Virtual reality brings employee training to a new level: it eliminates the need for employees to be physically present at the place of training.
By Julia Gukkina, International Business Development Director at iVariant
Instead, they can undergo training with the help of a specially designed VR programme. This is particularly useful for professions that include operating heavy machinery. However, other companies can also benefit from VR, as such programmes generally allow to save costs and time on employee training. Using VR helps prevent possible accidents in the workplace while preparing employees for real-life situations.
Companies from all the different sectors are starting to realize the need for implementing VR training. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken has created a VR programme that teaches employees how to make their signature fried chicken. Similarly, UPS delivery service will use a VR training programme to test their intern drivers. Boeing and Walmart are also on the list of companies that have upgraded their employee training with VR technologies.
We at iVariant have enjoyed an opportunity to develop an employee training course for Gazprom Neft – the third largest oil and gas company in Russia. This project has proven to be a great experience for our team, and we would like to share our story with other VR developers as we reflect on the valuable insights of developing an employee training programme in VR. We believe that our experience can and will be useful to others.
This case study will focus on the development of a customizable employee training programme using VR technologies. The project was done by iVariant for Gazprom Neft – an oil and gas company in Russia.
In 2018, we at iVariant started a collaboration with Gazprom Neft to create a pilot of customizable VR-training. With that training, we also tested the Varwin platform which is similar in use to WordPress, but for VR projects. Unlike in traditional VR development tools, with Varwin we could reuse objects with predefined logic of interaction which saved us a lot of time.
Oil production is a challenging process – that is why safety and efficiency in managing the equipment are extremely important. However, the process of training new employees is rather outdated. This is where VR-training comes in, shining with its main benefit: safe learning. Practice makes perfect, but what’s part on parcel of practice is mistakes, and in virtual reality – as opposed to real life – making mistakes doesn’t lead to consequences.
Gazprom Neft shared with us their ideas and requirements for the project. They have already had experience with VR before – Gazprom Neft had created virtual tours for engineers to see remote facilities under construction. Besides that, pilot courses had already been developed for other purposes like training of oil and gas machinery operators and personnel working with load-lifting mechanisms.
Before implementing VR, employee training programs used to depend on logistics, since heavy machinery is not easy or fast to transport. Therefore, setting up a course was slow and expensive. Our task was to create a VR program that would allow new employees to get customisable and efficient training on how to operate heavy machinery as well as prepare them for possible emergencies.
Over the course of development there have been activity bursts with intermediate results evaluation. We had to implement new models, change the logic of object interaction, etc.
Our team consisted of 8 people: project manager, programmers (who write algorithms and place objects inside the locations) and 3D-modelers. The client was also actively involved in the project: they had a project director and administrator, business representative (functional client who translated requirements) and an oil production technician (for technology consulting).
We employ the Agile approach, that is why we showed the client intermediate results so that they could immediately make adjustments. Since we were working on our own platform, it was relatively easy: we could immediately show the location and then go through a part of training together with the company experts. The platform facilitates communication between developers and clients.
The following are the six stages of VR training course development:
- We determine the purpose of our VR course and what it needs to teach the user. Together with the client we choose a location and then discuss possible scenarios and the specifics of the job that we want to transfer into VR.
- References from the client: we gather photos and videos in order to start modeling the location and objects. For Gazprom Neft, it was important to make the virtual location as technically correct as possible.
- Decomposition of regulations and draft scenarios. We make the final version of scenarios for development, determine the necessary logic of interaction with objects, the degree of their interactivity and what logical blocks they should have in our scenario editor.
- Development of 3D-models and locations.
- Implementing object logic and loading objects into the platform. At this stage, we develop object logic and place them on location.
- Development of scenario logic in the platform editor. We determine the order of actions that an employee has to perform in VR. After that, we test and correct it.
It is important to mention that we do not create a new training course from scratch: some elements already exist on the Varwin platform. Using this platform allows us to utilize any object or scenario previously created. This process would have been longer without the main Varwin feature that saved us a lot of time: the drag and drop interface that allows clients to make small edits and adjustments without the need of getting back to developers. Each time they need to change the colour of a button or the number of valves, they can do it themselves in minutes.
The main thing when working on a VR project is the algorithm that determines what the user should do in the virtual reality. Such an algorithm is similar to a film scenario: for example, in one scene an employee must take an adjustable wrench, in another one – report on his work progress using a radio set.
We offered a pilot training course as an optimal solution. An employee had to complete a technological operation with multiple tasks and earn the required number of points. In order to receive points, an employee had to do a specific task, for example, relieve oil well pressure or even sign a safety log. VR training takes place within a special location of 25 square meters. That is the average size of the part of the equipment that needs to be repaired in case of a breakdown. An employee works in a VR headset.
After the training is completed, the system automatically gives a certain number of points to the user. In addition to the automatic evaluation system, the supervisor can also follow the process. He observes the process on his 2D screen and sees the employee’s individual problems. Since the Varwin platform allows to change algorithms, the supervisor can modify the program according to the specific employee needs. For example, if an employee is struggling with one particular task, it is possible to keep drilling it over and over again without restarting the program.
It was a great experience for us at iVariant to work with Gazprom Neft and test the development of a VR training course with real experts. It is important for startups like ours to collaborate with large industrial companies and learn from each other’s experience. In the future, Varwin will help develop many more VR training programmes in different areas: industrial safety, oil production, etc.
Here is how Anton Beskhodarniy, technology strategy programme manager of Gazprom Neft sums up why VR is important for their company:
“Virtual reality is one of the top priority digital technologies for us. By using VR we can significantly increase the efficiency of training processes. It is important to be able to scale the VR learning system at different production sites of the company. In order to succeed in that, the company undertakes pilot projects in developing VR training programs as well as projects in creating corporate tools for VR content management”
Undoubtedly, employee training in VR has great potential for future development. More and more companies use specially designed VR programmes to train their new employees. For some professions (like in our case with Gazprom Neft) employee training in VR is a necessity, as it helps avoid the dangers in the workplace while giving new employees all the required knowledge to take on their jobs.
Overall, VR technologies allow making the training process more pleasant and effective for both employers and employees. We at iVariant hope that our case has helped you get a more in-depth understanding of the VR training course development process. It is important for us to share our projects in order to show opportunities to other VR developers as well as help them avoid possible mistakes.