Hidden Benefits of VR Training in Complex Technical Systems
February 20 2020
VR training is revolutionizing the way people are being trained in healthcare, business, military, engineering, and many other industries.
From NYC police training for active shooting scenarios to surgeons preparing for brain surgery, VR provides unique opportunities to train professionals safely and effectively while saving millions of dollars on training costs.
But there’s one field that benefits from VR on a truly industrial scale, and that’s manufacturing.
VR training is a popular application of virtual reality in manufacturing and has been gaining steam. 43% of manufacturing companies claim that VR and AR will become mainstream technologies for their operations in the next three to five years.
What are the benefits of VR training that motivate manufacturers to give it a try?
Reduced Training Costs
Training in manufacturing involves a lot of expenses.
With traditional training methods, you need instructors who are experienced and skillful. But that means you lose important people from the production line while your key employees devote their time to training new hires.
A common ratio of trainers to trainees in a manufacturing environment is 2 to 1. To teach one employee, you need to have two engineers present: one trainer to educate and guide the learning session, while the other helps set up the equipment and feed.
VR training allows you to teach employees individually at their own pace, with minimum trainer involvement, helping to better allocate resources to production-oriented tasks.
Reduced Training Time
Another factor to consider is the time it takes for new employees to achieve their full working potential.
Essentially, new workers can’t create value for a company until they complete their training. The longer the training process lasts, the more expenses the company incurs.
As an interactive training process, VR training allows businesses to reduce the time it takes to bring new workers up to their full potential. After implementing VR, Boeing was able to cut a month from their usual 3-month training process for mechanics. Additionally, Boeing aims to cut 50% more in the future.
The profits for companies with high turn-over rates can be even more significant. Training takes up a huge part of their day as employees come and go. Cutting back on the time and manpower put toward training these employees could have an impressive effect on the company's ROI.
No Materials Spent
With traditional onsite training, manufacturers have to use physical materials to prepare their workers for actual production workflows.
Once used, those materials can’t be used later in production, which creates serious expenses. This problem especially affects manufacturing companies that deal with expensive expendables, e.g. composite materials in the aerospace industry.
When simulated in VR, production pipelines don’t require using real materials and can significantly reduce expenses associated with those materials. Users handle simulated resources, leaving the real-life resources for production.
Workers in manufacturing jobs often have to operate in high-risk scenarios and environments. VR simulations offer training opportunities without endangering inexperienced employees or other people that depend on them.
Therefore, by the time new workers actually get their hands on a real piece of equipment, they’re much better prepared to work with it.
Increased safety, reduced training costs, and material savings — those benefits alone justify the implementation of VR training for most manufacturers.
However, there’s a reason why 82% of companies report that the benefits they enjoyed from using VR exceeded their expectations by far.
In the next sections, we’ll talk about the hidden benefits of VR training that dramatically improve the quality of the training process, VR’s cost-effectiveness, and how VR simulations allow companies to stay competitive in a rapidly changing manufacturing world.
Training Without Equipment Downtime
To develop their skills, trainees have to learn by using manufacturing equipment.
Allocating or creating equipment for training purposes, however, is not always a cost-effective solution. Rather, it’s expensive and high maintenance.
The problem is, when you set aside equipment for training, it is not producing marketable goods. From a financial perspective, the equipment is idle.
For some manufacturers, that's too high of a cost to pay. For example, one minute of downtime for automotive manufacturers equals $22,000 of a lost revenue.
VR training allows manufacturers to train their workforce with virtually simulated equipment, thus reducing the downtime of productive equipment.
By the time trainees are ready to use real equipment, they’re more prepared, resulting in fewer interruptions to the production process.
Single Repository Of Training Knowledge
When engineers train new workers, there’s always a human factor present.
The quality of learning depends not only on the technical skills of the educator, but also their teaching abilities. Two separate instructors can be equally proficient, yet their trainees may have completely different training experiences and outcomes.
In this case, a VR training program acts as a single repository of knowledge and best teaching practices accumulated by the manufacturer over the years.
All the trainees receive the same training filled with insights for their specific technical environment. This consistency ensures the same level of professional qualifications among all new hires.
