The machines, technology, and equipment that keep industries running smoothly need a continual flow of talent to improve and operate efficiently. When that equipment is large, dangerous, or mistake-intolerant, workplace training injuries can become both a safety hazard and an obstacle to learning. The answer to maximizing productivity while eliminating injury comes from two unique solutions: digital twins and virtual reality.
What is a Digital Twin?
An interactive schematic of a component or system, a digital twin firmly anchors a physical object in the digital realm for manipulation, simulation, and education. These files are incredibly important for training, repair, and research and development applications, allowing users to interact with builds without causing wear-and-tear or costly damage to the actual objects being serviced. Creating or developing a digital twin also allows for an unprecedented use of scale versatility, allowing engineers and support teams the ability to shrink or expand on massive structures: a “dry run” of the real process before getting expensive cranes, lifts, and heavy specialty equipment involved.
Example of a digital twin used for one of our clients, Toyota Material Handling. On the left you can see their actual facility and on the right, the digital twin.
From the digital double we create from the real-world facility we then go a step further and create interactive scenarios that enable advanced learning without the need for equipment or subject matter experts on-site. Training can be done remotely via multiplayer virtual reality environments that eliminate travel expense and enhance ROI considerably for their training facilities.
How Do Virtual Reality and Digital Twins Ensure Safety?
Virtual reality environments allow manufacturers and maintenance professionals the ability to create a zero-risk, harm-free environment for exploring, experimenting, and learning. These two innovations work together to create a seamless wall of protection through simulation without exposure risk. Virtual reality training completely eliminates common injury causes, including but not limited to:
- Extremely heavy components cause muscle or tendon stresses during lifting
- Pressurized components cause spray or temperature-related (freeze/burn) injuries when dismantled
- Fall injuries caused by climbing up or down large components, ladders, and lifts
- Cutting or abrasion injuries caused by fumbling or misusing cutting tools
- Hearing or vision damage caused by close proximity to malfunctioning systems
- Potential traffic/bystander interference when working on machinery in public spaces
Risk factors like these are mitigated by controlling both the digital twin and its entire surrounding environment in virtual reality. This, in turn, gives maintenance professionals and new trainees more confidence and education in what to expect during the actual job. With enough repetition and practice, virtual reality environments in job training can even help build muscle memory more efficiently while performing real-time tasks.
A Risk-Free Version of the Worst-Case Scenario
While it’s important to prepare employees for any situation, manufacturers obviously couldn’t purposefully endanger their staff for learning purposes. With virtual reality, however, that’s no longer true. With virtual reality, the worst-case scenario is now available at the push of a button, all in a controlled setting that poses absolutely no risk to the employee, equipment, or employer.
With VR technology, even highly unlikely accidents and variables can be experienced in a 1:1 setting, ensuring that support staff knows exactly how to react if a unique situation arises in the field. Virtual reality job training can be modeled with nearly limitless variables, thanks to digital twins, to eliminate workplace injury and choice paralysis in high-stress situations, from complicating weather conditions to environmental disaster factors.
In short, virtual reality environments and digital twins, when used for training and research, help protect a company’s greatest asset: its talent. With the cost of on-the-job training injuries being so high and potential opportunity costs even higher, using these digital tools may be the best decision a company ever invests in.