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3D video game technology makes plants virtually real

24 February, 2009

Invensys Process Systems (IPS) is bringing the world of computer games to industrial plants with a virtual reality (VR) human-machine interface that, it predicts, will revolutionise the way engineers and operator trainees see and interact with the plants and processes they control.

The Immersive Virtual Reality Process creates 3D computer-generated representations of real or proposed plants. A user, wearing a stereoscopic vision headset and holding controls that sense gestures, can move through the “plant” in any direction. The feeling of reality is enhanced by rendering the virtual environment at 60 frames per second – much faster than can be achieved using traditional, non real-time rendering.

“The ability to simulate complex processes in connection with virtual actions allows the user to directly experience an environment that changes over time, making it more effective at transferring skills learned in training to the work environment,” says Maurizio Rovaglio, director of IPS global consulting. “And because rarely performed volatile tasks, such as plant shutdowns, can be rehearsed in a stable, realistic environment, users and operator trainees have the opportunity to learn and make mistakes without putting themselves, the community or the environment at risk.

“In addition to that,” he continues, “using computer models of real equipment allows endless experimentation without ever taking the equipment off line, mitigating risk to production as well.”

IPS expects the virtual reality system to improve plant safety and security and to increase production and efficiency, while controlling material costs. The system has been designed for a variety of roles, including process design, maintenance engineering and plant safety, and IPS expects it to be used widely in the next generation of process training programs.

The technology is still being tested in several installations. “When it becomes available in the second half of this year, we believe it will provide immediate, far-reaching benefits to clients spanning the process industries,” says Tobias Scheele, IPS vice president of advanced applications

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