Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have found a new niche that is expanding rapidly: industrial training. Put on the goggles and headset and you’re in a simulated work environment. The reality is so vivid, workers can see and almost feel the equipment, tools and workspace. But it’s not real—it’s virtual—and an effective way to learn. So much so that household-name companies such as Boeing, UPS and Walmart are using VR for worker-education programs on a wide scale. Many are impressed with the results.
Augmented reality adds digital elements to a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are supplemented by computer-generated input. Virtual reality involves an immersive, interactive experience generated by a computer that shuts out the physical world.
AR and VR as training technologies are a boon for industrial workers. Take global instrumentation and controls, for example. Workforce training is expected to grow due to an uptick in job opportunities in the oil and gas sector. Field workers may train in a virtual environment that simulates an industrial plant, allowing them to interact using the technology with other technicians and maintenance providers.
Virtual and augmented reality allow instructors to inform, create awareness, and train candidates to safely tackle various occupational hazards. They have created a link between control room technicians, maintenance professionals, and field operators using a process simulation and virtual walkthrough plant environment.
UPS uses VR headsets to help drivers spot potential hazards while driving down a virtual road. Over a five-day period, drivers are taught in a classroom, provided demonstrations and then put into a VR environment that is forgiving and safe. Drivers can take their hands off the wheel. They don’t have to get it right the first time but can train over and over until they are comfortable and master their skills. Since adding the VR component, the UPS retention rate has climbed to 75 percent.
Simulated industrial environments
Industrial environments can be dangerous, but not when they’re simulated.
“The greatest attribute of AR and VR is in their training capabilities,” said Sepehr Shoarinejad, president of Koridor, a business integration solutions provider that promotes AR and VR for industrial companies.
“In its most simplistic form, a construction sequence can be recorded in 360 degrees to provide context; then a tradesperson can experience it at the site prior to implementing the same sequence,” said Dogu Taskiran, CEO of Stambol Studios, a VR and AR studio based in Vancouver, Ontario, that builds immersive experiences for real estate preconstruction marketing and sales. “Virtual reality offers a much better version to create a simulated experience where the tradesperson is taken into a virtual environment where he or she can implement the sequences literally by doing them.”
Training pioneer Edgar Dale theorized that retention of learned information comes from doing rather than just hearing, reading or observing. This led to “Edgar’s cone of learning.”
“Edgar’s cone of learning suggests that we remember 90 percent of the things we see, hear and do together after two weeks,” Taskiran said.
VR and AR add a new climate of learning that lends itself to retention.
“Learning how to do something by looking at a print manual is so ‘previous decade,’” Taskiran said. “It needs to be interactive, engaging, gamified and fun for people to pay attention and manuals are not delivering that experience. Videos are obviously better but they typically lack the interactive, learn-by-doing aspect.”
The use of AR as a training tool is expedited for today’s worker.
“AR may be a bit more ahead of the trend because it does not require big headsets needed for VR,” Shoarinejad said. “So, it has more potential for the training world.”
For example, AR on a mobile phone can help train electricians to get more information for their jobs more efficiently and to become better craftsmen. The electrician can seek a depiction of the job site and what it actually looks like in (augmented or virtual) reality.
Youssef Mestari is the program director for the Honeywell Connected Plant, a cloud-based simulation tool that uses a combination of augmented and virtual reality to train plant personnel on critical industrial work activities.
“There is a need for more creative and effective training delivered through contemporary methods such as Immersive Competency to ultimately empower industrial workers to directly improve plant performance, uptime, reliability and safety,” Mestari said.