Imagine an apprentice wearing goggles, following the voice in their headsets as they learn about a new piece of equipment, which switch to push and what panels to remove—but it’s all virtual.
Innovation in technology
For electrical workers, there are new frontiers emerging in electric vehicle charging stations, solar grids, battery storage, electric propulsion for trucks, ships, trains and cars. In addition, there’s advancement in sensor technology, controls and a whole host of new devices that connect most buildings, structures and facilities, all wired up for Industry 4.0 and the internet of things.
With this new technology, gaps in the skilled workforce, the rise of sustainable practices and efforts to conserve power, today’s industrial electrical workforce development could be incredibly challenging.
This only warrants the heightened value of understanding and using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). With capable trainers, appropriate equipment and supporting software, teaching repair procedures, installation requirements, wiring, installation procedures and more through AR and VR is becoming an efficient way to educate electrical workers at all levels.
VR technology, along with sufficient simulation and modeling of real-world conditions, is used in critical environments to train personnel.
At Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, the Tech Training and Transformation team gave their Aircraft Crew Chief Fundamentals course a face-lift by creating a VR experience. Last summer, 29 students put on VR headsets and took the course. The technology was able to simulate, in 3D, a very real experience.
The U.S. Air Force found this method highly effective. Test scores of those who took the class virtually were comparable to the results of the in-person students.
In class, students examined tools, visually learned how to maintain aircraft and were able to complete actions and objectives as if they were on the job. The class also took 12½ days to complete, when ordinarily it took 27 days. That’s 47% less time away from the aircraft crew chiefs’ routine duties for training, by using the new technology.
VR-based training can take many variations. For the Air Force, students ask questions of and get advice from experienced personnel. They can interact with other airmen working in security along the aircraft flight line to understand boundaries and can interact with artificial intelligence (A.I.)-based avatars or characters. There are so many things that can be done with VR and A.I. capabilities.
Training and testing procedures
“Seeing is Believing,” a 2019 report from PwC, a professional services network in Washington, D.C., explores AR and VR’s potential as a significant technology that will stimulate the economy, help companies grow, create new jobs and improve operations.
The report states: “VR and AR have the potential to deliver a $1.5 trillion boost to the global economy by 2030. From creating new customer experiences to speeding up product development and improving workplace safety, there are many compelling uses for these technologies that promise to drive growth from the current GDP contribution of $46.4 billion.”
This number is significant. We can expect to see this directly and indirectly as confidence and adoption of this technology takes full hold.
In the report, PwC was explicit on its use for training: “A major benefit VR and AR offer organizations is the training of employees and testing of procedures, including the simulation of realistic scenarios and even high-risk environments. For example, militaries use VR to train soldiers for parachute jumps and bomb disposal.”
“Bringing together teams from any location into a single virtual space may also accelerate product development,” the report continues. “Design teams can explore, test and evaluate different concepts easily without having to invest in physical prototypes.”
Researchers at Purdue University’s Polytechnic Institute, West Lafayette, Ind., are studying the use of VR in the construction industry. The researchers said it can “modernize the construction industry’s traditional ways of transferring knowledge to next-generation professionals.”
“Organizations like the National Electrical Contractors Association [NECA] are really interested in this,” said Anthony Sparkling, assistant professor of construction management technology at Purdue University. “NECA’s research foundation is looking for better tools for training newer people. Traditionally, students train using real products such as electrical metallic tubing (EMT or conduit) that generate waste in the field. A VR training module could prevent those materials from being consumed.”