more than just an attempt to “throw off “the participants. They also enable the instructor to observe and evaluate the trainees’ behaviors, which cannot be recorded by means of a grade sheet. “A significant part of our training program’s competency evaluation is determined not only by the statistical performance of the individual, but the manner in which the trainees behave and operate as a team,” says John Grieve, learning manager for wells, Royal Dutch Shell. “These elements include how calmly the team reacts to scenarios that require instinctive action.”

Texas A&M in Qatar currently utilizes a DrillSim 5000 full scale drilling simulator to help educate it’s students on a variety of drilling rigs being utilized in the area.

ARI Simulation

In addition to verbal instructor feedback, many drilling simulators offer visual feedback in the form of digital reenactments similar to “instant replays.” ARI Simulation, which offers a variety of offshore drilling simulators for jackup rigs and drill barges, has experienced great success in utilizing this technology. Over the past two years, “this video feedback mechanism enables the instructor to efficiently point out avoidable errors made by the trainees,” says Sukanta Saha of ARI Simulation. “This form of immediate visual critiquing has been very effective in showing the operator what went wrong and what improvements can be made in future real life operations.”

The ARI Offshore Drilling Simulator has models at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Mexico.

The future

These simulators represent an ideal opportunity for future petroleum engineers and drilling operators to make a swift and engaging transition from an academic experience to rig exposure. The educational and technological methods of these simulators are developing at an incredible rate. However, some industry experts project that some of the more pertinent future developments in drilling and well control simulation will not only arrive in the form of technological innovation, but also in terms of product accessibility.

Shell’s John Grieve predicts that mobile drilling simulation apps have the potential to be a valuable educational tool for today’s engineering students. “These mobile simulator apps would offer an affordable, accessible way for students to become familiar with many aspects of drilling and well completions,” Grieve says. Indeed, today’s educational market is seeing an explosion in the amount of students pursuing degrees in petroleum engineering, and the vast majority of them will not have access to full scale drilling simulators until late in their academic career. Apps may never replace the ultra-realism and technicality of most simulators, but they would provide students with an opportunity to become familiar with some of the more basic concepts and terminology. In fact, there is currently a drilling simulator available for the iPad for the very student-friendly price of $15 (see sidebar).

Before the advent of these advanced drilling simulators, formal training programs relied heavily on actual rig time to gauge competency. “Given the nature of an offshore drilling environment, the margin for error is extremely small,” Engum says. “One of the major goals of these simulations is to provide a rigorous training experience which elicits responses similar to those in an actual drilling scenario. This results in higher competence levels when the operators step onto the rig for the first time.”

Greg App is an editorial intern at Offshore Engineer. He holds a BS in Business Administration and is currently pursuing a BS in Petroleum Engineering.

Current News

China Energy Plans 1000 MW Floating Solar Plant in Zimbabwe

China Energy Plans 1000 MW Floating Solar Plant in Zimbabwe

Eastgate Engineering to Support Pre-assembly of GE's Haliade-X Turbines for Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm

Eastgate Engineering to Support Pre-assembly of GE's Haliade-X Turbines for Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm

Russia Fails at UN to Get Nord Stream Blast Inquiry

Russia Fails at UN to Get Nord Stream Blast Inquiry

Helix's Newly Acquired T1400-1 Jet Trenching System to be Deployed at Taiwan Offshore Wind Farm

Helix's Newly Acquired T1400-1 Jet Trenching System to be Deployed at Taiwan Offshore Wind Farm

Subscribe for OE Digital E‑News

Offshore Engineer Magazine