Bearing manufacturer NSK Europe is leveraging virtual reality (VR) training methods to improve the efficiency of its ball bearing production process.
Through leveraging VR technologies, the company hopes to keep its machines running 24/7 while simultaneously training engineers in their operation and permitting easier standardisation of training courses.
The technology is being introduced as a pilot project at the company’s Munderkingen plant in Germany and aims to serve as a model for the future roll-out of VR training at other facilities.
NSK is integrating VR technologies into its production processes in partnership with Industry 4.0 and digitisation firm Varity.me. The main aim of the project is to eliminate production interruptions due to training session requirements, and keep the firm’s high-precision grinding and honing machines running continuously.
VR allows these training sessions to take place in an interactive virtual space from decentralised locations. According to NSK, one advantage of this type of training is that each operator learns how to set up the machine in the same way when switching over to the next product. Set-up workflows are particularly important within NSK’s Munderkingen plant as it produces a wide variety of customer-specific bearing types in small batches which require frequent machine setups.
VR-supported training of the set-up process establishes a standard procedure which can reduce cycle time errors, scrap rates, and deviations in quality. Perhaps most significantly, operators can repeatedly practice and improve their set-up skills without having the physically dismantle the machine each time.
“The time required for training sessions in the virtual space is often only a third of that required for conventional training, largely because VR training can focus on procedures without having to handle real tools and workpieces,” said Carsten Schleyer, who is heading up the project.
Benefits beyond training
NSK has also identified how VR technologies can deliver advantages that go far beyond the firm’s training requirements.
For instance, engineers can be trained on machines in the virtual space that are still under development, while set-up procedures can be analysed and optimised using the digital model of the machine. This allows for feedback to be communicated directly to the machine developers who can make adjustments accordingly.
Having a digital machine model also enables the firm’s engineers to view it from all conceivable angles, benefiting repair and maintenance operations such as component replacement.
“Having a model of a grinding or honing machine in the virtual space not only makes employee training easier, it also helps with the operation and maintenance of the actual machine,” Schleyer added.
According to NSK’s management team, the project serves as a good example of how digitalisation can not only deliver expected benefits to the production process, but can also reveal potential in other areas.