The future of work is the driver behind new state-of-the-art technology being deployed in the gas sector.

The operator of one of New Zealand’s largest gas networks is using state-of-the-art technology to train its team for high-risk procedures.

Taranaki-based First Gas, operator of more than 2,500 km of high-pressure gas transmission pipelines and 4,800kms of gas distribution networks in the North Island, turned to Waikato virtual reality (VR) specialist Company-X to design and develop a custom-built VR training programme.

The Company-X VR team developed a solution for First Gas through ideation following an agile software development process.

Key members of the Company-X team included augmented and virtual reality specialist Lance Bauerfeind, project manager Dilan Prasad, and interactive artist Wonkee Kim. The Company-X team worked closely with First Gas Information Services project manager Reuben Uncles.

The minimum viable product took 12 weeks to design and develop, with Uncles receiving weekly updates from Prasad and his team.

“It’s amazing what they could get achieved in that short time,” Uncles said.

“There was a real sense of keenness to deliver something that did what we expected and ticked all the boxes.”

Company-X used cutting-edge VR technology to replicate, in exacting detail, the high-risk procedure for emergency venting of a ruptured pipeline before maintenance could be carried out. “Virtualising the emergency venting process removed all risk to the First Gas team,” Uncles says.

Company-X built a true-to-life VR model of the Te Kowhai DP Main Line Valve (MLV) in the Waikato. The team used state-of-the-art point cloud scanning technology and as-built drawings to collect accurate location and dimension data of all pipework and components.

“The First Gas project team was delighted to work with Company-X and found their approach to the project to be well thought out, which in turn made it easy for us to know what was required from us, and what their project team was responsible for,” Uncles said.

“Throughout the project we were impressed with the communication, documentation and continuous progress updates provided by their project team. The project management was well delivered with detailed updates leaving us confident the project was always controlled and would be delivered on schedule.”

A demonstration day in Bell Block, Taranaki was popular with the First Gas team.

“The reactions of people who tried the VR headset in the FirstGas VR Training scenario conveyed a sense of amazement, as they explored the environment and interacted with the valves, control panel button and the tools,” Uncles said.

“There were no reports of dizziness, motion sickness, nausea or any other ill-feeling as can be attributed to older VR technology. The consensus was that it was a very realistic life-like world with ‘good effects’, that makes for a viable training environment.

Company-X developed many reusable artefacts in the process which FirstGas can use in future VR training scenarios.

First Gas field technicians suggested further simulations, such as scenarios for unexpected events on the gas network, training on new slam-shut valves, servicing and overhauling regulators.

Future projects and scenarios are limited only by the imagination and ideas of the people within First Gas,” Uncles says. “They provide an engaging, fun and cost-effective way of exposing our people to what would normally be a high-risk task.”

“The delivered products possessed the ‘wow’ factor we wanted to show that training for high-risk activities can now be virtualised in a fun and engaging manner, removing almost all risk to our people and assets in a cost-effective manner.”