Immersive technologies encourage nuclear knowledge sharing

Didier Duffuler

Didier Duffuler

AR/VR Business Manager at Assystem

After obtaining a boiler-making and pipework diploma, Didier set up his first company in 1987 in the field of pipework methods. The nuclear industry quickly became one of the company’s main sectors of activity. In 1992, the company won its first export contracts for the construction of the DAYA BAY nuclear power station, followed by LING AO and TAISHAN. Here, he managed a methods and development team, using innovative tools to meet the challenges of the industrial world.

In 2010, together with Pascal POMMIER and Nathalie MICHEL, he set up OREKA Ingénierie, a technical design office specialising in 3D digital tools. Oreka joined the Assystem group in January 2023.

Face to the nuclear industry development ambitions over the coming years, and following the French President's statements in Belfort in early 2022 aimed at building the civil nuclear revival plan, the success of France's new nuclear programme relies on the ability to mobilise the right resources, at the right time, in the right place. To achieve this, the industry's ability to recruit, train, and share its decades of knowledge with a new generation of nuclear experts will be crucial. The MATCH* programme, led by GIFEN, is part of the efforts to revive the nuclear industry in France. Its aim is to provide the industry with a structured, collaborative tool that ensures the needs and capacities match operators' workload plans.

"Attraction, employment, and training are major issues for the nuclear industry," emphasises Didier Duffuler, Business Manager.

The MATCH* programme, led by GIFEN, is part of the efforts to revive the nuclear industry in France. Its aim is to provide the industry with a structured, collaborative tool that ensures the needs and capacities match operators' workload plans.

Assystem, a GIFEN member with a keen interest in the industry's challenges and needs, is heavily involved in developing the skills of the next generation of technicians and engineers by leading initiatives to attract and train new nuclear talent.

In line with the industry's ambitions, we are pursuing a wide-ranging training policy to develop and retain talent in a sector that is under considerable pressure. This strategy is underpinned by the maturity of digital technologies, which are profoundly transforming training methods and the transmission of skills, particularly with immersive 3D tools.

* MATCH programme report

The nuclear industry is expected to need around 60,000 new recruits over the next 10 years; with one half required to meet the growth in activity and the other to replace those leaving the sector for retirement or through transfer into other sectors. Today, the nuclear industry includes around 220,000 specialists. Not counting associated roles, the industry expects to need around 100,000 full-time equivalent recruitments in the foreseeable future.

A sector of excellence facing major recruitment challenges

While demand for expertise in the energy sector continues to rise, the supply of qualified talent is not keeping pace. The reasons for this include:

  • The retirement of many experienced professionals who provide years of experience and
  • A limited range of training courses to meet the sector's needs.

At the same time, new generations with different learning styles are looking for ever more stimulating working environments.

That's why our governments and policymakers need to focus their efforts on training more engineering, science, and technology graduates to meet the challenges of the energy transition, industrial sovereignty, and infrastructure adaptation.

New technologies are particularly promising in addressing these challenges.

"Convinced that the maturity of immersive solutions is an essential lever for radically transforming training and knowledge transmission methods, Assystem has been focusing on the development of applications incorporating virtual and augmented reality technologies for several years.”

Training, a safety issue

Continuous development of talent is not just about meeting the industry's growing need for resources. It is also a crucial safety issue. In working environments as complex as those in the energy sector, an inadequately trained workforce is a major factor in the proliferation of serious accidents. Knowledge sharing, particularly regarding safety practice, is vital. As training in real conditions can also present significant risks, immersive technologies appear to be a particularly advantageous way of training new recruits in the most technical procedures without putting them unnecessarily at risk.

"In the nuclear sector, it's important to be able to react quickly when a fault is detected in high-risk areas. However, it is impossible to access these areas for training purposes. A tool has been developed to train operators in the safety procedures to follow in the event of an electrical fault in the storage pools.”

From the most routine maintenance operations to exceptional production tasks, a wide range of skills can be passed on easily thanks to the wide availability of augmented and virtual reality tools. For companies in the energy sector, this technology is a strategic asset in terms of training, skills acquisition, and safety.

