Baton Rouge companies using virtual reality to train workforce

    Imagine the immense responsibility on the shoulders of an 800-ton crane operator, installing two large, 150-foot-tall reactors along with a smaller one—weighing a combined 1.1 million pounds—as part of the expansion project underway at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge polyolefins plant.

    The crane operator must carefully calculate the physics of the lift, adrenaline in overdrive, knowing logistics for the arrival of the reactors have been underway for weeks.

    Suddenly the operator discovers the rigging is misaligned. The load will invert shortly after the lift begins, requiring adjustments before it’s too late. He reaches to wipe the sweat from his brow only to remember this is just a practice test—a virtual reality simulation, in fact, designed to prepare operators for a lift before stepping foot on the crane.

    The virtual reality modules are part of a new training initiative launched by ExxonMobil, in partnership with Louisiana Economic Development and local IT firms, ahead of its expansion. The craning and rigging module was one of the first developed, along with others that will train ExxonMobil employees in critical processes and safety standards. 

    “We’re hiring a lot of people, so it’s imperative we increase competency quickly—one way is through virtual reality,” says Keitt Wannamaker, project lead for the ExxonMobil polypropylene plant. “It’s time consuming and difficult to train out in the field. With virtual reality, it takes 20 minutes. If we train in the field, it can take all day.”

    Not only does it save time, virtual reality offers a better training experience, company officials say, as employees are able to immerse themselves in a situation, test their reactions and become familiar with the operations of the new plant before it’s even completed.

    The initiative also marks the beginning of a promising partnership opportunity between the area’s robust industrial sector and its fledgling tech industry. ExxonMobil is working with three south Louisiana IT firms—including Baton Rouge-based King Crow Studios and Pixel Dash and Thibodaux-based 3D Media—to develop the virtual reality training modules. The partnership is expected to expand the demand for tech work in the Capital Region. Read the full story from Business Report.  

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