As the demand for natural gas grows, so does the technology used by the industry to create more efficient workflows, advanced processes, and a safer work environment. In this post, we’ll lay out a basic overview of how virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are currently being adopted by natural gas companies and how both technologies could play a bigger role in the years to come.

The Difference between VR and AR

Before we can understand potential use cases for virtual and augmented reality, it’s important to distinguish between the two similar, but different, technologies.

Virtual reality involves the creation of a fully digital environment that can be experienced and interacted with through the use of a headset. With VR, we can build scenarios that may not be possible in the real world.

For example, a training module could be designed to allow workers to inspect a pipeline for damage or explore a drilling site from a remote location. These 3D simulations expedite training by exposing trainees to a multitude of scenarios without needing to leave the training center. Remote training with realistic simulations saves money while putting trainees through real-world tests in a 100% safe environment.

Similarly, VR makes it easy to model, redesign, and perfect workflows within a plant.

Augmented reality enhances a worker’s view of the real world by adding digital elements such as objects, data or graphics as an overlay. AR displays can be used to play videos or provide detailed instructions to workers in the field without distracting attention from their real-world surroundings. For example, remote staff can train on-site workers on new equipment or run through new safety protocols.

VR and AR Drive Efficiency

Leveraging technology to improve efficiency and output from personnel is a solid strategy for helping to make up for the lack of highly qualified applicants in many sectors of the natural gas industry.

Along with making each individual worker more efficient, VR and AR can be coupled with drones or other robotic instruments to allow team members to operate at multiple sites without needing to travel between locations. This helps to lower costs and boost productivity while also improving work/life balance for workers who no longer need to spend time away from their families.

Use Cases

In addition to enhanced training capabilities, use cases for virtual reality and augmented reality in the natural gas industry include:

  • Guided tours of plants or work sites as a tool for recruitment
  • Remote surveying, inspection, verification and certification
  • Virtual modeling for natural gas equipment manufacturers
  • Improved anticipation of potential safety risks and other hazards
  • Enhanced troubleshooting
  • Modeling and design of emergency protocols
  • Visualization of subsea and subsurface topography
  • Support product development and sales

Challenges and Risks

Implementing new technology on industrial work sites can present a number of challenges. Testing equipment to cover safety standards can be a long, drawn-out process, and there are a number of legal and regulatory concerns to be accounted for. Plus, onboarding existing non-tech staff to use VR headsets effectively could require an extended learning curve.

For on-site work, the lack of available bandwidth for running data-heavy VR applications could be problematic in many locations, although the rise of satellite internet and 5G growth will drastically reduce connectivity issues in the near future.

Pathway to a Safer Future

The adoption of VR and AR by the natural gas industry is still in its early days but all signs point towards both technologies playing a major role in the future of safe and effective industrial training. Remote site access will further reduce accidents while cutting costs and allowing highly qualified staff to share skills across multiple locations from an offsite office.