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Industry training with virtual reality

Aug. 21, 2019
Christine LaFave Grace is joined by Stacey Patch of Raymond Corp. to discuss the benefits of virtual reality for training in the manufacturing industry

In this episode of the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast, Plant Services' Christine LaFave Grace interviews Stacey Patch of Raymond Corp. about the benefits of virtual reality in training, improving safety and more.


Amanda Del Buono: Welcome back to Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. My name is Amanda Del Buono. Today, Christine LaFave Grace is joined by Stacey Patch of Raymond Corp. to discuss the benefits of virtual reality for training in the manufacturing industry. Patch shares how the innovative technology has helped the company and its clients better train its lift truck users. Here’s their interview.

Christine LaFave Grace: You know that feelingwhen you’re new on the job, and you’re maybe using equipment or programs you haven’t worked with before, and you’re acutely aware that you’re being watched? What if there were a way to remove some of that pressure for you and some of the risk for your employer? That’s what new VR, virtual reality, training tools are aiming to do for manufacturers. Train on a simulator to build proficiency, avoid a costly and potentially dangerous real-life error, the reasoning goes. What does VR look like in industry today? For one thing, fork lift operation simulators.

Stacey Patch, a business manager at the Raymond Corp., maker of a virtual reality simulator for lift trucks, says that simulator training not only build workers confidence and proficiency in using lift trucks, but it can also help manufacturers address a growing skills gap.

Stacey, thanks so much for joining me today. 

Stacey Patch: Thanks for having me.

CLG: Can you tell me a little bit about the appeal for manufacturers of VR training? What makes this a step forward in terms of employee training?

SP: Sure. So, virtual reality has certainly been around for many years. We’ve seen it being utilized in many different industries. Our airline pilots are often trained, we’ve seen it in crane operation, medical fields are starting to explore this. So, Raymond, being the innovator that we are and recognized for many innovations, we were looking for a really unique way to help our customers with the challenges, which you define really well in that introduction, of the workforce and the changes that we’re starting to see. Virtual reality seemed like the obvious choice, as it’s had much success in many industries. So, the appeal is that we can instruct these operators in a really unique environment, low risk, a controlled environment, a standardized learning opportunity, so everybody’s going to have the same experience no matter the trainer, they’re going to learn the best practices that are required for operating a forklift. So, the key here is also the opportunity to train in emergency maneuvers. So, whether it be in flight simulation emergency landings, or police officers using it for hostage situations or high-risk scenarios. The same can be said for forklift operation, we can train on specific emergency maneuvers, avoiding collisions, or potential off-dock situations. So, how do we make someone more responsive more quickly, as well as add confidence and understanding of the controls of the forklift.   

CLG: That’s a really interesting point that you’re kind of ensuring quality control by making sure that you get the same training, it can make such a big difference in someone for building proficiency in using it based on what the trainer knows about it, and to kind of remove that variability seems like that would be a really, kind of, powerful point. 

SP: Sure, it’s a great point you bring up, and I talk a lot about this with customers. Complacency is sort of a natural part of human behavior. We tend to do our job for a long time and we learn different behaviors or maybe we don’t recognize that we are doing things differently. So, this is a way for us to again standardize that, control the environment and make sure that we are really supporting those best practices appropriately, so that operator is going to know exactly how to stop, when to stop, how to look, how to plug properly versus using the dead-man brake, all of those things. And it’s actually a great tool, too, to help us understand where operator skills are. So, we talk a lot about pre-screening operators as well. So, if I have somebody that says that they have this experience, well, maybe it’s on a different brand or maybe it’s on a sit-down versus a stand-up, so we can see where their competencies lie, and we can also, in some cases, see what are those behaviors? So, maybe somebody isn’t coming to a complete stop, instead they’re rolling through the end of an aisle. I use the analogy that if I did that in my car, I would get pulled over, and I’d get a ticket for that. So, we want to reinforce that you have to come to a true stop, and you have to look, and you have to sound your horn. And those are behaviors that sometimes we see aren’t always followed appropriately. So, we can reinforce that and provide that feedback because it does give you a penalty for that behavior, or even following too closely. Warehouses are impacted by eCommerce, we need to move things really quickly and so we’ve got people moving through that warehouse and picking those products, and we need to make sure that they’re observing proper following distances and again proper maneuvers.

CLG: Right, and like you say, these kind of learned behaviors, it’s not like we necessarily make a conscious choice to be negligent or not to follow the rules, but you just get into habits and don’t realize that you are doing things that aren’t optimal safety or efficiency. So, it’s an interesting way to document that and have objective, unbiased data behind it.

So, like you mentioned, similar technology has been around for a long time, and we’re all familiar with the flight simulator look and dashboard, but tell me a little bit about what this virtual reality simulator looks like. What is the experience like for the operator?

