Simulator technology facilitates rig reactivations and start-ups

Training solution employed on the Stena Don start-up.

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Training solution employed on Stena Don start-up

Ian Hudson

Drilling Systems,
a 3T Energy Group company

As the industry continues its gradual swing back into action, the focus returns to ensuring that rig crews and rig operations start safely and efficiently. While there remains a supply of “ready to go units” offshore, new contracts and tenders are bringing units back to work and with it, a needed boost to offshore drillers. Over the last year, a focus on technology and data has increased in the drilling sector as companies seek to find ways of leveraging information into further operational excellence and operational integrity improvements.

Drilling Systems recently introduced its industry first “on the rig” (OTR) solution. It combines a full capability drilling and crane simulator and is equipped with an instructor-free learning management system. This enables crews to develop and companies to assess competency at the worksite. The OTR system is modelled on different types of rigs, and offers a range of full simulation capabilities for drillship, semisubmersible, jackup as well as land rig operations, covering all operational elements from well control, drilling and lifting.

The technology is portable, rugged and built to meet a very high specification that is based on over 28 years of drilling systems expertise and know-how in the field of high fidelity simulation.

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The “on the rig” (OTR) solution combines a drilling and crane simulator, and is equipped with an instructor-free learning management system. (Courtesy Drilling Systems)

Rig simulator

The system was designed and built in house, from the bottom up to be in the field and the office, and of course on rigs in remote locations both offshore and onshore. The capability had to match the largest full-size systems normally located in training centers, and it had to cover the widest range of operations possible inside one simulator. Adding the crane capability with different types of cranes on different types of rigs allows the system to cover as many positions as possible across a rig crew.

But the technology was only one piece of the OTR solution. For the first time a team of industry-recognized professionals from the field of drilling and lifting undertook the challenge to program a range of competency and development exercises, from basic to advanced, inside the simulator that could then be used remotely, and would assess, score, and collect data on the personnel using the device. The knowledge of operations and simulation added together provided for a cost-efficient way of deploying high-specification technology to the field, without the need for a dedicated instructor to run programs and courses.

The combination of the simulator capability and the competency platform in one makes the solution an effective tool that was built with the industry needs in mind, and featured thousands of hours of input from crews, contractors, and operators. OTRs are now deployed across several drilling companies and in several countries as the technology gathers momentum and its benefits become clear and evident.

Back to work

Drilling Systems does business with most of the major offshore drillers and many onshore drillers, and is always looking for ways to add value to their operations. While developing the OTR concept, several customers were in the process of securing work for some of their fleet on stand-by. The OTR was always conceived of as a tool to cover a range of applications, notably being used to augment safe and effective start-up.

The ability to use a simulator as opposed to (only) real equipment means more time can be spent assessing crews. In addition, a wider range of scenarios can be tested beyond basic system operations, and the company can get a deeper view of competency beyond purely the issuance of a basic well control certificate.

The ability to practice high risk operational scenarios in safety is one of the most valuable tools of simulation, and these types of events – which cannot be replicated on the job – is where competency can truly make a difference. It is this desire to assure and verify competency that drove the development of a start-up solution. On-the-rig coaching and assessment is not new to the industry, nor is simulation-based training, but adding these together in a full capability technology and deploying them to the field with a small team of SMEs to provide start-up support operations focused around the simulator was an industry first.

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The OTR solution was deployed to support rig start-up operations on the semisubmersibleStena Don. (Courtesy Stena Drilling)

Case study

In the past two months, Drilling Systems and Stena Drilling partnered on a project using the OTR and the Drilling Systems Integrated Advisory Team (IAS) to support rig start-up operations for the semisubmersibleStena Don. The rig had been awaiting work in the UK and after securing a contract with Total in the UK, the Stena Drilling and Drilling Systems teams began their work. The project had to be completed in a short timeframe to meet operational timelines and acceptance of the rig by Total.

TheStena Don had been warm-stacked since November 2016, with reduced crews. Reactivation of the rig began March 2018 with new personnel joining some existing Stena Don crew. For the crew, having the opportunity to train with the OTR system was extremely beneficial to be able to familiarize themselves with well control situations/procedures as well as operational running of equipment. The actual functions and graphics of the system are very representational of the actual Cyberbase system, and crew members gained experience and confidence after training in a controlled no-risk environment.

The IAS team (who also provided the technical input into the OTR and its learning management system, or LMS) designed a program with Stena Drilling to use the simulator and a range of competency assessment tools to cover all the key positions on the rig, including toolpusher, assistant crane operators, crane operators and deckpushers. With one OTR and two SMEs, the team deployed to Scapa Flow to begin assessment and development activities prior to sail out, and then accompanied the rig onto location as part of the start-up phase.

During the program the crew in the above positions were assessed by the IAS team using the OTR. The assessment included activities such as lifting and drilling, and was supported by a Stena Drilling OTR champion that was an assigned senior toolpusher to create an integrated team approach. These crews undertook a range of over 200 exercises between them and gained valuable insight into how a simulator can be integrated into worksite operations. With the key roles assessed, the assessment provided knowledge to both Stena Drilling and Total that the crews were ready for work and that their core skills had been tested and verified.

The project did not stop there. The OTR will remain with the rig on contract in Instructor-Free mode using the in-built in LMS. The solution will continue to be used to develop and assess crews to ensure competency, and to set a standard around continuous learning. The solution will also help crews meet IOGP 476 recommendations and stay ahead of the normal well control certification process. The system remains in use, and Stena supports the crew with time to continue to develop and progress their capabilities. This is an investment in crew competency that is setting a new bar.

Going forward

More projects are now in the pipeline for the OTR and IAS rig start-up program as Stena Drilling secures more work and takes this approach overseas. This new approach, which “takes competence to the worksite,” ushers in a much-needed standard that raises the bar from current accepted standards, particularly around well control.

This approach is not only limited to new rig start-ups. It can be a part of everyday operations where crews use time to continually learn and develop their skills. Continuous learning has been discussed and included as a recommended practice for several years post-Macondo, and yet only a few in the industry have taken onboard the recommendation. Perhaps technology needed to change to make this more viable, and the OTR solution can be a part of this change going forward.

Standards are usually set when people or companies decide to take things to a new level themselves, as opposed to waiting for regulations that require them to do so. These companies like Stena Drilling and other OTR customers see the value of simulation in competence assurance and like many other industries, notably aviation, understand the need for realistic scenario-based training and assessment as part of operational delivery. The hope is that we decide to move the needle as an industry ourselves, use technology as an enabler, and take these best practices to the worksite where people are proven to learn more, be more engaged, and where information is retained and used more regularly. •

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