Virtual Reality Crane Simulator

Tata Steel Port Talbot

Fewer risks, safer workers with advanced VR training for crane operators

A case study about how Tata Steel at Port Talbot implemented a Virtual Reality simulator to train new crane operators. Decreasing total training time and improving overall plant-site safety.

Challenge

Training is one of the biggest challenges

Heavy industry job sites can be aggressive and hazardous environments. These job sites change every day. And what was safe yesterday can be potentially very dangerous the next. Training can be a challenge in such environments. How does a company like Tata Steel train its workforce and avoid any danger? Together with immersive technology agency BLUF, Tata Steel implemented a Virtual Reality training program for crane operators with major benefits.

The North Charging Crane of the BOS plant at the Port Talbot steel works was installed in 1969 when the plant was built. In 2020 the crane will be completely replaced. This drastically changes the way drivers operate the crane and they will have to develop new driving techniques and habits.

"One of our biggest challenges when the crane is installed, will be training. Since this is a very aggressive and potentially dangerous environment full of hazards. We found that training on the real crane would have a lot of risk itself. Furthermore, we need to take a crane out of operation and that drastically decrease the amount of steel we can make.

"If we could train in an environment away from the operation and any hazards, doing the exact same job, we could take a lot of risk away for the production, our crane operators and plant personal as well. - Thomas Badger (Electrical Engineer Tata Steel)

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Picture - Unsplash

Solution

Integration of authentic controls in Virtual Reality

Collaborating with Tata Steel, creative immersive technology agency BLUF and simulation partner Controllab found a solution for these challenges. Developing a highly realistic virtual-reality simulator for Tata Steel's crane driver training program. With this VR simulator, no real risk ever arises for man or machine.

BLUF created an interactive 3D model (digital Twin) of the BOS plant. Together with Controllab, real life behavior and physics of the crane where integrated into the 3D environment. An authentic copy of the crane operator chair was used to control the VR simulator.

While a crane operator is operating the crane in Virtual Reality, the instructor uses a dashboard on his computer to apply, manage, and analyze training scenarios. He can follow the operators progress through different cameras and gain insights about their actions. This unique data and insights are saved to improve quality of the operator and overall training.

From top left to bottom right: Authentic control system, virtual reality image of the BOS plant, instructor dashboard.

Result

Improved safety, building muscle memory and confidence, decreased total training time.

"The main thing that we achieve within the training is muscle memory. Building confidence of the new controllers of the new crane. So, when operators face a problem, they react without thinking. What we want to get out of it is a seamless transition for operators on the new crane,'' added Thomas.

The simulator is extremely realistic; for instance, even a ladle break out can be simulated at any time during the training. Torpedo trains with liquid steel are coming in and out of the plant, and even the converter can be controlled with extreme precision. "With this Virtual Reality Training Tata Steel is going to cut out training time while production continues,'' said Wilco de Ruiter - Founder BLUF.

We are trying to get a bit of a culture change within the steel industry on how we use 3D environments and how we train as well. I'd like to think this VR training is a stepping stone towards that. Training our employees in a safe environment before releasing them into a potential hazardous environment will reduce the risk to our employees''. - Thomas Badger.

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