From Connected Helmets to Methane Drones: What’s Next for TotalEnergies?


French oil giant TotalEnergies operates oil and gas production facilities, refining and chemicals sites and service stations throughout the globe. Last year, the company launched the industry’s first internet enabled helmet to help plant workers carry out complex procedures. The helmet leaves workers with their hands free but enables them to communicate with remote subject matter experts.

Over a year since the first deployment, where are they now and where are they going?

In this interview with Oil & Gas IQ, Eric Duchesne, Senior Vice President, Manufacturing & Projects at Total offers his perspective on what it took to make their Connected Helmet program a success, talks about lessons learned and reflects on the challenges the year ahead will bring.


Diana Davis, Oil and Gas IQ: I understand that Total and has been leading the way in connected worker technology with the energy industry’s first deployment of Microsoft Teams on Realware at your LaPorte Polypropylene Plant in Texas. Could you tell us a bit more about that technology and how it works?

Eric Duchesne: It is a “connected helmet,” which allows operators to wear it while carrying out procedures and work. While a “connected helmet” is not that new a technology, what is different is our addition of a high resolution screen and excellent sound quality. We use noise cancelling headphones and have integrated it with Microsoft Teams, which makes it more interactive than other helmets.

This makes easy for the people at our plants to connect live and easily with our SMEs (subject matter experts) in corporate headquarters. When a worker gets stuck they can talk directly with the SME without management’s involvement. It means that the technicians are speaking to other technicians directly to efficiently sort out problems and remove barriers.

It’s also important to stress that this is a tool that is qualified to work in hazardous areas and environments. In terms of safety that is critical. We don’t need an extra fire safety work permit each time we go on site with these helmets. It can be used either with a 4G network or with Wi-Fi.

As a result, we have been able to use it in most places. We’ve been able to use it in Saudi Arabia, we’ve been able to use it on boats, we’re able to use it in Europe. What’s been important to the success of are Connected Helmets are the ease of use and the fact that it’s a solution that fits all the areas we are in.

Diana Davis, Oil and Gas IQ: You’ve mentioned all the different places that you’ve deployed it – even on a boat! Do you have any lessons that you learned when you were scaling this technology in such a distributed and complex environment?

Eric Duchesne: One of our key lessons was ensuring that we immediately responded to people that were making the effort to call for help. You don’t want someone to call with a question and not get the answers that they need. We wanted to make sure that people at our headquarters or our vendor representatives were involved to provided immediate solutions. If they could not provide an immediate solution, we wanted them to at least provide a proposal so that our workers in the field were not left hanging with an unresolved issue.

Another important point was when we communicated about those fixes. We wanted to make sure that we included the end users. We didn’t want the helmets to be perceived as something ‘invented by HQ’ so we really made sure that we really highlighted the role of the end users. We had a communication campaign that put the end users front and centre. We interviewed our people in our operations about the helmet and made sure that they were really the star of the video.

One final point to add is that financing is always a question. The plants will always be a bit hesitant to buy such a tool. So we removed this barrier. I just say, ‘I’m buying’. I bought the first 10 helmets and they were offered for free at the plants.

We made it super easy and free for the end users, and I think that was essential at the beginning. Eventually, the plant had to start paying for additional helmets. But by then, the helmets had demonstrated their utility so they had no problem purchasing them.

Diana Davis, Oil and Gas IQ: In terms of lessons learned, where there any dead ends you went down when you were engaging the end users in all this?

Eric Duchesne: At the beginning, the helmet was not connected to Microsoft Teams. Instead, we had to use a specific software that was quite expensive. The license for the software was more expensive than the connected helmet itself.

The other problem was that this software was a specific application, which meant our IT team were not fond of that approach because of the extra support and cyber security checks that it requires. Since it was so specific and new it really slowed us down. When Microsoft Teams arrived that was when things started to click for us.

Another challenge with the solution initially was…

Download your copy of ‘From Connected Helmets to Methane Drones: What’s Next for TotalEnergies?’ to discover the challenges Total faced during the implantation of their Connected Helmets, the impact on the workers and what Total have planned for the future.

 Download your free copy now from Oil & Gas IQ.