22 Feb Virtual-reality welding simulator an opportunity for Chippewa Valley college
Eau Claire, Wis. — A digital welding simulator that could also help expand the use of virtual reality in several educational programs was demonstrated on Wednesday at Chippewa Valley Technical College.
The Virtual Reality Welding Trainer, which was co-developed by the visual technology firm VRSim and computing firm Silicon Graphics lets students gain hours of welding experience without using up expensive metal supplies, while allowing detailed critiques.
“In a nutshell, it is a mechanism by which we take virtual reality – things from the gaming industry – and apply them to manufacturing and welding,” said Judson O’Hair, professional services representative for SGI’s manufacturing area.
The trainer, which consists of a pair of virtual reality goggles similar to those used in laser tag games and an actual welding torch hooked up to a tracking system, creates a scenario for users such as the hull of a submarine or the inside of a nuclear facility. Users then turn on the torch and maneuver it over the metal in their digital world, while a device surrounding the torch simulates pressure and resistance for the torch based on the chosen scenario.
In addition to lower costs, the VR Welding Trainer also allows greater levels of involvement in the training process. While only two people are allowed in normal welding bays, the simulator is a contained environment and can send performance feedback directly to a computer, allowing the instructor to offer direct advice to the trainee and multiple other students viewing the simulation to learn directly from their actions.
Joe Hegge, vice president of education for Chippewa Valley Technical College, said the college was looking into the possibilities of adding the simulation as a tool for their manufacturing classes and expanding their research into virtual reality. He speculated that the applications could be as simple as changing a tire or as complex as surgery.
“They grab the welding torch and get themselves positioned, pull the trigger, see the flame and move along that path,” O’Hair said. “When they get to where they want to stop they release the trigger and see where the weld is in the ‘metal’ as it goes from red to grey.”
The device’s tracking system then records information about the weld, such as speed, angles, eye-hand coordination and muscle position, and graphs it on a computer screen for the instructor to view the results. From there, they can give the student specific suggestions on how to change their technique and repeat the same scenario as many times as necessary.
“You can give them so much more practice … thousands more trials as opposed to the time for physical trials,” O’Hair said. She added that repetition like this is very impractical in the real world due to the costs and supply of metal.