Offshore crane simulator an OTC staple, but real training still depressed

German crane manufacturer Liebherr gives people at the Offshore Technology Conference a chance to operate a crane in the virtual world. The company hasn’t trained any new operators on the offshore crane simulator since last year, even though oil prices have risen.

Suddenly, the waves rose higher, the weather turned and the giant machine began wobbling as Farrel Alexander tapped a few keys controlling the offshore crane simulation.

In the hallways of the Offshore Technology Conference on Wednesday, the mild-mannered but vengeful Poseidon instructed the virtual-crane operator to try latching the crane’s hook to a stack of pipes. After several failed attempts — it’s a delicate procedure — it finally worked.

More than 100 people have tried their luck on German crane manufacturer Liebherr’s five-screen simulator at OTC this week, trying to operate a heavy offshore crane with twin joysticks and a multitude of buttons.

It’s a fun ride, and it draws people into Liebherr’s display booth at OTC. But it’s not as popular in today’s offshore oil industry.

Before the oil bust in 2014, the manufacturer trained dozens of new crane operators on the simulator at a training center in Miami. But last year, the company trained exactly zero new workers for offshore cranes linked to oil and gas platforms and rigs, said Alexander, service manager for offshore cranes at Liebherr.

“Traffic has really slowed down,” he said. “Last year was one of our worst years. Customers aren’t going into (new offshore) projects yet because of the price of oil.”

Even though oil prices have risen and OPEC has cut crude production in recent months, Alexander still hasn’t seen any sign that offshore crane operators need new workers to learn how to maneuver cranes.

It’s yet another sign at OTC that offshore exploration and project development remain in virtual stasis despite the rise in oil prices that has spurred a drilling boom in the United States.

“It hasn’t  changed the dynamic,” he  said. “It takes some time. Notwithstanding, there’s a lot of optimism. But the level of requests from customers haven’t followed oil prices.”