Virtual Reality, a training ground for safety

Virtual Reality, a training ground for safety

Virtual reality for safety, Enel and the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies develop a 3D simulator for plant operator training


From playing to training. From theory to tangible experience. A tool that will improve the training of technicians who daily perform operations and maintenance within sophisticated facilities, such as Enel’s power plants.

This is the result of an innovative project we have developed jointly with the TeCIP (Information Technology, Communication, Perception) Institute of the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa, an Italian academic centre of excellence, and VR MEdia, spin-off of the university.


Experiencing the risk in order to avoid it

The application of virtual reality technologies to raise the bar of safety is an example of how digitisation can also be part of a central function like Safety. The 3D simulator provides a totally immersive experience: when they are wearing a visor and headphones and using a joystick, people really feel like they are moving in an environment reproducing that of a plant, touching objects and operational tools, perceiving sounds and noises. The staff immersed in the virtual space is required to apply procedures and carry out a number of operations, choosing the proper equipment and tools, and actually living the experience of performing a maintenance operation, including the possible consequences of a mistake: like getting an electric shock by operating near a low-voltage distributor.

“Training scenarios within a virtual environment provide an experience with a strong emotional impact, also because they enable to simulate what could happen in emergency and complex conditions. We recognise the project’s value based on the memory of this realistic experience”

Cristiana La Marca, Head of Enel’s Global Innovation Thermal Generation


Safety and Open Innovation

Various applications of the 3D simulator are developed based on the case studies of the most common errors that occur in plant maintenance. This will allow the training in a safe environment of both the particularly experienced technicians who perform routine operations and of those who carry out complex operations for the first time, such as those carried out in confined environments or on delicate components, for example valves or boilers.

The technology we developed with Sant'Anna and VR Media researchers is based on an open platform. Therefore, other operators can also use the case studies and the scenarios for development and, thanks to the tool’s flexibility, it will be possible to develop new environments, scenarios and functionality, making training processes more stimulating and effective. The system can also be extended to other business sectors within Enel. A tangible example of what Open Innovation means for our Group.

"The collaboration between the Sant'Anna School and Enel”, explained TeCIP Institute researcher Franco Tecchia, "has allowed us to effectively combine the knowledge produced by years of research on scientific and technological aspects of Virtual Reality with Enel’s hugely broad experience".

“A virtuous relationship, with a continuous exchange of information, data and suggestions. A combination of expertise and tangible results that have extremely far-reaching implications”

Franco Tecchia, TeCIP Institute researcher, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies


Bottom-up visions

The idea of ​​using virtual reality for training and increasing safety within our company originated from an intuition of a young member of the Health and Safety Holding function. The idea was shared on ​​an internal innovation online channel, and a cross-team was then created combining expertise from different Enel units and functions (Global Thermal Generation Innovation and Health and Safety, Global ICT, Health and Safety Holding), and researchers of the Sant'Anna of Pisa.

Operating technicians from two Italian thermoelectric plants (Montalto di Castro and La Spezia) also contributed to this breakthrough, by enabling the development of virtual scenarios consistent with the working reality.