In a building and manufacturing industry reliant on competent plant personnel, it’s crucial that new employees are exposed to ample hands-on training. The key to success is providing them with practical experience while minimizing the risk of injury and avoiding downtime. But how can hands-on technical training be achieved in a safe environment that doesn’t interfere with production? Read more and find out.
Isover readies plant personnel with virtual reality training
With simulated procedures in Virtual Reality, Saint-Gobain Isover is able to provide sophisticated employee training on-demand.
The Challenge: Safely training employees while keeping production running
Like most global manufacturing companies, Isover, one of the world’s leading producers of mineral wool, requires qualified personnel to operate its complex machinery. These skills are often taught with technical training that involves practical application. However, the trouble is that training workers in a live production facility poses both health and safety hazards. That’s why creating safe learning conditions, especially when it comes to training new and inexperienced personnel, is an urgent priority that Isover takes seriously.
In the past, Isover was reliant on the planned downtime of its machinery for safe hands-on training. This narrowed the time window that personnel could train because if they weren’t sufficiently trained, the risk of workplace injuries and unplanned downtime would increase accordingly. That made it a serious challenge to fit technical training into an already busy production schedule.
Unfortunately, the problem for manufacturers is that having to halt an entire production line due to human error can quickly become a financial burden. It’s, therefore, no secret that unplanned downtime on machinery is considered the Achilles’ heel of manufacturing – and justifiably so. Studies have shown that shutdowns can eat up to 1%-10% of available production time and cost the average automotive manufacturer a whopping $22,000 per minute when factoring in labor, production, and financial losses. By the same token, the total cost of work-related injuries in 2020 was $163B for companies in the US alone.
For Isover, training qualified personnel in a safe environment is therefore vital. That’s partly achieved in a classroom setting, but reading from a slide deck and standing in a real factory are still worlds apart. This is why they needed a smarter way to safely bridge the gap between theory and practice.
The Solution: Conducting technical training in Virtual Reality
When the team at Isover evaluated the different ways they could improve and modernize their training programs, they looked to digital solutions. Among these options, virtual technical training stood out as a perfect way to teach employees in a hands-on capacity while simultaneously ensuring a safe learning environment. With the help of SynergyXR, all Isover had to do was tailor the steps from their real-life procedures to a digital format. This allowed trainees to step into a 1:1 virtual replica of their production facility and perform the reality training exactly as they would in person – without the risk of injury or need for machine downtime.
The benefits of hands-on training in VR
Simulating Isover’s technical training in Virtual Reality (VR) offers some clear advantages to supplement the theoretical knowledge gained from their classroom training. Helle Maria Monke, Training Coordinator at Isover, describes how the integration of VR is expected to noticeably improve the training program as a core supplement. Specifically, VR makes the training less time-restricted, it helps personnel connect the dots with hands-on procedures, and it completely removes the risk of workplace injuries.
Virtual reality training captures the user’s attention and makes them focus exclusively on learning the steps in a realistic way. And it doesn’t have to be a lonely experience, either. As an operations assistant at Isover Denmark, Camilla Bøttcher explains how the first trial users have taken advantage of SynergyXR’s multi-user platform to walk through their virtual technical training in smaller groups, which helps to make it a more fun, social and team-building experience. Better still, they’re able to do it on-demand at a time that suits them best.
Workers are able to filter out the world and focus on learning the procedure without us having to stop production for it.Helle Maria Monke | Training Coordinator at Isover
A steady and rewarding implementation
For the people at Isover, it was important that the implementation of virtual technical training be carried out with ample technical support from a team with the track record and know-how to convert complex digital data into an intuitive VR experience. According to Helle, SynergyXR provided the right conditions for a fruitful partnership to take place, as adopting brand new technologies can be easier said than done at times. It was a priority that they weren’t just buying a solution and calling it a day, because successfully adopting a new technology is more demanding than that. She explains that, “Working with SynergyXR has been more like a joint venture, where we’ve co-operated on the implementation to fit with our long-term vision.”
As a company that’s new to using XR technology for training purposes, it was important for the team at Isover to have a reliable sparring partner that could provide the right guidance from beginning to end. Helle explains how the development of the virtual technical training itself, which focused on a lockout-tagout safety drill, has taken some time to establish because they wanted to ensure that enough time was dedicated to mastering the new technology at a steady pace, rather than rushing the process and having to retroactively correct mistakes. Approaching it with a patient mindset has given the team a lot more clarity on how to adapt the technology going forward, and Helle certainly credits that readiness to the initial growing pains.
The Result: A versatile blueprint for virtual technical training
While still early on in their XR journey, the team at Isover have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with their new virtual lockout-tagout training procedure. Camilla reveals how they successfully introduced the project at Isover’s 2023 kick-off meeting, where over 110 participants were present to either perform the virtual reality training or watch it on a TV.
The thing that stood out to me was that everyone learned the procedure very quickly, and they were having fun while doing it.Camilla Bøttcher | Operations Assistant at Isover
When you asked them – “Okay, but did you get what the essentials of the training were?” – everyone could answer it correctly. So, while there were varying levels of familiarity with VR devices among the personnel, with the younger attendants usually being more accustomed to the technology, Camilla explains how there was a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm expressed among older co-workers, who were all excited to embrace VR despite being a little slower to learn the controls.
That’s why the team responsible at Isover has approached this big change with an open and inviting mindset, taking the time to support their colleagues and thoroughly explain the concepts of VR to ensure long-term cultural integration. This has led to the development of a VR room at the facility, Camilla tells us, where anyone curious about the tech can learn about it and try the virtual technical training at their own pace.
More opportunities for training
With this initial success in the bag, the team at Isover is rolling out the virtual technical training on a company-wide scale and integrating it in their regular training modules. And there are further plans in motion to expand the use of SynergyXR.
Helle informs us that the next step is to replicate the success they’ve had with the safety training pilot and upscale it to cover more safety drills in VR, where they can easily apply their gained experience to design robust training procedures. Additionally, there’s the sort of training where staff needs to become familiar with how Isover’s machinery operates, which they can now learn in VR without having to halt production or risk breaking any machines in the process. Lastly, Helle comments, there are plans to use SynergyXR for emergency training that teaches operators how to react quickly and efficiently to accidents or machine failure, which can’t be simulated in real-life. She expresses her excitement to continue embracing this new technology at Isover.
“Our ambition is that VR becomes an integrated part of our training program. Obviously, there are some things which make perfect sense to do in VR, and there are some which don’t. But where we are seeing it work, such as with our virtual technical training, it’s a powerful tool that we see a lot of potential in.”
Isover is a leading manufacturer of mineral wool for insulation, which has innovated and produced glass wool solutions for the building industry since 1937. Isover is a part of the global Saint-Gobain Group, providing a broad range of solutions for different industries around the world.
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