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Opinion: learning in a virtual environment

Opinion: learning in a virtual environment

Virtual Reality (VR) has been influencing the packaging market in recent years in different ways, but its potential still has much to offer. For example, it’s been used to visualize how packaging will present itself on a supermarket shelf, predicting shopper behavior and boosting shelf appeal. Now, however, we can go a bit further and look into the packaging process itself, preventing failures from happening and fixing potential issues without stopping production. To benefit from this trend, Bosch Packaging Technology has introduced VR technology for off-site training for machine operators and the initial results have highlighted that machine performance can be maintained with proper maintenance work without stopping the machine for training.

The way to a smarter future

VR technology has been available on the market for a decade, but only in recent years it has become accessible for industrial purposes. Why? “We have recently noticed a huge technological leap, linked to the fact that the costs of VR hardware and software have significantly decreased. As a result, the technology’s use within various industries, including packaging, has grown,” explains Peter Ladewig, training developer at Bosch. Another trend that has fueled this breakthrough is the popularity of gaming. Thanks to the increasing visual quality of graphic programs, engineers can recreate very realistic environments that can be used for purposes other than gaming.

“By extracting 3D data from the machine-construction and combining it with the interactivity of gaming platforms, a completely new learning experience can be created where operators can be trained in a simulated environment. Offering such off-site training provides many attractive benefits,” added Peter Ladewig.

Easier operations and maintenance

Ease of operations and maintenance are crucial areas of focus for improving production performance. In fact, every 10 minutes saved per day provides significant time gains throughout the lifecycle of a packaging system. VR technology allows for low-cost and high-performance operator training while the production still runs on full speed, thus maintaining the performance and enhancing preventive maintenance.

“The VR training modules include very detailed functions, such as taking out machine parts, zooming in/out, walking around the machine, changing settings on the touch panel, etc. The impression is truly amazing – you are completely diving into this world,” said Roland Hasse, Head of Packaging Academy at Bosch, after the first use of the VR application.

As a result, end users can carry out important maintenance steps in the virtual environment and become familiar with maintenance without taking any risks during running production. But most importantly, operators enjoy learning how to operate the machine using Virtual Reality and this new learning experience fuels their motivation to increase their knowledge. Training your staff on how to improve accessibility to critical machine parts and boost changeover times helps to prevent machine downtime and supports a higher Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Worldwide virtual help within your grasp

One of key issues facing global food and pharma producers is the fact that their production floors are scattered more and more around the world and are often located in remote locations. Delivering trained specialists to a facility is costly and time-consuming, negatively impacting the bottom line. VR training offers a solution in the form of enhanced flexibility, allowing customers to manage the time, location and size of the training sessions (both single and group training sessions are possible).

To provide customers with easy access to new training tools, regardless of their geographical location, Bosch is working on a virtual platform where customers can access the entire training portfolio for operators and maintenance personnel, which will be finalized by the end of this year. Joining the Virtual Reality training from your own production floor is easy and simply requires the installation of necessary software and hardware. Once this is done, anyone can carry out the specific maintenance steps in a virtual en­vironment using VR glasses, like Oculus Rift or Vive by HTC, and controllers.

Using VR training via the Bosch platform is very intuitive and enables workers to successfully complete tasks that they have little experience or training in. The training sessions can also be recorded and viewed multiple times. In case of any doubt, additional help for each of the individual operational steps is displayed, guiding the operator throughout the entire process.

More exciting opportunities in the future

In the near future the Bosch Packaging Academy will offer VR training in two versions – modular, providing generic information on how to perform tasks/functions on specific parts of the machine, and customized – produced on demand for specific systems or stand-alone machines. “We are positive that the first customized VR training sessions will be available by the end of 2018. At the moment we are discussing a few exciting pilot projects with customers from both the food and pharma industries, who want to explore the potential of VR even further,” added Roland Hasse.

“As per initial customers’ feedback, this concept provides great training on the steps of bagger changeover. Virtual Reality could be utilized for initial operator’s training before they are allowed to work with an actual machine. According to initial estimates, this would shorten required training by at least 50 percent,” added Roland Hasse. All that is done in a safe environment, which is critical for new-hires who are less familiar with production hazards. VR could be utilized to provide guidance on how to undertake more complex repairs in addition to changeover guides. It could also be used to simulate dangerous unsafe behavior for training purposes, providing a more vivid picture to users of what this behavior could lead to.

No doubt the ongoing drive for higher efficiency and greater safety in an ever-more-stringent packaging environment is prompting both food and pharma producers to consider new ways to improve the training of operators and other staff. “With the use of 3D visualization and virtual reality, our goal is to create a smarter learning set-up, where different training modules can be combined and presented in real-time; where the users can track their learning progress and the system suggests a new interesting training session or video. We see the Bosch Packaging Academy as a platform for knowledge sharing and new learning experiences,” summarized Peter Ladewig.

Visit Bosch at Achema in Frankfurt (June 11 -15, 2018), hall 3.1, booth number C71 as well as PACK EXPO International in Chicago (October 14-17, 2018), booth no. 3514, to experience Virtual Reality live.

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