April 2019


Digital: Cloud-based dynamic simulation models amplify operator training and safety programs

International oil and gas (O&G) and hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) companies are under great pressure to be profitable.

International oil and gas (O&G) and hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) companies are under great pressure to be profitable. At present, major businesses must develop and implement strategies that encompass growth, profitability and innovation.

The digital transformation is a major disruptor to “business as usual” practices, and it is strongly influencing organizational strategy and development. The issue before many O&G and HPI companies is how to effectively incorporate digitalization, cloud computing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) into strategic planning. More importantly, the digital transformation goes beyond data management; it also includes employee training and process safety.

Case history

Training is a core value for TOTAL, the world’s fourth-largest international O&G company. The progressive and sustainable organization places a high value on employee training and safety programs. Recognizing the opportunities and possible benefits through the digital revolution, TOTAL established a next-generation training center as part of the La Méde refinery reinvention. The program embraces advanced operator training simulator (OTS) methods using the company’s generic OTS models, supported by a cloud platform.1


TOTAL’s vision includes safety, operational excellence, return on investment (ROI) and competitiveness of all operational facilities. Safety is a strong value for the organization; hence, it must be differentiated from common priorities. With this emphasized safety value, training becomes central to the company’s business strategy and a core part of its sustainability program. Better-trained operators provide higher competency and qualification. These qualities result in:

  • Improved plant/equipment availability
  • Reduced scheduled and unscheduled maintenance events
  • Detection of equipment problems before failures
  • Lengthened service life of process equipment
  • Less waste generation and raw material consumption.

In 2005, TOTAL Refining issued a policy that OTS must be used for both initial and refresher operator training. To implement this policy, the corporate training department was challenged to further widen access of OTS across the global enterprise, while keeping it cost effective.

In early 2011, TOTAL reversed its position on contractor-based training and established OLEUM, Europe’s first training center for O&G and petrochemical industries. Based at the idled Flanders (Dunkirk, France) refinery, OLEUM offered full-scale training on industry-sized processing equipment (FIGS. 1 and 2).

FIG. 1. OLEUM is in TOTAL’S Flanders facility in Dunkirk, France.
FIG. 1. OLEUM is in TOTAL’S Flanders facility in Dunkirk, France.
FIG. 2. OLEUM offered full-scale training on industry-sized equipment by using air, nitrogen,  steam and water to safely simulate process fluids.
FIG. 2. OLEUM offered full-scale training on industry-sized equipment by using air, nitrogen, steam and water to safely simulate process fluids.

OLEUM provides tailored technical courses that address safety, process operations, maintenance, inspection and laboratory works. This education program uses classroom, onsite practice and coaching methods; it also meets Seveso requirements. Students experience authentic hands-on training. In addition, the program used a dozen of TOTAL’s generic simulators, which focused on refining units and were installed in 10 of its European facilities.

Problems with the old program

As with aging equipment, earlier-version simulation programs and models quickly become outdated with the introduction of innovative technologies or upgrades. TOTAL encountered difficulties in maintaining the older simulators at the individual sites. The older generic simulators did not match the sophistication of current operating models. This platform lacked flexibility in scheduling classes and limited the number of trainees per class. One major flaw was the lack of a central file system that was not integrated with the simulator. Document verification of completion and competency of the trainee were not possible.

Digital workforce, knowledge capture and crew change

TOTAL recognized that its training program and strategies needed upgrading, if not reinvention. The new program had to address upgrading process/equipment technologies, a retiring workforce, knowledge retention and onboarding of new operators. These issues affected the safe operation of the company’s assets.

“TOTAL is always looking for improvement of safety, operational excellence, availability of assets, ROI and competitiveness of our industrial sites,” said Stéphane Rémy, Vice President, Total Learning Solutions. “Regarding these priorities, we have a clear vision that training is one of the keys to achieve these goals.”

TOTAL decided to convert the La Méde refinery from crude oil to renewable feedstocks and to produce “green” fuel products. This global project provided in the platform was also the opportunity to create a second OLEUM training center. From the main roadmap of this new training center, a dedicated team for providing digital training solutions was created. Among these digital projects would be the design of a cloud-based OTS platform. It would increase the capability to deliver training through sustainable, efficient and effective models.

“OLEUM is foreseen as an innovative learning solution for industry,” said Rémy. “We wanted to make use of the new solutions provided by the digital revolution. As we all know, major O&G companies must innovate and adapt themselves to new conditions for sustainable growth.”

The mission for the digital team at the La Méde OLEUM center is to train everyone, everywhere faster, reducing time to market for training projects with new technologies. Using TOTAL’s specific OTS models layered on a cloud-based platform using Microsoft Azure, the company is empowered to provide consistent training at all company sites. The new OLEUM is designed as a high-tech, high-touch environment.

Planning the future

To create a state-of-the-art training program, TOTAL partnered with leading engineering and technology companies to map out the cloud-based OTS platform.1,2 TOTAL, as with all major O&G and HPI companies, needed to control costs for the new system. However, more importantly, the new program had to produce highly-trained operators who could ensure the safe operation and performance of all facilities. This program would be an inclusive solution and meet the needs of a diverse workforce. Likewise, the program would address knowledge retention and capture of best practices from more experienced staff.

