ExxonMobil’s virtual reality training takes off

INDUSTRIAL TECH: Cody Louviere, founder of tech company King Crow Studios in Baton Rouge, demonstrates the virtual reality technology his company helped develop with ExxonMobil to enhance the industrial giant’s training operations. (Photography by Don Kadair)

It has been under development for some time, so chalk up ExxonMobil’s virtual reality training initiative to serendipity. The effort is coming to full maturity in the middle of a pandemic, when remote learning is both necessary and encouraged.

As many as 18 VR-based modules in various stages of development will soon enable ExxonMobil to train workers remotely for its new $500 million polypropylene plant in Baton Rouge. The modules will immerse operators in a computer-generated environment to perform critical tasks, and will simulate a physical presence in a nonphysical world to guide them through various scenarios.

Kenneth Miller, a retired ExxonMobil engineering manager, was asked to help navigate the VR initiative some two years ago. “Of course, we had no idea how important this would become,” Miller says. “During the pandemic, this ability has provided an added value that we didn’t anticipate.”

Creating the modules has been a meticulous endeavor, whereby developers collaborate closely with ExxonMobil subject matter experts to develop each component and create a realistic space that precisely mimics reality. Some 50 to 60 plant personnel have been involved throughout the process.

Keitt Wannamaker, PP manufacturing manager at ExxonMobil, says he initially resisted VR but has since learned that workers engaged in an immersive learning environment benefit from a higher rate of retention.

It can also help attract a younger generation of workers. The plant has hired some 60 new operators, Wannamaker says, “and they’re very excited and comfortable with the idea of using the technology.”

VR has even enabled ExxonMobil to tweak procedures and perform tasks more efficiently, the company says. Read the full feature about the new training format from the latest edition of Greater Baton Rouge Business Report.