The simulation environment that is often referred to as virtual reality (VR). It was natural that aerospace, with its deep R&D pockets, was one of the first sectors to adopt the expensive equipment.
Today, with advancements in computing and visualization technology, VR simulators have gradually come to be developed for teaching hospitals, the consumer video game market, and most recently, the skilled trades. Welders have been able to get their hands on training simulators for many years now, including Lincoln Electric since 2009. Its Vrtex welding training simulators range from around $10,000 to $50,000, depending on the hardware and software features.
Now with its introduction at the IWF Atlanta 2016 trade show (it debuted at the Ligna 2015 show in Hanover, Germany), woodworkers in Canada and the U.S. will be able train and test their skills on a training simulator created in France.
The Wood-Ed Table unit from Mimbus of Saint Jean, France, mimics several basic machines — a band saw, table/rip saw, jointer and router/shaper — in one integrated system. Its Wood-Ed Factory platform, for sawmill operators, will also be on display at IWF. (Mimbus also has simulators for spray booth training, welding, construction trades and industrial automation.)
The ceo and founder of Mimbus, Laurent Da Dalto, had been working on simulators for the, including the first Lincoln Electric offering, when he was approached in 2012 by the AFPA (Association Formation Professionnelle Adultes), a network of adult vocational training centres in France, to produce a simulator for cabinet makers.
The equipment that Mimbus prototyped was mandated to combine several technologies at once, according to Da Dalto: virtual reality, augmented reality, distance learning and collaboration to provide students with a fully immersive experience of the woodworking activity.
The Wood-Ed table tracks the user’s hand motion and, via augmented reality furnished by 3D glasses, provides him with a realistic 3D vision of the tool and wood materials. As well, a patented force feedback system recreates the real feeling of cutting wood without the danger of cutting the user.
Learning a skill in a completely safe environment is particularly attractive to educators and wood shop owners as it can lower insurance premiums. With the repetition of the exercises, the user is more confident when he moves to the real machine, and reduces the risk of injuries. “The table gives the effect of the saw in relation to hands at the correct position,” says Da Dalto.
The physical, as well as visual simulation is what makes the table design effective. As different planks with embedded magnets are pushed and pulled, electromagnets embedded in the table combine to provide passive down force feedback up to 200 lb. White locator dots on the 3D glasses, gloves and planks provide additional 3D sensory feedback to the overhead stereoscopic projector/scanner system anchored to the table. Appropriate sound is generated by the high-end PC tower under the table to simulate the noise a user would experience in a shop with a real machine.
The system also changes the training approach by introducing augmented reality simulation into the curriculum of training centres. It cuts overall costs, improves the skill transfer from trainer to trainee and speeds up the learning momentum.
Key to the Wood-Ed table for trainers and trainees is the Vulcan LMS, or learning management system. The Cloud-based LMS means that trainers can log in to the system and track a student’s progress, as well as upload the next set of exercises. There is also playback capability to assist a student that wants to review a problem he’s having.
Each table module — band saw, rip saw, shaper or jointer — has their own specific set of parameters that can be modified by instructors to match real-life models of shop floor machines. However, Da Dalto cautions “the more generic the machine, the better for learning.”
In his experience on the welding simulation platform, “there can be a 30 percent saving in time and raw materials. But with an LMS applied (in that environment) it can double the benefit — but the trainer needs to be proactive.”
The LMS also provides a benchmark for trainers and their respective training centres, testing the collaboration methods. For example, if the coursework is exactly the same in separate classrooms, it can determine if one trainer’s set of students are progressing as quickly as another trainer’s.
Each training centre in France where the Wood-Ed table has been deployed has a different curriculum, according to Da Dalto, but they all “prepare the student for a degree of real-life difficulty.”
What life might look like for students, colleges and wood shops with the acceptance of such an industry-specific training simulator can be found in the welding sector.
Lincoln Electric discovered that there are multiple purposes for its welding simulation trainers, including screening at the job recruiting stage and screening welders at a job site if a quality issue arises. Sarah Evans, virtual reality product manager at Lincoln Electric in Cleveland, Ohio, says, “you’ll see some industries in the U.S. and I believe in Canada that use them for recruiting and sometimes for internal training.”
What Ken McKen, Canadian Welding Association manager, Western Canada, in Nisku, Alta., says about learning on welding simulators could easily apply to woodworkers. “It’s all about muscle memory. So they are getting used to being in the right position, getting comfortable, getting the right angle and the right inclination, travel speed.”
In a report from the American Welding Society and its industry resources, the U.S. needed nearly 450,000 welders in 2014. Canadian business face similar challenges when it comes to filling skilled trades positions, something Ottawa-based Skills Canada (SC) addresses with its regional, provincial and national competitions for secondary and post-secondary students.
The Try-A-Trade zone at SC competitions includes a Lincoln Electric Vrtex simulator. SC welding National Technical Committee and Edmonton, Alta.-based NAIT welding instructor Dan Lynge says “it gives the kids a chance to try hands on.”
Lynge said that one girl in middle school who was exposed to the Try-A-Trade went on to take welding at high school, won a gold medal at the Alberta wide competition and a bronze at the SC National Competition.
Welding shops share another thing in common with their wood shop counterparts. Evans notes that when there is a call for workers, all of a sudden “everyone and their brother is the best welder ever.”
The problem then becomes the liability of putting a recruit directly on to a live test, she explains. “You can tell immediately if they have ever welded before.” Training simulators don’t waste consumables, either, whether they are for welding or woodworking. “So you are saving a lot of money as well,” says McKen.
“You can virtually use the unit whether it be in a church or a classroom. When we take it (the Vrtex) down to these career fairs we use it as a marketing tool as opposed to a training tool.”
The welding training simulators used to be cost prohibitive. “Three or four years ago they used to be about $100K, so that was pretty cost prohibitive. Now there are a lot of institutions looking at them. In B.C. there are colleges who have two or three each.”
Woodworkers in Canada may have similar access to their own version of virtual reality soon. At press time, the Wood-Ed Table training simulator system had at least one Ontario college interested in making the investment in the training technology.