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Operator training comes to life with virtual reality software

Imagine being able to train your operators on a new packaging machine months before it's installed on the line.

Hp 21412 Vr Train

Omega Design Corp. is partnering with Product Animations Inc. to make that vision a reality for a multinational pharmaceutical company. Beginning in February 2009, operators at a production site in China will begin training on an Omega unscrambler with integrated desiccant feeding-but the machine itself won't be installed at the plant until summer 2009.

Using Product Animations' VRTrain™, a 3D interactive computer-based training and reference application, operators will learn how to effectively change over, operate, and troubleshoot the equipment before they even see it. Using 3D CAD data, digital photographs, and video of Omega employees operating the machine, Product Animations creates step-by-step animations reflecting the best-practice techniques for operation.

"VRTrain is a videogame on steroids," says Chip Seabolt, Product Animations vice president. Using standard gaming technology, the user navigates through a 3D production environment to learn the machine parts, stations, and procedures.The product includes three modes-reference, practice, and test-so that operators can learn at their own pace.

"In a packaging environment, there's a tremendous amount of turnover, and production lines are running constantly," says Seabolt. "Our software allows you to begin training new operators in an effective, efficient manner without interrupting production."

Glenn Siegele, president of Omega Design, has a PMMI Certified Trainer program to support the company's equipment and a dedicated technical writer for training materials, but says this is the first time he's offered anything as sophisticated as VRTrain. "When you talk about the risk reduction for the operator, equipment safety, and speeding up the project timeline, [VRTrain] is very powerful," he says. Not only does the software reduce training times, but it also helps operators retain information by engaging them to learn every part, activity, and procedure in a self-paced visual environment.

Training for eight machines

Omega's unscrambler is one of eight machines on the customer's line that will offer Product Animations' virtual reality training software. "The project leadership team will conduct a Factory Acceptance Test [FAT] of the line at a facility in North America, and then the line will be shipped to China," explains Seabolt. "During that event, they're going to be trained on the VRTrain software for each piece of equipment."

Although the software does have the capability for different languages, English is the pharmaceutical client's documentation standard for manufacturing. And because the program is so visual, it helps to break down some of the language barriers, says Siegele.

Seabolt is quick to point out that VRTrain does not replace on-the-job training. "Our product prepares people to be introduced to the line so that they do not decrease production output or risk themselves in any way," he says. The product also supports validation requirements and is generally introduced between general orientation and SOP requirements.

"It's proven that people remember about 10 percent of what they read," says Seabolt. "When you have a good teacher, you remember about 20 percent. VRTrain is based on visual simulation. When an operator can visualize the process, interact with the equipment, and start making decisions, knowledge retention approaches 90 percent."

When distance and production schedules make it impractical to train operators on the equipment, tools like VRTrain can prepare them so that they are confident and capable of delivering measurable productivity gains.

-By Kassandra Kania, Contributing Editor

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