An elevator that transports to virtual reality
Kone has been training maintenance field workers in VR environments since 2017. Now the company is transferring the product development of elevators and escalators to virtual environments.
The elevator company Kone has started its transition to the metaverse. Kone has recently harnessed VR environments for the product development of elevators and escalators, as well as for the innovation of maintenance procedures, maintenance documentation, and risk management.
The results are promising. “Almost 100 Kone employees have participated in testing the applications before implementation. What is particularly gratifying is that, based on feedback, people feel that they are able to get their work done better with the help of VR applications,” says Kone's specialist Sanni Siltanen.
There is cooperation in Kone’s maintenance development, especially between the branches in Finland, India, and China. The planning of product development, maintenance procedures, and maintenance documentation in a virtual environment enables a new kind of cooperation between Kone's branches in different parts of the world.
“All parties get to see the real-scale model of the elevator or escalator in virtual reality. This adds enormous value. Previously, this would have required flying people to the physical prototype.”
VR technology has developed rapidly in recent years. For example, the quality and price of VR glasses are starting to reach a reasonable level from an investment perspective.
“VR glasses reached a sufficient technical level a few years ago. VR does not completely replace traditional teaching methods, but for example in the training of field workers, such as installation and maintenance, it has proved to be a good solution,” Siltanen says.
Siltanen emphasizes that, like all new technology, the introduction of VR applications must be carefully planned so that it genuinely generates added value.
“It is important to remember that VR technology is used by people who have a job to do. The maintenance developer's goal is to think of the best possible maintenance procedure. The goal of technical documentation is to make instructions that serve the field worker. The job of risk management, on the other hand, is to check the documentation and consider its possible risks.”
“So, it is necessary to consider whether the VR environment serves the task. There is the threat that introducing new technology will only increase work, Siltanen reminds.”
When maintenance procedures for a new elevator model are in development, three to five experts participate in the VR environment.
“Three people are already quite many when we are operating in a virtual elevator shaft. The spaces become cramped quickly. Not all workers should be in a VR environment, but rather, for example, the maintenance procedure will be reviewed in a VR environment in Hyvinkää and monitored through a video connection from India,” says Siltanen.
Virtual cooperation between Kone's different branches has shown that VR environments make it easier to document maintenance instructions for Kone's elevators and escalators.
The planning of maintenance instructions will be quicker when every expert has access to a shared environment regardless of time and place.
“All kinds of communication become more effective when the work is done in a shared environment. There is no need for so many exchanged e-mails, cell phone photos, or notebook notes that are sent back and forth,” Siltanen says.
At the same time, the person working on the final version of the maintenance documentation receives illustrative instructions, for example, on using pictures in instructions.
“In a VR environment, we can record a video or picture of changing a component. We have experimented with a model in which the pictures taken in the VR environment serve as a model for the person who illustrates the documentation. In the future, images can be transferred from the VR environment directly to the eventual instructions,” Siltanen says.
In product development, changes in the need for new elevators and escalators are noticed more easily in the virtual world than before. It speeds up product development and saves money.
“Product design that is done in a virtual environment considerably reduces the need for prototypes. It saves time and money and improves the installation and maintainability of elevators and escalators,” Siltanen says.
In elevator product development and the planning of maintenance procedures, numerous factors related to spatial visualization and work positions need to be solved: will the hatch open in the space reserved for it, will the tool fit in the desired space, and can the maintenance worker’s hand reach to support the component that they are changing while turning the screw at the same time.
In the past, it was only possible to prove this by building a real-scale prototype since the visualization of the space and dimensions may remain incomplete in the CAD model.
Designing in a virtual environment is a more experiential way of designing new products than traditional CAD modeling
“Typically, in 3D model-based design, a certain space remains too tight, although the intention was for the tool and hand to fit through it. These have previously only been noticeable in the physical prototype. Now the VR environment makes it possible to take the user into consideration in a completely new way,” Siltanen says.
“Instead of designers looking at 3D models on a computer screen, they get the real-scale experience of the device and the space reserved for it. So, VR increases the designer's certainty about the functionality of the solutions,” Siltanen continues.
Kone developed ways of utilizing VR applications in cooperation with the University of Tampere in the HUMOR project (HUMan Optimized x Reality).
5 facts about VR observed by Kone
1. Research, product development, and the development of maintenance documentation are quicker when cooperation between different branches of a globally operating company becomes easier in VR environments.
2. When the work is done in a modeled and real-scale environment, needs for change are detected faster than in CAD design.
3. Significantly reduces the need for physical prototypes, which saves time and money.
4. The maintainability and installation of the elevators will improve
5. Maintenance documentation will be of higher quality. Instructions are produced faster than before.
Text: Matti Keränen
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