How Virtualized Graphics Are Improving Life on North Sea Oil Rigs

by Jens Neuschäfer

The stakes are high on oil rigs planted in the middle of the North Sea. Set aside the bitter weather and stormy seas. A rig costs approximately $300,000 a day to run. Multiple companies might share time and operations on it. Day and night shifts strive to keep it running 24 hours a day.

NVIDIA GRID virtualization technology is making this difficult work a lot easier.

Many variables factor into an offshore oil operation: managing equipment, delegating roles, hazardous situations, communication between crews. To handle it all, collaboration and practicing the complex craft of running a rig are essential.

Using NVIDIA GRID technology, Norway-based Abelware develops visual simulations to optimize health, safety and operational costs for the oil and gas industry. The resulting collaboration tools can save time and millions of dollars for energy companies.

Time is Money

Consider the complexity of the average oil rig operation. There are onshore rig and field owner offices analyzing best practices and assessing risk. The onshore team works with the rig’s day crew as well as state authorities who review operation plans. There are specialists who provide advice. And the night crew and day crew must review the operation’s status with each other for every shift change.

A misstep in communication among any of these teams can have severe repercussions for worker safety, financial cost and environmental impact. With daily oil rig operation costs so high, shaving off even a few days from a project can create significant savings for drillers.

Collaboration to Make Oil and Gas Work

Abelware put together an advanced visual simulation of an oil rig using the Unreal Engine game engine, which creates realistic digital worlds. Using NVIDIA GRID, this 3D simulation can be streamed to any device — PC, tablet or phone — with a network connection. GRID technology allows real-time collaboration among personnel — both onshore and off.

Abelware simulation of crane operation on oil rig
Safety first: Abelware simulation showing extent of a crane’s reach.

With Abelware’s offering, planning the day’s tasks and reviewing a job’s progress shifts to the virtual network. The interface is like that of a high-end multiplayer video game. Realistic graphics from the game engine recreates the rig, with GRID technology updating the simulation in real time. This way multiple users can simultaneously work on a task or plan strategies.

Rig workers can tackle jobs, try out new equipment and practice dealing with crises and tricky situations by working together in the virtual environment before experiencing it all in the real world. This helps oil companies trim hours and days off of their operations, with the savings adding up quickly. Preliminary findings suggest that during a 100 days’ campaign, 3-4 days can be saved. With day rates of about $300,000 just to hire the rig, the cost reduction can be in the millions.

Abelware’s GRID-powered solution has already been adopted by many players in the region’s oil and gas industry. About the only thing it can’t help with is the notorious North Sea weather.