Improving chemical plant safety training using virtual reality
The chemical engineering industry often requires people to work in hazardous environments and to operate complicated equipment which often limits the type of training that be carried out on site. The daily job of chemical plant operators is becoming more demanding due to the increasing plant complexity together with increasing requirements on plant safety, production capacity, product quality and cost effectiveness. The importance of designing systems and environments that are as safe as possible to educate and train personnel is vital for the chemical process industries. Virtual reality offers the potential to expose personnel to hazardous situations in a safe, highly visual and interactive manner. Virtual reality has been proposed as a technological breakthrough that holds the power to facilitate learning. The ability to visualise complex and dynamic systems involving personnel, equipment and layouts during any real operation is a potential advantage of such an approach. Virtual reality and multimedia training is commonly used in many industries, aiding understanding and memory retention and creating a more interactive learning experience. Four desktop virtual reality training environments were developed for this research which highlighted issues related to chemical process dynamic simulation and plant safety. The pump training system is a virtual reality environment, which was built using the SAFE-VR virtual engine, to train personnel to operate two centrifugal pumps. The virtual hazard spotting exercise focuses on improving the users' safety awareness of electrical and occupational hygiene hazards. The virtual boiler plant is a complicated and high detailed virtual training environment, which is characterised by its flexibility and by a real time dynamic simulation of the steam generation chemical process. The virtual flooding and gas absorption experiment was based on an undergraduate laboratory experiment for the Chemical Engineering degree course at the University of Nottingham, focusing primarily on training and safety issues of students using the equipment. The dynamic features of the virtual absorption column simulation give high level of realism in the virtual environment.