Two immersive, high-performance technologies for training and knowledge transfer

"When recruiting becomes too big a challenge, training is a necessity"

Assystem has developed virtual and augmented reality applications that allow users to emancipate themselves from reality, completely or partially, and through immersion, improve memorisation, concentration, and learning. Prototyping, in-company training, realistic simulations, and remote assistance: these innovations provide a range of benefits to meet the training needs of the nuclear industry.

"The positive impact of the new digital tools, which use virtual reality and augmented reality technologies and use digital twins and simulators, is rapidly being adopted by users. Today, immersive 3D applications are used in all areas of our business. This has enabled us to deploy solutions offering a wide range of uses.”

Virtual reality revolutionises educational content

Virtual Reality (VR) provides an immersive experience for users, increasing engagement. The interactivity of VR enables realistic simulations and practical exercises that have a positive impact in the real world. Studies have shown that users benefit from an attention rate of 100% and a memorisation rate of 90%, surpassing other formats. This makes VR valuable tool for training industrial specialists, particularly for teaching technical skills.

Drawing on its dual expertise in engineering and digital technology, Assystem's teams have developed virtual reality applications for a variety of uses:

  • Simulating working conditions as close as possible to reality: using digital twins of 3 nuclear environments, the teams have developed the tool for simulation and intervention under ionising radiation (O.S.I.R.I.S.) in partnership with INSTN-CEA. This ‘serious game’ enables radiation protection advisers to practice in virtual nuclear environments. Here, learners can confront radiological risks in complete safety, taking measurements using radiometers or assessing the compliance of installations or protective devices according to scenarios developed by the trainer.
  • Practicing procedures and gestures: for one of our customers, Assystem developed an immersive training tool (AFFALAGE) to train staff in intervention reliability practices, particularly with regard to the loss of electrical power during the handling of fuel in a pool following the new post-Fukushima regulations.
  • Creating an infinite number of risk-free situations, including emergencies: a risk-hunting solution has been developed for an energy company to enable operators in the field to immerse themselves in the heart of a controlled zone. The aim is to identify the risks present in the environment that could endanger the operator during his work. Operators wearing virtual reality headsets will be able to visualise their environment and learn how to control it before carrying out any work.

Augmented Reality: a new approach to training in-field operations

By superimposing enriched digital content (visuals and sound) onto an existing environment, Augmented Reality (AR) offers a clear and educational vision of the physical world. Integrating AR into a training strategy has several benefits: speeding up the training process by providing relevant content, making information more memorable, teaching safety more effectively and reducing costs for companies.

"This technology offers a new approach. It enables operators undergoing training to practice their skills in the field by viewing 3D animation using an augmented reality headset. This equipment is compatible with industrial operations".

Aware of these challenges, Assystem has developed bespoke applications based on a serious game to provide fun training in complex, high-risk environments.

Our teams are also responsible for creating Holoreka, an augmented reality assistance solution for inspection and maintenance. Dedicated to inspection and maintenance operations, Holoreka enables operators to present, visualise, and inspect equipment or an industrial facility in real time.

Simple augmented reality tools can also be developed for tablets to visualise and quickly gain an understanding of the elements that make up the working environment. For example, Assystem has developed an application to identify all the components on an electronic board simply by the image of the cirtuitboard onto a tablet. The aim here is to acquire the necessary knowledge of the complex technologies that are essential to the continuity of on-site activities to guarantee maintenance operations of this equipment.

"AR has become a favoured technology in innovative educational programmes, because it can provide all the information needed to carry out complex tasks in real time in a variety of environments. It is particularly useful in energy sector industries for practicing advanced technical skills."

3D immersive technologies offer considerable advantages for training and knowledge transmission in the nuclear sector, while maintaining the essential link with trainers and real environments. By providing a realistic and interactive learning experience, they help to attract and effectively train the next generation of nuclear engineers.

These tools promote safety by allowing learners train in virtual environments, avoiding the risks associated with real operations. In a sector where skills and safety are paramount, 3D immersive technologies are essential for meeting the challenges of recruitment and training in the nuclear sector.

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