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Alan Peacock, Fulton Hogan general manager engineering and technical services, demonstrates their virtual reality training for the ‘boil out’ procedure, which is helping the company upskill its people in a protected training environment

Virtual reality revs up the world of workplace learning

From seeing life through the eyes of customers to simulating and testing out new business processes, virtual reality (VR) technology is set to step from the realms of science fiction to everyday business life.

VR’s immersive nature means it has the power to revolutionise workplace training by enabling employees to experience different workplace situations with a real-life element.

Leading New Zealand civil engineering and resource company Fulton Hogan is pioneering new ways to harness VR to enable teams to learn and practise new skills in a more realistic manner – and learn from mistakes without compromising safety. The company says its innovative approach is not only improving engagement during training, but also helping its people retain crucial knowledge.

A new tool for safety

VR technology is proving especially useful for training people in roles that include high-risk activities, such as operating forklifts at a construction site or working with dangerous chemicals. It minimises the risks of training in a ‘live’ situation while giving employees plenty of hands-on experience.
A finalist at the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards, Fulton Hogan’s virtual reality training for its ‘boil out’ procedure is helping the company upskill its people in a protected training environment. This is also the first time VR has been used in New Zealand’s construction industry.
The boil out procedure involves decontaminating bitumen sprayers and tankers if water has been present. The unintended mixing of water and bitumen is a common cause of accidents associated with the use of hot bitumen. If a serious boil over is not handled properly, bitumen can be sprayed with considerable force over a wide area, putting the company’s people in danger.

Immersive experience

Using the VR Boil Out app, which was developed together with Corvecto, Fulton Hogan’s VR training gives employees the ability to virtually perform the high-risk boil out procedure step by step, and experience the harmful consequences of any mistakes made – all while in a safe environment.
Trainees don VR goggles as well as headphones, which makes the simulation highly immersive. “You actually feel like you are standing on top of the tank, looking down from a height,” says Fulton Hogan innovation manager Chloe Smith. “Along with this, the sound effects are so realistic that you really do feel like you are physically present in the scenario.”
The VR training allows employees at all levels to practise navigating through the boil out procedure multiple times without any harm. The risk factors are outlined clearly at the start of the training so that employees can keep those in mind while undergoing the virtual exercise.
When mistakes are made, employees are virtually transported to a room where a screen outlines the errors they made and the steps they should have taken. They are then able to repeat the task, with knowledge of their previous mistakes, and improve their performance.
Variables during training can also be changed – for instance, increasing the temperature at which the bitumen boils, and letting water be present during the procedure. Employees have the chance to go through different scenarios, virtually experience the various outcomes of these situations, and prepare to deal with them if they happen in real life.
Users are tracked throughout the process, recording all the decisions that were made, and how long users spent doing each task. This data is added to their training records for future reference.

The gamification of learning

Ms Smith says Fulton Hogan’s experience with VR for the boil over training confirms what they have already learnt from their significant investment in virtual driver training – that employees relate to the gamification of the technical learning and really get into it with an enthusiasm that is sometimes not there with traditional classroom training.
In 2015, the company – which has more than 300 vehicles on the road – purchased a pair of state-of-the-art simulators capable of re-creating a range of New Zealand driving conditions, including night driving, sudden road obstructions and weather conditions, including wind, rain, fog and snow.
The simulators are now transported around the country so that the company’s 3800 New Zealand-based employees, as well as school students and community partners, can broaden their on-road skills.
Fulton Hogan is now exploring the use of VR training in other high-risk operational areas.

Capturing innovation

VR technology is just the tip of the iceberg for Fulton Hogan’s push into innovation to improve efficiency and safety. Recently, the company collaborated with enterprise app developer UiRevolution to create a new system called Blue Skies to allow employees to capture and share innovation and technology solutions across the business. It also allows customers to go on the system to put forward challenges that they would like the company to solve.
Blue Skies forms an engaging and complete database of current innovations and future challenges. It allows Fulton Hogan to connect with its innovation stakeholders, capture knowledge, and stimulate thinking about new technologies to further improve services for customers.

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