Making Virtual Training a Reality

Simulated processes aim to improve operator training while maintaining production line availability and efficiency.

Simulation can serve as an important tool in operator education. When complex, expensive machinery or materials are to be used, simulation can allow operators to learn by “doing” without risk to themselves or to company assets or productivity.

“Airplane pilots don’t train on planes their first day—they train in simulators,” explains Charles Roberson, founder and CEO of Product Animations Inc. (PAI), a provider of custom, computer-based virtual training and reference programs for manufacturing and packaging equipment.

PAI doesn’t provide videos of actual machinery in operation. Instead, the company produces 3-D solid models of machinery and generates computer-animated videos for virtual-reality training.

In some cases, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) share their CAD files with PAI to more efficiently develop accurate solid models that are then animated to visualize a process or procedure, explains Roberson. “Leading OEMs for capsule filling, tablet compression, and packaging equipment are currently offering virtual training programs with machinery purchases as a valuable service to their customers,” he says. PAI has produced simulations of machinery from MG2, Fette Compacting, Uhlmann Packaging, Oystar/IWK, and Weiler Labeling, among others.

PAI relies on subject matter experts when producing videos. “We are not machine experts, so we work closely with them to understand the operating principles and procedures when building animated videos,” he says.

“If the SOP says, ‘Change the filter after 500 hours,’ we can translate that task into the visual steps. We take the SOP and show how to perform that filter change. We like to think of our videos as mirror images of a company’s SOPs,” he says.

Simulation allows operators to visualize the processes ahead of formal, face-to-face training. Virtual training increases operational productivity by reducing the certification time for new technicians, the involvement from subject matter experts in training, and the time spent training on revenue-producing equipment.

Knowledge retention is improved when compared with traditional classroom education, Roberson reports. “Through simulation-based instruction, knowledge retention was 90%, compared with 20% for reading-based instruction and 50% for video-based training,” Roberson says. And PAI cites statistics from the National Training Laboratory for Applied Behavioral Science that show that 3-D simulation-based learning is nearly five times more effective than the traditional classroom setting.

“Powerpoint training is not enough,” adds Roberson. “It is difficult with static 2-D representation.”

Trainees can pause simulations or run them in slow motion, and they can magnify certain areas for better views.

So far, PAI has produced more than 75 programs for commonly used machines. Typical training units have included simulations of assembly, disassembly, and reassembly; line clearances; clearing jams; cleaning and decontamination; and tooling changeovers.

Complete lines or individual machines can be simulated. Through the simulations, operators can zoom in on particular stations and focus on a given process and come to understand and identify problems during that process. Processes can be simulated through the use of transparent machinery components that show the inside or blind side of specific operations.

“All relevant parts and adjustment points can be simulated,” says Roberson. For instance, operators can virtually navigate through machinery and click on an Allen wrench and tighten a bolt, he adds. As they navigate around the machine to find a given bolt, a positive tone will sound if the correct part is identified.
“We can produce simulations that focus on best practices to help users standardize training. A well-trained employee will produce consistent product,” Roberson adds.

One client recently cut its training time from three months to one week, he reports. “Changeover at one site was infrequent, so trainees were waiting around to shadow operators during changeover. We helped them reduce their training time.”

Standardized training could be particularly useful for companies with multiple locations or multiple shifts. “One of our clients had the same machine in five plants and wanted all operators to follow the same processes,” he explains. “And another wanted to ensure consistency from shift to shift, especially the third shift.”

Simulations can also “overcome language and literacy concerns with operators around the world,” he adds.
Customization of existing programs to reflect local SOPs is possible. “We develop simulations for specific machinery models and can reuse those digital assets and develop additional simulations customized to company SOPs or customized machinery,” says Roberson.

Machinery users, too, can work directly with PAI for simulations. “Modernized facilities use sophisticated equipment,” says Roberson. “Let us demonstrate our capabilities with that machine or process. Also, a lot of users track machinery problems. Choose the most challenging process, and we can develop trouble-shooting animations and training.”

Roberson also believes that improved training will improve yield, potentially delaying new machinery purchases. “A really good training program on existing machinery will improve operations. Many production quality issues are a result of ineffective operator training,” he says.

To learn more about Product Animations, Inc. visit www.productanimations.com.

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