09. January 2020 News
Bottrop / Mülheim an der Ruhr, 17 December 2019. Imagine the following scenario: You are in the middle of a factory hall operating a milling machine. The operating manual is on your right. The raw part is firmly clamped, the system starts, and the machine cuts a work piece previously configured and constructed in the CAD system. But wait! The outcome is not as expected. There is an error somewhere in the process chain. Maybe the machine was operated incorrectly after all? Possibly an error occurred when selecting the raw part? Pre-series production may turn out to be expensive. But it doesn’t matter! Why? Because everything took place in virtual reality.
For quite some time now, virtual reality (VR) and mechanical engineering have been viewed in the same context. VR technology allows for simulating the work processes of machines and for training staff in the operation of complex machines and equipment without having to block the expensive machines. Moreover, it is possible to minimise risks prior to expensive pre-series production. Likewise, VR technology can be used to illustrate how to use a machine, how to replace machine parts, and how to repair a machine. In this process, engineers serve as a bridge between software development and practical applications at the workplace.
This is exactly what students explore in the module ‘Computer-aided product development and manufacturing’. They look at product development, construction using CAD systems, virtual manufacturing, computer-aided process planning and the production of prototypes. The problem is: there are 25 students, but only one milling machine. This means there is not sufficient capacity to train all prospective students, for example.
Here’s the solution: The milling machine is visualised in a photorealistic manner. Eight students can try to operate it simultaneously with the help of VR glasses. They move around carefully in the delineated boxes, use joysticks to press buttons, thumb through the operating manual, read reference tables, look up and down. ‘Unusual and unfamiliar but very fascinating’, says mechanical engineering student Florian Eickhoff describing his first experiences. ‘It enhances your spatial imagination, and you can just go ahead and try the whole thing – without causing any costs. And frankly, it is so much fun.’
Prof Dr Joachim Friedhoff says the same: ‘The VR Coop Lab serves as a bridge between theory and practice. That said, virtual reality should not be seen as an alternative to real learning worlds but rather as a way to supplement and support them.’ And yet: Interdisciplinary projects and study units are modernising the study of mechanical engineering. Students get the opportunity to acquire and deepen their IT skills.
The VR Coop Lab is a joint project of the Institute of Computer Science (Prof Dr Sabrina Eimler) and the Institute of Mechanical Engineering (Prof Dr Joachim Friedhoff). Together with their teams, they test scenarios and applications enhancing teaching with modern technologies at both institutes.