As manufacturers struggle to fill available jobs, the future of manufacturing is balanced on a knife-edge. On one hand, the integration of new concepts and equipment has the potential to optimize production. On the other hand, the available baby-boomer workforce is aging and the next generation doesn’t appear to find a career in manufacturing an interesting proposition. To deal with these challenges, a lot must be done to train the available workforce on new concepts while manufacturing must become attractive for the younger generation.
The integration of Industrie 4.0 business models provides some answers to meeting the challenges of increasing workforce performance. These models include the integration of data-driven plant performance concepts and the use of virtual training and validation solutions. Data-driven plant performance involves the use of hardware and software to ensure efficiency while virtual training and validation involves the use of augmented reality (AR) to train staff and try new concepts. The integration of data management and AR tools creates an avenue for attracting the new generation while also improving workforce performance.
This article will discuss:
- The benefits of virtual training and validation in improving workforce performance
- How virtual training can attract a younger workforce while training them
- How virtual training and validation can help a workforce deal with real-time situations
Use cases for virtual training and validation in manufacturing
Virtual training utilizes augmented reality solutions to simulate physical phenomena and can demonstrate how making certain choices may affect a process. It is an important concept in Industrie 4.0 as it creates a safe environment for staff to quickly learn new concepts including how to use new equipment. The integration of augmented reality in shop floors also improves workforce performance in practical ways such as:
Enabling real-time training – Although on-site training has been widely regarded as real-time training, in many cases this is far from the truth. This is because new employees simply watch, whereas most technicians or shop-floor workers learn and become proficient by doing. Research has shown that learners retain approximately 75% of what they are taught through active learning, unlike learning by rote, which is basically reading a manual. When applied to manufacturing, the use of virtual reality (VR) tools or 3D simulations of manufacturing processes simplifies the learning process.
An example is the use of virtual learning by an automotive firm in training its workforce. In this case, VR was used to teach new employees about their workstations and roles in the production line. At the end of the training, employees learnt faster and productivity was increased unilaterally across the shop floor. Also, employees made the transition from one plant to another with relative ease and did not need to undergo any further onboarding training.
Creates a safe environment for learning – In manufacturing and maintenance outfits where safety is an issue, virtual reality can be used and is being used to simulate training that may prove dangerous to workers. In these situations, a complete simulation of the dangerous environment can be created and the new employees will be put through their paces without having to be endangered to gain experience working in the actual environment.
VR can also be used to create scenarios that take into account unforeseen occurrences. This means that employees can plan for equipment failures, increased production demand, or incidents that could harm workers on the shop floor. An example is the use of VR by maintenance and installation operators in naval bases. In this case, multiple technicians were trained on removing the engine cage of E-28 arresting gear through a VR environment, desktop and using a manual. In the end, those who learnt the process through VR made fewer errors than their colleagues who learnt through other processes.
Boosting workforce confidence – Having hands-on experience about how a production line functions as well as knowing what to expect plays an important role in boosting the confidence levels of a workforce. Proper planning involves the development of simulations using input from experienced technicians. If done well, scenarios become realistic and more challenging. When new employees go through this training, they know what to expect and instinctively react to a changing environment or process. This increases the confidence of individual workers, which elevates the total confidence levels of a workforce.
Attracting millennials and the coming generations to manufacturing
According to statistics from the US Bureau of Labor, approximately 10,000 baby boomers retire daily and 75 million are expected to leave the workforce by 2029. As stated earlier, the younger generation, which should be preparing to replace this exiting demographic, aren’t attracted to manufacturing. The popular misconception that manufacturing involves only manual labor also plays a role in their decision not to pursue a career on the shop floor. But the integration of virtual reality and Industrie 4.0 is poised to help change this perception.
Bridging the skill gap – The challenges of mass retirement in the coming years will include losing the knowledge that has been around for decades. To ensure this knowledge is not lost, virtual reality is being used to capture the vast experience of workers on today’s shop floors for future generations.
The collected knowledge or data can be used to recreate shop floor environments and teach the incoming generation safety and process management tips. Experienced retirees can also participate in training programs using virtual reality environments in situations where they are no longer physically able to teach.
Making learning and manufacturing fun – The widespread use of smart devices and other IoT solutions means younger generations no longer have any need to pore through thousands of texts. Virtual reality can make the use of boring manuals and guides a thing of the past by bringing textual instructions to life.
An example of this was the research conducted by engineers interested in learning how young individuals learn. In this case, a virtual environment and other more traditional training procedures were used to train students. At the end of the exercises, 85% of the trainees stated that they preferred the virtual option to the traditional processes.
The focus of Industrie 4.0 lies predominantly with data analysis, robotics, and IoT. Many manufacturers and economists still overlook how important virtual training and validation can be to the manufacturing industry. If VR is properly harnessed, it can play an important role in attracting employees from a new generation and get them to learn with ease in an environment that they like. It can also increase the relatively abysmal employee retention rate in manufacturing.