Long-term application

In planning the new OTS system, longevity and sustainability of the software and hardware were paramount, as was open access to trainees. Working with their partners, TOTAL’s OTS is cloud-based.2,3 Moving the OTS to the cloud enables the company to train operators at OLEUM La Méde, as well as at remote facilities.

The next-generation OTS includes dynamic, high-fidelity simulation modeling. With dynamic simulation models, a digital twin of the plant—with complete control systems—mirrors actual site operations.4 Real-time information, with accurate control graphics, enable trainees to run exercises and different scenarios in a safe environment. The trainees practice responses to varying plant conditions and witness the consequences from their actions without impacting the actual facility (FIG. 3).

FIG. 3. The new OTS enables training more operators per session with remote access.
FIG. 3. The new OTS enables training more operators per session with remote access.

Safety is the primary point in training. As training is an ongoing process, the new OTS would provide support and sustain a deeper understanding of the various conditions that operators experience in the actual facility. The training sessions closely duplicate the actual work conditions of field and control board operators (FIG. 4). The augmented reality (AR) option enables the trainees to experience a virtual environment of an area or a specific piece of equipment (FIG. 5). With intense simulation experiences, new operators gain confidence in their actions by practicing them under virtual conditions without consequences. In the field, newly trained operators will respond rather than react to plant and equipment emergencies.

FIG. 4. Operators train on the same graphics that are used in the facility.
FIG. 4. Operators train on the same graphics that are used in the facility.
FIG. 5. The optional virtual environment showing the inner section of a column.
FIG. 5. The optional virtual environment showing the inner section of a column.

Sustainable solution

Changes in innovation, software and technology are happening at a rapidly increasing pace. In developing the cloud-based OTS program, TOTAL planned for the longer term. Working with their partners, the company specified that the new system must be:

  • Modern: Provide 10 yr of guaranteed durability
  • Scalable: Open to progressive additions of models, users and geographical locations
  • Flexible: Training modules include self-train, remote and classic methods
  • Economic: Program would balance the cost vs. results and control capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operations expenditures (OPEX).

Success story

TOTAL’s OLEUM is a success. The new OTS program can more efficiently train operators in less time. Using a cloud-based OTS, travel and logistics spending are deeply reduced through remote training. More importantly, OTS training capabilities are expanded regionally to other sites.

“Placing OTS in the cloud is giving training access to everyone in the world,” said Eric Scappazzoni, Engineer Operation Methods, TOTAL Refining and Petrochemicals. “I strongly believe that using OTS is improving our operational excellence.”

Other metrics

By using the cloud, OLEUM has increased the number of trainees using the simulator per session. A series of batches of trainees can be efficiently handled at the same time. More importantly, it will standardize training goals and methods across all operational sites for refining and petrochemicals units.

Moving to a cloud-based OTS system achieved additional project objectives, including:

  • Economics. The cost to maintain individual simulators is greatly reduced to nearly zero. Cloud-based solutions eliminate hardware footprint, thus lowering CAPEX and OPEX.
  • Highly scalable. The power of the cloud enables a vast number of concurrent user sessions to be launched on demand in a matter of minutes
  • Accessibility. Access to the simulation solution can be done from a modern web browser.

What is ahead?

Instructors and engineers at La Méde are most optimistic in the progress and milestones already achieved with the new project. Harnessing the power of the cloud and digitalization, they are planning to further integrate more complex dynamic simulator models (digital twin) into the OTS program. Additionally, they plan to combine teaching expertise with life-size technical platforms.

Sustainable training and safety goals

It has been proven that better operator training and process modeling are viable longterm strategies and provide many benefits. OTS systems are excellence tools. Using dynamic, high-fidelity simulation models can heighten training and knowledge retention for new and experienced operators—anywhere, and at any time. TOTAL’s new OLEUM project demonstrates the possibilities in combining the cloud and high-fidelity dynamic OTS systems in operator training programs. HP


  1. Total worked with AVEVA and Microsoft to construct the OTS cloud-based program for the new OLEUM center in La Mède.
  2. The new cloud-based system uses AVEVA’s OTS DYNSIM-Dynamic simulation and InTouch-HMI on AVEVA’s cloud platform utilizing Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure.
  3. Azure is a Microsoft product.
  4. DYNSIM enables creating a digital twin of the process, and InTouch HMI builds the same control graphics for the control room and simulation models.


Scappazzoni, E. and M. Lukman, “Ground Breaking Simulator Training Solution at TOTAL,” October 2018.

Behie, S. W., et al., “Closing the skills gap,” Chemical Engineering Progress, June 2018.

Haymen, C., “Transformative disruption: The brave new world of Industrial IoT,” October 2018.

Illanes, P., et al., “Retraining and reskilling workers in the age of automation,” McKinsey and Co., January 2018.

McKinsey Digital, “Industry 4:0: How to navigate digitalization of the manufacturing sector,” 2015.

Provost, G., “Training today’s workforce,” Chemical Engineering, July 2017.

Rys, R., “Achieving success in operator training,” ARC Forum, November 17, 2017.

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