Photo by Keith Larson
“We believe there are endless possibilities.” Cheniere’s Lance Brown explained the wide variety of ways that Honeywell’s Immersive Field Simulator can help improve operator effectiveness.

LNG provider boosts operator competence with Immersive Field Simulator

June 18, 2024
Cheniere’s Lance Brown explained the wide variety of ways that Honeywell’s Immersive Field Simulator can help improve operator effectiveness

Headquartered in Houston, Cheniere is a liquefied natural gas (LNG) provider with total production capacity of more than 55 million tons per annum. Its production facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, accounts for around 25 million tons, while the remainder is at the Sabine Pass facility, nestled between Texas and Louisiana.

With six offices globally and numerous pipelines, Cheniere employs more than 1,600 people, but the terminals in Texas are the focus of attention, with more than $40 million currently being invested at the two facilities.

Sabine Pass, which became an LNG facility in 2015, operates six LNG trains, and plans for more are already in the works. “Our first train in Corpus Christi became operational at the beginning of 2019,” said Lance Brown, training manager at Cheniere, who shared details of his company’s training transformation at the Honeywell Users Group meeting in Madrid. “By 2022, three trains were operational at Corpus Christi. Within seven years, we had nine LNG trains.”

It was that same year, in 2019, when Cheniere initiated a capital project with Honeywell to develop and deliver training on the Immersive Field Simulator, a virtual platform for exploring a plant and interacting with components. A full plant was developed in a virtual environment with 26 pre-built scenarios for operations, health and safety (H&S) and emergency-response.

Bringing the tool online took longer than originally expected, due to delays caused by the COVID pandemic. “Training started in 2022,” declared Brown, who noted that onboarding time for new operators at the facilities has already dropped from five weeks to two weeks at both facilities.

“As the training manager, our objective is to develop local resources for field operators, provide a comprehensive training setup for field operators and panel operators to train together, and to reduce onboarding training and on-job training,” said Brown.

Prior to the Immersive Field Simulator, Honeywell didn’t have a field solution. “We had a panel simulator,” noted Brown. “Now we can use the Immersive Field Simulator and Operator Training Simulator (OTS) at both plants in virtual environments with five dynamic animations for visual learners.”

A field operator might need to put on personal protective equipment (PPE), for example, so the user can select it virtually. “We have customizable avatars to meet diversity, equity and inclusion, and the OTS and IFS are integrated with each other,” said Brown.

The Immersive Field Simulator has three operational modes: exploratory, step by step, and task practice and assessment.

“In exploratory mode, you can put someone in the IFS, and they can explore the plant,” explained Brown. “They can’t interact, but they can become acclimated. We use that on the first day of onboarding. By the end of that first week, we have them start to identify equipment by name and type.” The user is placed in the environment in exploratory mode and then moves through it at their own pace, activating items and learning nuggets of interest.

Narrated exploratory mode

In the step-by-step, or guided, mode, there will be a narrator talking to the operator. “It will show the operator a path to help them learn the plant at a much more granular level,” explained Brown. “There are stop signs and caution signs, and the narrator might explain the considerations the trainee should be thinking of.” The user is led through learning exercises with varied scopes of actions to ensure learning is covered for essential or regulated courses.

Once they’ve completed the guided assessment mode, they move into the assessment mode. The user is given increasingly complex tasks to do with a relatively high degree of latitude. “There’s software running 100% of the time in the assessment mode,” said Brown. “They have to achieve 90% on the assessment.”

Cheniere is already using the virtual platform for a variety of cases. “We use the IFS for apprenticeship onboarding,” said Brown. “We partner with the local community colleges. We take students with associate degrees in process technology and bring them onboard for a year.”

The primary use is for operator and field training, similar to the apprentice training. “We also use the IFS if there is an operation scheduled that we haven’t done in some period of time,” noted Brown. “We have those operators revisit the IFS before executing.”

Qualification requirements

Because Cheniere has regulatory requirements to qualify every two years, it has embedded the IFS into qualification and requalification. “We use those scenarios as a means of qualification,” explained Brown. “We take the traditional subjectivity out and make it objective.  In the virtual world, we can put them through anything that we want.”

The simulator is also being used for facility tours. “Any person who comes to the facility can be put into the IFS, and we can take them on a tour,” added Brown. “We believe there are endless possibilities.”

Some potential future applications include deploying incident command training; operations, H&S and emergency-response scenarios; and turnaround planning. “Instead of tabletop drills, we can put them in the virtual environment,” said Brown. “It will strengthen our overall incident command capabilities. As we’ve adopted these emergency-response scenarios, we’re going to be reaching out to Honeywell to expand that capability. In the virtual world, you’ll see fire extinguishers, but they’re not interactive now. We want to make those interactive. Our maintenance planners use a 3D CAD model. In the virtual world, you can see things like where a crane would fit or wouldn’t. Maybe we can use a virtual tool to measure distances in the simulated world.”

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