Wellheads, Well Casing, Well Completions and Artificial Lifting
Nearly 50% of oilfield production workers in the Gulf of Mexico will retire in the next 10 years. As energy companies struggle to replace an aging operator workforce, Operator Training Simulators (OTS) have become a key component of these efforts. The primary goal of companies which are replacing these workers is to retain the knowledge of experienced operations personnel, and to pass it on through the use of virtual simulation and other integrated training processes in order to develop a well-trained and competent workforce.
The lack of experienced personnel, potential for environmental consequences, regulatory requirements and litigation risks imposed by improper facilities operation have made operator training simulations a best practice for the startup and operation of any new oil and gas facility.
Training simulators used for oil and gas facilities operations training may be physical or virtual in nature. Physical simulators require multiple servers, each programmed for a specific application within the training simulations integration. Virtual training simulators are composed of only a few actual physical servers while the balance of components are simply emulations of servers and server processes.
A primary advantage of virtual servers is that upon failure of the emulated server, the program can be reloaded to the system while the failure of a physical server requires replacement of the server component.
Training simulators may be integrated systems that include the modeling of most facility operating processes-such as topsides, subsea and marine operations. Integrated OTS machines provide the most realistic simulations currently used for facility operations training. With an integrated OTS all facility simulation training processes are available on a single machine.
Operator training simulators are loosely described in two main groups, either low or high fidelity.
Low fidelity simulators are simulators that do not mimic the actual design and function of an integrated production control system. The simulations also may not model the state of the physical processes that will be performed. Low fidelity simulators:
Low fidelity simulators are used primarily by oil and gas operations for situational awareness training and to provide trainees with a basic understanding of the process work flows of generic oil and gas operations. Low fidelity training simulators should not be used as the basis for the competency assessment of control room operator trainees-particularly if the control system has not been accurately mimicked.
On the other hand, high fidelity simulators attempt at varying degrees of complexity-to model all of the interactions contained within a complex integrated control system. Modeling processes may include the actual functions of the process equipment and their interfaces, as well as emulations of the physical flow modeling and flow assurance complexities.
Dedicated physical or virtual servers are provided for each aspect of the control dynamics inclusive of:
High fidelity simulators are best built after the cause and effect and operating procedures for an oil and gas facility have been developed but well enough in advance of the startup of the facility to allow for an effective operator training program to be completed. The advantages of building a high fidelity operator training simulator include:
The disadvantages include greater development costs, additional upfront planning and testing requirements and the costs associated with maintaining and updating the OTS for ongoing brownfield modifications.
Once a company decides and contracts to build a training simulator, the OTS builder will work with the customer to define the project scope. The builder will likely request project documentation packets to include:
The physical and virtual servers are built, packaged and programmed per the facility specs. The topsides and subsea models are developed to mimic the physical characteristics of the process flow and the flow assurance guidance. The Model Acceptance Test (MAT) is performed for acceptance of the topsides, subsea and/or marine models.
Once the MAT test(s) is accepted by the customer, final integration and calibration of the high fidelity simulator package and model is performed.
A Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) of the integrated simulator is then scheduled and performed with the customer. This FAT is actually the first time a new build operator training simulator is operated as an integrated package.
Operations personnel or customer contractors should perform additional testing and fine tuning after FAT acceptance-in association with the builders programming specialists-to ensure that the training simulator performs according to modeled expectations and realistically represents the operations being simulated. The simulator may also be linked to the customer’s PI System-(data historian) to further tune and initialize the integrated operations model(s). After the OTS performance is deemed satisfactory, the customer will then decide how best to use the training simulator.
An Exercise Training Manager software package allows for competency testing process records that are not affected by the independent competency review provided by the OTS trainer.
Once the simulator has been properly configured and calibrated and sufficient design criteria, cause and effects documents and flowback data have been provided by the customer, the following data can be obtained through testing:
The future for operator training simulations is exciting. In addition to virtual servers, expect the rise of more enterprise simulators which bundle all of a company’s facility training simulators into a single OTS package. Expect magnitudes of higher fidelity simulations development that will likely change the use of training simulators into more of an engineering and asset development tool. Finally, the growth of remote login features allows trainer and trainee access to the OTS from any location where sufficient bandwidth and a remote plugin is available.