Automotive is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and one of the most competitive. In addition to innovations such as autonomous cars and electric vehicles, the sector is actively seeking ways to keep up with current trends and market expectations. Unsurprisingly, vehicle manufacturers around the world are embracing virtual reality technology, reaping huge benefits from it. One particular area where VR is generating interest in the automotive industry is training.
Vehicle production consists of several processes involving specialists with a cross-section of diverse competencies. Cars must be produced efficiently, but also meet the highest standards of quality and safety, or else the brand risks serious legal repercussions and jeopardizes its reputation. Industrial metaverse technologies, led by virtual reality, are giving the automotive industry a range of enabling solutions that manufacturers are eager to embrace. A Fortune Business Insights report states that the global automotive VR market will grow at an annual rate of 45 percent, reaching more than $14 billion by 2027.
Growth in this segment is being driven by the green transformation of transportation and automotive. Soon, automakers will be required to use alternative fuels like electricity and hydrogen-powered-in vehicles. Manufacturers also face the challenge of creating more powerful and efficient batteries. This involves a change in the way cars are produced, and thus in the competence of production teams, in the way they look at their work and responsibilities. So there is a growing demand for workers who specialize in the production of auto parts, including motors and batteries for electric cars. Meanwhile, the automotive industry, like other branches of the market, is experiencing a serious shortage of specialists. The challenge is to attract the right people to the job, hire them, train them properly, and at the same time ensure they stay with the company as long as possible.
Recruitment, onboarding, training, and knowledge transfer are all processes through which you can build a great (or not-so-great) employee experience that will determine their and the company’s success. Using VR technology for these undoubtedly contributes to this. With this in mind, Aidar was founded, a company that specializes in developing Virtual Reality /Augmented Reality software for knowledge transfer and remote operations for the industry. Its founders, Przemyslaw Maliszewski and Marek Czarzbon, see growing interest in this solution in the automotive industry.
“We look at the training process from the perspective of enabling companies to build a knowledge base that can be developed and transferred within the organization. The common denominator of our solutions is people, as our focus is not on transferring their competencies into the “hands” of a robot, but on raising the profile of expert skills and ensuring that they are not lacking. In mixed reality, people train people.” – Przemysław Maliszewski, CEO, and co-founder of Aidar sp. z o.o., argues.
The purpose of training in a virtual environment is to enable employees to perform tasks under conditions of limited resource availability — a significant distance separating the expert from the company or a competence gap—the bridging of which would involve a complicated and time-consuming process. On the one hand, there are specialists who reach a wide audience without the need for repetitive, time-consuming training meetings. On the other hand, these are employees who have the chance to gain valuable knowledge about often very complex processes in an express mode. Virtual simulations provide a number of benefits to automakers and auto parts manufacturers — reducing research and development costs, optimizing production, and opening up new opportunities for marketing and sales strategies by creating virtual car models or showrooms. The role of VR in minimizing driving risks through the adoption of prototypes and test drives, all in a virtual environment, also cannot be overstated. While there is tremendous scope for VR adoption and integration in the automotive industry, learning and training seem to be key here now.
A virtual production line
Most automakers take a standard approach to training. First of all, their employees receive theoretical training and then practice working with real operating equipment and materials under supervision.Nevertheless, during the practice stage, workers experience a great deal of stress and, naturally, make mistakes. Some of them can be harmful to humans or lead to damage to equipment. Meanwhile, VR training immerses the trainee in a three-dimensional space, simulating a real work environment. This allows the trainee to start practicing skills in a safe environment right from the start. Mistakes don’t cause any harm, so the trainee feels quite confident and can repeat the steps as many times as necessary to achieve perfection.
Vehicle assembly: Volkswagen, Ford, and Mercedes
Traditional assembly training in the automotive industry does not allow assembly line workers to master the right gestures. Learners need a different, more hands-on approach, and VR training comes to the rescue.
A controlled and safe learning environment increases the effectiveness of training and ultimately reduces workplace accidents. BMW’s training program has been supported for years by a virtual assembly line, at which participants practice performing their duties correctly. Data from virtual reality training shared by Ford proves that the manufacturer has made improvements to its manufacturing process through them, reducing assembly line injuries by 70 percent.
Ford has created a virtual lab that allows its engineers and designers to collaborate in real time, even if they are located in different countries. The company has also created FIVE (Ford’s Immersive Vehicle Environment), which uses motion capture markers and sensors to understand how users and drivers interact with the vehicle.
Volkswagen Group, on the other hand, has turned to VR training to educate its employees and support their focus and motivation. Students are immersed in a virtual environment that replicates a real-life logistics centre. The program provides guidance on which objects to interact with and how to do it correctly. The VR training was created with increasing levels of difficulty, so employees can repeat the levels as many times as they want, at a customized pace, until they achieve optimal results. Volkswagen’s assembly training includes more than 30 different tasks, such as installing a door or brake within a certain time frame. In addition to production training, there is also a course in customer service and the introduction of new employees at VR. A supervisor is available during the training sessions to observe progress and give advice and tips for improvement. Training can be recorded to improve its quality and best match his learning pace and needs. Volkswagen is making good use of the scalability of training and, with the help of virtual reality, is creating a more effective knowledge transfer environment.
