It’s simply not practical—nor advisable—to put an employee into a dangerous situation so they can learn how to respond appropriately. Yet building muscle memory is still a key part of ensuring that workers perform their duties, and react to potentially dangerous situations, when they occur in the workplace. Enter virtual reality (VR) training, which is increasingly being adopted within specific areas of supply chains.
VR creates a safe, yet highly realistic, environment for training, even when performing processes that pose a safety risk. The technology, which encompasses a headset, controllers and tracking systems, immerses the wearer into a virtual world where experience can be gained without risk to personnel, product or facility. And it’s rapidly gaining in popularity among organizations worldwide, according to “VR Training Finding Its Niche In Supply Chains,” an article included in the second quarter 2019 issue of MHI Solutions magazine.
In 2018, VR software and service revenues in enterprise training exceeded $200 million, reports Khin Sandi Lynn, Industry Analyst at tech advisory firm ABI Research. The author of the firm’s “VR in Enterprise Training” report, Khin predicts a rapid uptick in growth to $6.3 billion in 2022.
“Most people think of VR in terms of entertainment or gaming applications,” she says. “But increasingly we’re seeing it applied to training in heavy equipment industries, including mining and gas, where the machinery is specialized and mission critical.”
At NextWave Safety Solutions, which provides training in a variety of industries and formats, Chief Technology Officer Gary J. Foreman is seeing the same trend. The company’s in-house developed VR training modules are increasingly in demand from its client base, he says, noting that current offerings include supply chain-related VR training for lockout-tagout procedures, fall protection and forklift operators.
“Although it’s not a substitute for an OSHA-approved training program, it’s a highly effective component of one—particularly for jobs with an element of risk or danger,” he explains.
That’s because a trainee can fail multiple times and in multiple ways without causing harm to people or property. “It de-risks the situation and allows the users to learn the consequences of a poor decision or incorrect action. Take lockout-tagout for example. If someone tries to open a cabinet before it’s been locked out, they get electrocuted—you can’t really train people for that in real life,” Foreman continues.
Likewise, forklift OEMs are producing VR training modules in addition to their current training programs as a supplement to OSHA requirements, says Stacey Patch of The Raymond Corporation. Patch, Business Manager for the Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator, notes that OSHA forklift operator certification requirements include both formal training in a lecture or video approach, as well as practical execution of skills on a vehicle.
“In between the two, we suggest that a trainee utilize a VR simulator to enable them to become both comfortable and confident prior to navigating the vehicle on the facility floor,” she explains, noting that Raymond’s system connects directly to the actual truck via a special port to further enhance the authenticity of the experience.
Also offering VR training for its reach truck, order selector and internal combustion engine (ICE) counterbalance models is Yale Materials Handling Corp. Yale’s VR simulator is an independent unit, meaning a forklift doesn’t have to be taken out of service for training to be conducted on it, explains Director of Training Evelyn Velasquez-Cuevas. In addition to not hampering productivity, its portability allows the simulator to be easily shared between facilities to ensure training program consistency.
Further, Velasquez-Cuevas says VR training is also a highly effective tool for improving the skills of existing operators, as the computer-generated simulation precisely documents the user’s actions. “For example, perhaps they begin turning sooner than they should; that’s something that’s very difficult for a trainer to see, but very easily detected by the system, which produces a precise report card indicating areas of improvement,” she notes.
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