Coming Soon: Virtual Reality Will Save Time and Money in Oilfield Operations

Veerum is coupling its digital-twin technology with virtual reality to make oilfield operations safer, cheaper, and easier to manage.

You’re walking through a fracking operation in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The landscape is barren and dusty, and you’re surrounded by rows of frac trees with green valve wheels sticking out the side. You spin slowly around in a circle, scanning the horizon. In the distance, you spot a battered truck: the standard form of transport in this rugged part of the world.

But you didn’t need four wheels to visit this small northern town, and you didn’t have to chop a day or two out of your schedule to find time for the trip. Instead, you travelled here wirelessly, strapped into a virtual reality headset.

At Veerum’s virtual reality lab in GE’s Customer Innovation Centre in Calgary, you can visit a fracking operation in the time it takes to slip on a pair of VR goggles. Handheld controllers allow you to zoom in on the things you want to see up close—the reading on the pressure gauge, for example, or the condition of the surface casing.

Veerum is a Zone Startups Calgary company that uses sensor fusion and Industrial Internet of Things technology to build “digital twins” of real-world assets. These 3D models are paired with industrial project plans to make sure the design and the reality are a perfect match.

For example, Veerum was able to cut installation time in half on a frac site in northern Alberta. For this type of operation, heavy-walled, large-diameter piping is prebuilt elsewhere and installed on-site, prior to rigging in the frac equipment. But often the piping arrives with fit issues that require corrections, leading to cost overruns and delays. Veerum helped their customer design the piping using highly accurate data from the site, so when the piping arrived, it was an exact fit: no cutting-and-welding to make it work, and no unexpected expenses.

Now Veerum co-founders Amit Varma and Steve Fisher are taking their digital twins to the next level. The company is testing the new virtual reality technology with clients and collecting feedback as they finesse it to fit into their business. They aim to move from development to integration within six months.

Riffing on the idea of how people around the world can play video games together on global gaming networks, the plan is to bring project sites right into the offices of operators, wherever they happen to be located on the planet. Stakeholders separated by long distances will be able to put on their headsets and take a stroll through far-off field operations.

“It removes a lot of the need for site visits, though they will certainly still happen,” Fisher says. “But if a person is in Turkey, and you want their input on something happening in Grande Prairie, they can see it in seconds, rather than take a week to travel there.”

Virtual reality is still new to the industrial marketplace, but Veerum believes its impact on frac operations will save money on travel, thus reducing environmental impact and increasing safety. VR site-visits also offer the benefit of increasing project awareness for everyone on the team. When a project manager or engineer can tour a facility in VR, they become more informed and consequently make better decisions.

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