VR applications are applied everywhere throughout the Volkswagen Group, bringing great benefit to the company. Particularly in the early stages of vehicle development, they make it unnecessary to build lots of physical prototypes. In general, the VR tools reduce expenditure on materials and business trips, and thereby help with meeting sustainability targets. They also simplify coordination and evaluation processes. In a nutshell, they save a lot of time and money.
Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing Poland’s Electric Motor and Battery Plant in Jawor—the manufacturer’s first electric car engine and battery plant in Poland—has put its assembly training in digital space. The plant mapped the car’s engine in virtual reality, based on detailed CAD data, i.e., created a faithful digital copy of it—a so-called digital twin. Subsequent stages of assembly were then mapped in VR. This created 110 virtual workstations, with the help of which the corporation was able to conduct effective training of employees while still building the machinery and assembling the team for the new factory. Each stage was assigned a package of lessons in the form of exercises, which equipped employees with both theoretical and practical knowledge.
The automotive company had its own training centre, with physical workstations with tables and tools, before implementing VR technology to train employees. In order to ease the transition of employees from traditional training to the virtual world, the exact same tables and tools were moved into the centre, placing them in the exact same configuration as in real life. Thus, after donning VR goggles, employees saw a digital reflection of the world they knew.
BMW: holistic VR/AR training
BMW has already been using various types of virtual reality since the 1990s, which it has been systematically expanding and developing. The German conglomerate is focusing on discovering newer and newer training opportunities in VR and has a complete training package developed in this environment. BMW’s training courses provide hyper-realistic simulations of work on the assembly line, in customer service, or the duties of safety managers. Each VR course consists of three different areas; workplace planning, gaining knowledge and qualifications, and comparing component and design data. BMW notes that employees are making good progress thanks to immersive learning methods. So the company uses them on a daily basis, appreciating that virtual training consumes much less money and time.
Peugeot: Learning everyday life in the company
PSA Group, maker of the Peugeot brand, has developed a training course that teaches employees how to make their workday as efficient as possible. The training takes employees into a virtual space and there trains them for a safe, healthy, and productive workday.
The method is already being used in five countries. The training begins with a class with a physiotherapist, where the employee learns stretching. Activities are then coached, which are later reviewed. The training offers voice interaction, and activities are taught with the help of images and texts. Finally, it also covers soft skills, such as communicating with co-workers in a virtual workplace that mirrors offices and production halls. PSA Group is using more than a hundred headsets for this. More than 60 training variants have been developed to benefit 40,000 employees spread across five countries.
Logistics: Audi and Volkswagen
Audi recognizes that VR training can have many advantages, such as not being tied to a fixed location or equipment. It is an elaborate training system that requires the employee to be extremely thorough. Good training is necessary to keep eliminating production errors.
Audi trains its employees using VR to work with the logistics system as efficiently as possible. The trainee enters a virtual version of his workplace at the Logistics Center in Ingolstadt. Using VR goggles and controllers, the logisticians train the activities they use on a daily basis. Audi also uses VR training for salespeople, who learn communication skills by talking to consumers in VR and receive points for making the right choice. The program counts the points and identifies areas for improvement.
Volkswagen, where similar training takes place, appreciates the added benefit of reducing the need for physical space and equipment for employee logistics training.
The future of learning and training in VR for the automotive industry
Auto manufacturers, observing the benefits of employee training in VR, are gradually increasing the use of virtual reality and complementary immersive technologies in other processes. Technology is developing rapidly and becoming more accessible, so more and more manufacturers are taking advantage of it.
Digital space allows people to experience the real world in an incredibly immersive way, so it seems invaluable in any field where the on-the-ground practice is required to achieve proficiency and perfection. The obvious direction, then, is to use it for training vehicle drivers, who could get behind the wheel and practice maneuvers without the risks involved in a future driver’s participation in actual traffic.
VR simulators, moreover, have long proven their worth in training pilots, who gain experience at the controls of airplanes in a safe, virtual environment. They can learn from their mistakes without endangering the lives of the crew and passengers or posing a danger to the environment. Today, as the development of technology has influenced its wider availability, greater choice of possibilities, and lower costs, an analogous solution is already used in some driving schools. There, students gain experience, practice motor memory and, finally, become accustomed to their new role as a driver and gain the confidence that no theoretical course can replace.
The method is proving so effective that in South Korea, which is a world leader in new technologies, including digital ones, and one of the EU’s most important research and innovation partners, VR is expected to determine whether seniors and people with disabilities will keep their driver’s licenses by 2025. The higher risk of causing road accidents in the 65+ group has encouraged the country’s authorities to introduce driving simulation technology, which tests the cognitive functions of test subjects, such as their ability to remember, into the official system for undertaking and carrying out road transport.