Apart from eliminating the human factor in education, another advantage of a single knowledge repository is the ability to quickly update the training system.
For example, if new equipment is being installed, or new compliance training practices are implemented, a VR training system can be easily updated without spending money on re-training instructors and workers individually.
Finally, manufacturers rarely operate in one city. Companies spend a lot of resources relocating their training professionals to another country and translating their training programs for the local workforce.
A VR training environment can be accessed from everywhere and easily adapted for new languages. Therefore, VR allows businesses to significantly reduce costs associated with creating training divisions that operate in factories and facilities in other cities or foreign countries.
Advanced Training Tactics
VR training is a fully-immersive and digital experience. The technology not only allows manufacturers to save months and millions on training costs, but also remarkably increases the quality of the training itself.
A study published by the University of California states that VR-experiences create a potential knowledge retention rate of 90% in trainees. This sum is four times the retention rate of common audio-visual training and ten times the rate of learning by reading.
Better yet, workers trained in VR had significantly better test results after the training was finished compared to those trained more traditionally with PowerPoint presentations. The trainees were also generally more engaged during the training process.
Below are some training tactics companies can use to increase the speed of learning, the quality of learning, and the engagement during the VR training.
Working with complex technical systems, fresh employees can often be overwhelmed with the amount of details and functions they need to learn.
To help avoid confusion and increase the learning speed, it’s a great idea to highlight objects and details, focusing the new worker’s attention during the simulation.
Highlighting can be used to create a chain of actions that trainees have to follow and is especially effective during the early phases of the VR training.
Below is an example of a highlighted object in a Unity3D virtual environment:
There are many ways to program highlighting objects. One of the common ways is using graphic shaders that create an outline effect around your virtual objects.
Click here to see a code snippet for an outline shader that is used with Unity3D common VR kit.
Source: VRTK documentation
Here’s an example of highlighting in a VR simulation:
Crash & Emergency Scenarios
It’s dangerous and costly to simulate emergency and crash scenarios in real-world environments, which is where VR training comes in.
Any working scenario can be simulated with immersive VR training. Therefore, should an emergency occur, workers will know how to act throughout the emergency. Not to mention, they'll better understand the costs if they make any mistakes.
For example, in the Boeing VR training program, after each VR session, every mechanic sees a list of engine details that were damaged during the repair process along with respective costs.
Thus, mechanical engineers in training quickly understand the repercussions of faulty repairs without real-world consequences for the company.
Here’s a simulated gas explosion in a chemical injection system operator VR training simulator:
Using the simulation, the employee in training can see for himself the hazards of the job and how to avoid them.
The better new workers understand the equipment or technology they work with, the more effective their work is.
In VR environments you can not only build highly-detailed virtual models of equipment, but also present conditions that would be impossible to recreate the real world.
Below is an example of an exploded view of an internal combustion engine:
With the exploded view of the engine, it’s easy to see how different parts of an engine work with each other. The engine and its parts are displayed in a comprehensible, memorable way, which leads to much better retention rates and overall understanding of the equipment.
Tooltips are one of the most often used training techniques. Wth the power of VR, tooltips can pop up only in the context of a real-world task; just when operators need them the most.
The link between theory and practical application quickly follows, which ensures a deeper mental connection between theory and practice.
Tooltips can be used to guide employees, enrich their practical experience with theory, or provide them with tasks.
Below is an example of a tooltip created in a Unity3D virtual environment.
As you see, the tooltip can be coupled with any virtual event. In this case, it’s a simple code that rewrites Unity’s text panel with contains from the Object's name and Information provided in the Unity’s Inspector window:
if (toolTipWindow != null)
displayName.text = objectName;
displayInfo.text = objectInfo;
Below is a real-world example of tooltips used in Linde Engineering VR training program for operators:
More and more companies are realizing how effective VR training solutions can be for improving the quality and efficiency of their employee training. With all the examples from industry-leaders, there’s never been a better time to jump on board.
Although the industry is just starting to get a grasp on how VR solutions can benefit complex technical systems, there’s one thing we know for sure: VR is here for good.
If you’d like to read more about how VR scaling can improve employee training in a company, check out our INVISTA case study.
Or, if you’re interested in scaling VR in your company, contact us directly!