Integrating learning, operations

Posted on 29 October 2013

Noble NEXT Center provides hands-on training through advanced simulators, creates space for cross-team collaboration

By Linda Hsieh, managing editor 

Noble Corporation has launched a new facility in Sugar Land, Texas, that offers state-of-the-art simulator and classroom training, as well as space where experts from around the world can convene and collaborate to drive productivity and safety enhancements. The multimillion-dollar Noble Excellence through Technology (NEXT) Center became operational over the summer.

“There has always been a need to efficiently and expertly train our team members,” Noble executive VP Julie Robertson said. “In the past, we had formal training programs, but we also heavily relied on time in position as one of the measures to gauge competency. Today, we face the twin challenges of delivering consistent and complete training on a scale that keeps pace with the rate of change in our industry and dramatically higher recruiting needs. The NEXT Center’s focus is to address those challenges and to serve as a driver of systematic and ongoing improvement in our business.”

Paul Kilchrist, drilling and well control adviser, demonstrates the capabilities of the conventional drilling simulator during a DC-exclusive tour of the Noble NEXT Center in September.

Paul Kilchrist, drilling and well control adviser, demonstrates the capabilities of the conventional drilling simulator during a DC-exclusive tour of the Noble NEXT Center in September.

Multiple courses will be run through the center, including training for cyber control, conventional drilling, dynamic positioning, power management, stability and ballast control, well control, crane operations, maintenance, subsea operations and major emergency management. The facility is currently staffed by approximately 15 instructors, but that number is expected to nearly double within the next year, said Cason Swindle, Noble director for learning and development.

“We’re moving from an environment where we used to train people almost exclusively offshore for the tasks of their job. Now, in order to be effective in our operations, we have to be far more structured, standardized and specific about the training that we provide. This center is built around that concept,” he said. The company has spent or committed more than $11 billion on newbuild assets since 2006 under president, chairman and CEO David Williams and has been hiring 1,000 to 1,200 new employees per year for the past three years.

“We need to prepare our crews to be ready on day one when the rigs go to work so that they’re comfortable and confident with the equipment and control systems,” Mr Swindle explained.

Through the NEXT Center, Noble will take advantage of advances in simulations and simulation equipment to create a realistic but safe environment where crews can get hands-on practice. This includes standard operational practices, as well as more challenging scenarios – when things don’t go right.

“One of the key things we can do is program in a malfunction on any piece of equipment – the top drive, mud pumps, motor, subsea BOP – and the students have to deal with it,” Mr Swindle said. “For example, we can simulate a stuck-pipe scenario. The students don’t know we’ve programmed that in, but they’re seeing the effects, and they have to investigate what happened.”

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Nick Shuey, simulator training specialist – crane, operates simulator equipment at the Noble NEXT Center in Sugar Land, Texas.

Not only does such training help students learn the technical aspects of their jobs, it also helps instructors monitor and coach communication behaviors. “It’s a space for human factors training because people act and react in a simulated environment the way they do on their rigs. The way they make decisions, how they diagnose issues, teamwork, leadership, stress management – it all shows up in a simulated scenario,” Mr Swindle said.

Noble is currently working with GE to develop software that will allow the DP controls and power management simulators to be interconnected with the drilling controls simulator. “In the real world, all of those things are interrelated. If we have a power failure, if we have extreme weather or a drilling incident, that affects the other areas,” Bob Newhouse, VP of learning and development for Noble, explained. “We want to create the ability here to have those linked together as they would be on the rig. If we lose power on one part of the rig, what effect does that have on stationkeeping with the DP system? What effect does that have on drilling?”


Chris Jass, simulator training specialist, operates simulator equipment. Crane operations and cyber controls are among a multitude of training courses offered at the facility.

This means that competency can be assessed not only on an individual basis but also collectively for entire rig crews, even across different departments. An emergency disconnect, for example, would require the marine team (DP) and the drilling team to work together effectively. NEXT Center simulators are designed to create such opportunities to practice collaboration, Mr Newhouse said.

Even operator personnel will have opportunities to train with the rig teams, something in which Noble’s customers have already expressed high interest. “We really anticipate that will be a huge value of the NEXT Center,” Mr Newhouse said. “We have to enhance the development of competency with the development to operate very complex systems – systems that are interfaced, systems that are networked, systems we didn’t have to run before. Development of competency has really gone well beyond what it used to be.”

Further, the simulators will offer rig-specific environments. “We’ve invested heavily to re-create the Noble Globetrotter-class rigs, the Bully-class rigs, our newest HHI drillships and our JU3000 jackups,” Mr Newhouse said. By maximizing the training’s relevance to the student’s real-life work environment, their learnings are also maximized, he believes.

“We strive to get as close as possible in the simulated environment so the students really do feel like they’re on their rig. That helps them not only in their technical preparations and technical training, but it also helps them immensely when we start delving into human factors because they get immersed in the environment,” Mr Swindle said.

Despite the multitude of high-tech training that will be offered, the NEXT Center isn’t simply a training facility. “It’s a place for collaboration. It’s a place for testing and assessment. It’s a place for meetings. It’s beyond training. We expect to have thousands of people come through per year for a variety of events,” Mr Newhouse said. One room, for example, has been dubbed the Collaboration Room because it was built as a space where subject matter experts can convene to receive and discuss real-time rig information. Management leadership training and new-hire onboarding orientations also will be held at this center.

“The goal is really to have training, learning and competency development integrated into operations,” Mr Newhouse said. “The learning component of our business is not separated from the operations anymore. It’s really part and parcel. As we recognize that the technologies are complex, the wells are complex and the regulatory environment is more strict, we have to constantly be on our game. That’s why the NEXT Center is here.”

Although the facility has been in operation for only a short period, feedback has already indicated positive engagement of rig crews. Excitement around simulator capabilities has been particularly high, according to Noble.

“The students love it. We spend as little time as possible in a classroom and the most time in the simulation as we can because that’s where students get the most value,” Mr Swindle said. “They can’t wait to come back.”

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