PIXO VR’s Impact on the Natural Gas Industry
ATMOS ENERGY CORPORATION
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Atmos Energy Corporation is the country’s largest natural gas-only distributor that safely delivers natural gas to more than three million distribution customers in over 1,400 communities located primarily in the South.
Tristan Murray, Manager, Training Quality & Innovation at Atmos Energy Corporation, has worked with PIXO for two years to spearhead the company’s adoption and integration of VR Training in emergency response.
The company started its VR Training roll-out with PIXO’s Emergency Response (Natural Gas Leak) simulation and quickly appreciated its benefits. “We can create realistic simulations of on-the-job work,” Murray said, “so employees can do it with repetition and oversight. The value of VR is that you have the visual-auditory experience of performing a job task without distractions.”
Additional gains from the advanced technology include consistency, scalability, and flexibility to make mistakes in a controlled environment. “We can provide a consistent experience to our employees, and it can be scaled up to however many headsets you have access to. The other benefit is that there is a greater opportunity for [safe] failure. Employees can be put in a hazardous simulated environment and fail without the serious consequences of making mistakes on the job.”
When it comes to fully adopting and implementing VR Training technology, the company is in the process of reviewing, prioritizing, and aligning its PIXO training content with the company’s specific policies. Integrating VR with existing training programs and standards is an important process, Murray said, and getting it “right” requires communication and collaboration with the PIXO team. “We have to prioritize the modules and understand where our policies are not necessarily in line with the simulation. We were able to do that on the fly when an instructor could stand next to a student. We’re still in this evaluation period with the content.”
In working with PIXO, Murray and the Atmos team have found a partner that will enable them to provide VR Training experiences that are helping to transform the natural gas distribution industry. “There’s a tremendous amount of potential with what we’re building with PIXO. The fact that PIXO continues to develop and have important conversations with us and other organizations is critical for making progress in our industry.”
As Murray considers what this technology means for their approach to training, the opportunities to create a meaningful experience for employees are endless. “Our goal is to tie the experiential nature of VR to our technical training program and then scale that to a larger reach beyond technical training,” Murray said. “I see this growing into having the headset available to every employee in the company.”
NEW JERSEY NATURAL GAS
New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) is the principal subsidiary of New Jersey Resources that serves more than half a million customers in New Jersey’s Monmouth, Ocean, Morris, Middlesex, and Burlington counties.
A year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization partnered with PIXO VR to create VR Training modules specific to the natural gas industry. Today, Connor Wells, Training Specialist at New Jersey Natural Gas, says the technology empowered the company to continue delivering employee training while still abiding by CDC guidelines and recommendations. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t having people report into our center,” Wells said. “So, VR was something we immediately looked into advancing.”
Before adopting VR Training, New Jersey Natural Gas mainly conducted employee training in classrooms where the instructor provided pointers for what to do in a real-life situation. But the company wanted a progressive solution that could scale with its advancing needs. “In the classroom, we weren’t able to perform live training. That’s what inspired us to move forward with VR.”
Leaders at New Jersey Natural Gas learned about PIXO VR Training applications at industry events and conferences. Once the partnership was running full-steam ahead, the company set the goal to create the new standard in training and development for the natural gas industry.
“We wanted our company to exemplify the world-class standard in training. We wanted it to be something that could show our employees that we have different training options and that we’re not just sitting around drawing on a chalkboard or looking at pictures on a screen. We wanted to make sure that we could show them and help them prepare for tasks in the field with hands-on experience.”
Two years down the road, the organization is capturing benefits and delivering on its objectives. To date, realized benefits include:
- Increased flexibility to train in unsafe environments
- Overcoming training barriers with various age demographics
- Achieving higher engagement and educational reach with visual learners
“We’re seeing new technology come out that is limitless in terms of what we can do and what we can teach. Everyone in our company is seeing how this is going to change how our company works and have a huge impact on the entire industry.”
With the help of PIXO, the company is currently working on its next phase of development and elevating the curriculum to more closely align with both State of New Jersey and New Jersey Natural Gas company standards. They are intensely focused on harvesting safety benefits from the VR Training technology.
“What’s helped us greatly is the PIXO team has done a great job dealing with us over this past year, no matter if it was related to the pandemic itself or just content development. If I bring an idea to the PIXO team, they figure out ways to make it happen, which is a huge benefit.”
For more than 170 years, Peoples Gas has served the natural gas needs of residents of Chicago, Illinois. As the company looked to further its legacy in delivering safe and reliable natural gas to customers, it adopted a new way of training its essential field technicians.
Michael McGrath, Instructional Designer – Technical Training at Peoples Gas, leads the charge in integrating VR Training into the company’s heavily instructor-led curriculum. “We started training with VR technology for the first time about two years ago,” McGrath said. “The vision was that this training would be deployed to a greater number of employees.”
Because hands-on training is innate to the natural gas industry, it can be challenging to introduce new concepts on even newer technology. But Peoples Gas moved forward by adopting a hybrid learning approach that helps new employees gain exposure to real-life situations in a controlled environment. “It’s much more beneficial for new hires and people who have not been performing that task historically.”
The company’s most recognized benefit from adopting PIXO VR Training is giving employees the ability to go through multiple, randomized situations. “One of the biggest benefits – if not the biggest benefit – of PIXO VR Training is that you can simulate multiple situations that have different errors and discrepancies. You can simulate those, and that student can be exposed to more situations in a VR environment in significantly less time.”
Being one of the first organizations to help build and implement PIXO VR Training for the natural gas industry, specifically the Inside Meter Inspection module, the partnership was truly that – a partnership. “PIXO has been great. It’s been wonderful learning about the technology, and they’ve been a great partner in assisting us, no matter if it was IT-related security issues or hardware purchases.”