SP: Sure, so the Raymond product is very unique in the sense that it’s the only product of its kind that can physically integrate right into our forklifts. So, in our industry overall we’re seeing this big push for intelligent warehouse solutions. So, that’s really what we look at and saying, we’ve been building trucks for almost 100 years, how do we make it so it becomes this tool, and how do we make virtual reality integrate into that? So, we developed what we call our S port, with our patent-pending on that technology, to allow us to utilize the forklift in what we call “sim mode,” so the actual function is disabled, however, we can still use those controls in virtual reality. So, the operator actually experiences standing in that compartment, using those physical controls. What is it like to step on the dead-man pedal? What is the feel of the control as you’re turning the truck? And it gives those exact feedback signals, so we’re seeing that exact response in virtual reality. So, it’s very realistic versus using some type of gaming controller or sitting at a desk to perform some type of training. So, it’s a very realistic experience using those exact controls and then we put them through a series of lessons, it depends on the number based on the truck functionality. So, an example would be an order picker, we offer nine to 10 different lesson environments depending on the truck style, where an operator is going to learn the basic skill of what we call “plugging” versus using the dead-man pedal. We want to make sure that they know how to properly stop the truck, and we want them to know that the dead-man pedal is simply for an emergency maneuver and that’s when it should be used. So, we’ll reinforce those throughout the lessons. It’ll start with a very basic skill, like plugging, and then move up to a more advanced skill until you’re eventually picking in a very narrow aisle, attaching to wire guidance, so you hear the sounds and you look at the panel, and it will indicate whether you’ve acquired the wire or not. So, we get all of those real feedback signals. And then, as I mentioned before, we do have those emergency scenarios built in, so an operator would learn how to better avoid a collision, or make sure they know how to keep their arms and legs in the compartment. We’ll give them penalties if their foot’s removed from the compartment. So, all of that is built in to reinforce the best practices that are required.

CLG: One of the other things that you mentioned that this is something that can help address the skills gap. Can you tell me a little bit about how you see interest in this as something that manufacturers can tout, maybe, to younger workers, or that people who are new to industry might find interesting, intriguing, a way to kind of capitalize on gaming within a real-world environment?

SP: Sure, so, there’s a lot of great advantages, and one of the simple things we’ll see is we’ll often have this equipment at tradeshows and it’s just, there’s a buzz about it. It’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s a fun and attractive way to learn, so it definitely attracts people to our booth, or we have a lot of customers who will bring this to events, whether it be some type of employee appreciation day or if they’re at a career fair, something like that. Just to attract interest and see that they’re doing something different.

And then we mentioned the skills gap, but we also see that the labor force is shifting, right? Our baby boomers are retiring, as they should, as they deserve it, but we’re seeing the millennials coming into the workforce, and in a lot of cases, those individuals have probably already experienced virtual reality, whether it be in an arcade or at home or in their schools, we see a lot of schools having interest in this type of technology and using it in different ways. So, they’ve most likely experienced it in some way and studies show that they’re looking for technology to be a part of their job. There’s statistics published that say there’s 170 million virtual reality users this year alone, so it’s becoming a really popular technology whether in their home or training their doing in school, something like that. So, it has this really unique buzz about it because again it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s a different way to help prepare them. When you’re talking about a forklift or even flight simulation or driving a tank in a military setting, these are big pieces of equipment, right?  A forklift can be 6 to 10,000 pounds, and there’s a little bit of fear associated with that. So, we can give them an advantage of learning in this practical, contained environment, and getting that confidence before actually going out there and moving the real equipment. And the technology is designed in a way, the lessons are designed in a way that we tend to reduce distraction in the first few lessons, and then you’ll notice that there’s more sound, there’s more movement, there’s more people, there’s more trucks. So, we introduce those distractions versus just throwing them out in an environment where there’s real trucks moving, there’s real people around. We can help them to better retain that information, so they’re actually learning through the hands-on application, and we’ve seen that it does help to improve retention. We also have some really great case studies with customers where the comments have been, it really helped them feel more comfortable, some managers have said that it’s as if they did have experience coming from an operator who had no previous operator experience. So, they’re excited to use it, it does help with some of that anxiety of learning and it makes them feel confident overall.

CLG: That’s really interesting. How has the industry workforce changed to the point that this is the right moment for VR? Where are we at now that we weren’t at maybe five years ago?

SP: Sure. You know, we’ve mentioned a few of those things already. The skills gap and the labor gap is huge. We’ve seen studies show approximately 2.1 million jobs will be left opened between now and 2028, I think was the statistic. So, we’re seeing that yeah, the workforce is changing, so you know the generation, the millennials, are more tech savvy individuals, but also there’s not enough people to fill the jobs, so we need to come up with ways of training these individuals to be more productive, work more quickly, and operate using those best practices and reinforcing those best practices in the environment. And then the other thing is eCommerce. If we think about the way that’s taken off even in five years, you know as an Amazon purchaser I expect my stuff to be here the next day, if I’m in a city maybe I can get it three hours from now. So, as a consumer, we’re changing our expectations, and that has a huge impact on material handling. We move a lot of product. Pretty much everything you have in your home or you touched probably has been moved by a forklift in some case. So, we have a lot to do with that and that does impact the business. So, we need to help our customers run better, manage smarter, all of those things and keep their product moving out the door in the expected timeframe of the customer’s. So, those are two of the key drivers we’re seeing. The economy is changing and people are really looking to get their goods faster.   

CLG: I’d like to say thanks again to Stacey Patch of the Raymond Corp. For Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce, I’m Christine LaFave Grace.

AD: And that was Christine’s interview with Raymond’s Stacey Patch.

Before we let you go today, I just wanted to remind you about Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing first IWIM Awards Luncheon, which is set to take place on Manufacturing Day, Friday Oct. 4, in Chicago. The event will include a chance to meet several IWIM, a keynote address, a panel discussion and a tour of the MxD facility. Visit www.influentialwomeninmanufacturing.com to register now.

That’s all we’ve got for you today. Stay tuned for the next episode of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. Have a great day!

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