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Jun 12, 2019

Realizing the true potential of Virtual Reality in industrial applications

Rashmi Kasat
Rashmi Kasat
VP, Digital Technologies
Virtual Reality or VR is one of the many digital technologies transforming the heavy machinery and process industries. To boost productivity and serve our customers better, we at Metso have been experimenting with VR on a few different use cases in our different businesses. Adopting new technology doesn’t go without challenges, but we see great opportunities in both Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Watch how MX3 can be explored with VR!

Our use cases with VR fall under four major categories:

  • Remote support with VR and virtual demonstration of equipment installation and servicing e.g. immersive visualization of installation, assembly, repair and maintenance processes
  • design reviews, e.g. engineers collaborating in a VR environment (as avatars) from different locations to review product design
  • training, e.g. sales training so that they can understand the technical and technological features of the product through immersive experiences (watch the video above for demo!)
  • marketing, e.g. using VR to showcase our equipment at exhibitions and tradeshows

Seizing the opportunities of Virtual Reality

Remote support and virtual demonstration with VR

We have been working on proof of concepts to use VR technology to provide faster services and ensure better presence for our customers. On-site service and inspection visits can often be time consuming due to travelling, which means lost time with the customer.

With VR/AR, travel constraints can be at least partially addressed. If customers have a challenge that can be solved remotely, they can connect with our experts via Augmented Reality tools/headsets to stream a video in real-time at the site. Our experts can connect from anywhere in the world and provide guided self-help for customers to solve the problem. There is potential for significant time savings in solving issues and getting back on track with production.

Using VR, we were also able to successfully demonstrate a top work assembly process in our valve factory. VR was used to showcase the size and functionality of the tool for assembly.

Design reviews with VR

We are also experimenting with VR in design review. Most CAD software providers nowadays provide inherent integration to Virtual Reality environments. There, engineers can collaborate and engage in immersive design review, which is especially attractive to a whole new generation of digital-savvy engineers. From a productivity perspective, this is a great avenue to ensure close collaboration without additional travel costs or using time to travel.

Virtual design reviews can also be done with customers to get their feedback on design at an early stage. With a relatively small initial investment in VR glasses, software, and associated computing hardware, we can prevent potential design flaws and avoid a total redo or product recall due to dysfunctional design at a later stage in the project.

The immersive nature of VR along with advance real life-like features and animations, e.g. crushing action, vibrational motion, etc. provides a more realistic environment for creating or modifying designs or even plant plans for our customers.

Training with VR

Besides design, we are considering how to augment our current training programs, such as product training for our customers and sales people, with an element of VR to provide a safer, interactive and immersive experience of our highly engineered products. In the long run, virtual reality training allows more frequent training updates and thus, increases collaboration and decreases travelling costs.

Gamification of Megaliner™ mill liner replacements with VR

In 2018, we sponsored a Game Jam arranged by Arctic Game Lab in Sweden, which resulted in the Metso Megaliner™ VR game. The purpose of the game is to demonstrate through gamification techniques how fast, safe and easy it is to replace and remove mill liners using Megaliner™ technique in comparison to traditional mill liner replacement methods. In the game, the player enters a mill to replace worn out mill linings and competes with friends on time. We are now using the VR game at exhibitions all around the world to showcase our Megaliner mill lining replacement technique.

A boy trying the Metso Megaliner virtual reality application.
Megaliner game takes the player inside the mill.

Potential challenges in adopting Virtual Reality

As with any new technology, there are potential challenges also with VR. First of all, using Virtual Reality can mean a significant change in approach when compared to more established ways of working. No matter what VR is used for, change needs to be managed— especially when aiming for full scale adoption. On the other hand, the adoption of Virtual or Augmented Reality-based assistance might in the near future be easier, and even necessary in order to keep millennials more motivated and engaged.

Physical sensitivities need to be taken into consideration

VR may not be for everyone: for example, using VR for too long can cause symptoms of motion sickness for some people. Symptoms maybe potentially severe for those with pre-existing conditions like migraine, vertigo, etc. Obviously, we have to be sensitive to such issues and need to design a process where established ways of working can continue in parallel with the adoption of new technology such as VR.

Continuous adaptation is needed

VR technology is developing incredibly fast with new devices and platforms being launched all the time. It’s a challenge to continuously and flexibly adapt our IT asset management, platform governance and cyber-security policies to keep up with the pace of change. Aspects such as version control of developed software or limited interoperability between the different technology platforms can cause hindrances if not taken into consideration.  

Protecting intellectual property rights

As VR developments will scale, more CAD models will be digitally stored and distributed between different partners, cloud platforms, etc. which poses risk to IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) protection. Potentially, the situation here will change as VR development becomes more parametric in nature and moves in-house as compared to current model of outsourcing VR development. This also means developing new in-house capabilities for such work.

To overcome these challenges and to realize the full potential of VR/AR, we need to learn from the first trials and devise a focused, robust, secure, and scalable approach to VR adoption. Adopting digital tools is never off-the-shell shopping, but involves strategic thinking, setting ambitions, sufficient investment, and strong change management. Digital Metso is dedicated to doing that.