Real benefits of VR in maintenance training

Within the training community, virtual reality (VR) is increasingly used to train professionals in a spectrum of

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Limble's Bryan Christiansen

fields. And few fields stand to benefit from the technology as much as maintenance, since VR can be used to demonstrate concepts without putting workers at risk.

VR is a natural fit in smart factories, but it does come with challenges that might prevent it from becoming an industry standard. And modern virtual reality enables simulated transportation to plant environments so real that training in the virtual realm is nearly as effective as in the real world.

Let’s explore…

Gamifying training

Many enterprises are already using VR for plant-operator training, with applications designed specifically to train on Lock-Out-Tag-Out (LOTO) safety procedures. In some cases, students practice LOTO on control valves and centrifugal pumps using a device they are intimately familiar with—an Xbox controller. “I told you this isn’t a waste of time, mom!”

Maintaining safety

Beyond LOTO, individuals can virtually train on many facets of their work. Consider maintenance of specialized equipment. Instead of creating a unique training experience for every workplace, equipment manufacturers can customize training simulations that can be used by facilities around the globe.

And with safety being a top priority for maintenance managers (81 percent in our recent survey listed it as most important), VR is playing an increasing role in this space. VR-based training can eliminate the need to pay “actual” trainers to deliver safety demonstrations.

These benefits are common knowledge to those large corporations already investing in VR technology. And so are the most common challenges.

One of VR’s biggest hurdles is cost, since the hardware and software require an up-front investment. Smaller businesses might not have the budget to create custom software designed for their environment. This might force them to rely on one-size-fits-all solutions that may not match their setup.

Managers and floor personnel might not buy into this new approach. Some fear technological advances are harbingers of the unemployment line.

And even once a company has invested in a VR solution, safety regulations are constantly changing, which is less of a problem with human trainers who can adapt more nimbly. Updating software can be pricey.

Positive results

So, what are the end goals of using VR to complement your training efforts?

The obvious answers are a better-skilled workforce (resulting in a reduction in errors during daily operations) and the ability to learn safety procedures in a comfortable, controlled environment. Likewise, according to ARVRtech, incorporating VR technology into training personnel enables factories to train more people in a shorter, most cost-effective manner, along with training technicians to use expensive machines without the risk of actually damaging them. Win win win.

Will the industrial training world fully embrace virtual reality? I believe so. As the technology becomes more mainstream (and cheaper), businesses will discover that they can easily implement VR solutions, making once-unreachable benefits…ahem…a reality.

Bryan Christiansen is founder and CEO at Limble CMMS.

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  • One of the arguments supporting VR based training is that the hardware solution is somehow less expensive, and hence it makes training solutions less expensive. But this makes little sense. The biggest barrier to VR adoption is not cost (of hardware) over other display technologies. First, the cost of building and delivering custom training solutions is rarely bound by hardware costs. A computer with VR headset may cost a few thousand dollars. Where as custom training content may cost hundreds of thousands if not much more. The actual cost of training solutions is content. The game industry proponents use the same arguments, game technology is free making it lower cost for training applications. Complete bollocks. Sure, some content can be built less expensively with game engines (and some will cost you much, much more), but in the end, the cost of content does not really change by using game or VR technology. in fact, it might increase because with VR you are more likely to only implement 3d content and not use video, illustrations and other effective content types. In the end, VR is just another display technology, one that has some advantages and other disadvantages as it relates to training solutions. Of course, VR may have its place, but it is no panacea. In addition, claims that VR can train more people in shorter or most cost-effective ways then say, just using a laptop with a 3d (or 2d) application, or that it will eliminate the key to all good training, the instructor, is ridiculous. I think the VR industry, just like the game tools industry before it, is not well served by unsubstantiated hype. Use the military as a perfect example, game technology has not driven down the costs of implementing training solutions for soldiers. In many ways it has driven up the cost, with militaries now expecting AAA game quality graphics (and everyone knows a AAA game only costs $50 right). Of course everyone forgets that the budget for Call of Duty was fifty million. Not unlike games, the cost of building virtual training is in the content, subject matter expertise and instruction.

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