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Educational simulation of chemical and electrolytic surface treatment lines in Virtual Reality

In December 2018, Creasynth deployed an innovative Virtual Reality tool dedicated to training in the field of materials treatment at the UIMM Bretagne Training Centre in Saint-Nicolas de Redon (44). The Virtual Reality application developed is an educational simulation of chemical and electrolytic surface treatment lines.

The Pôle Formation UIMM Bretagne and the Tech'Surf industrial association were able to count on the involvement of CMI-SLETI, a company that designs electrolytic and chemical surface treatment lines, which provided the CAD drawings of the industrial installations. The project, which is in line with the development of innovative educational tools, is supported by the Brittany and Pays de Loire regions and the French government as part of a P.I.A.

Important pedagogical issues: learning and acquiring skills through new modalities

Creasynth has developed a tool with the UIMM Bretagne training centre's educational team and Tech'Surf experts that simulates the environment of a materials processing plant. The solution can be used by different learner profiles (apprentices, jobseekers, employees) preparing for different qualifications in the materials processing sector.

The application allows learners to immerse themselves in a hyper-realistic and interactive industrial environment. The entire process is reproduced:

  • personal protective equipment in changing rooms
  • taking note of the production order
  • the choice of appropriate treatment
  • the start of the line
  • the line tour
  • any necessary maintenance operations
  • the choice of the room to be treated
  • the hanging of the piece on the frame
  • The positioning of the trolley
  • driving a robot
  • quality control at the end of the treatment
  • stopping the line
  • selective sorting of personal protective equipment

The aim is twofold: to become familiar with the process of treating materials on the one hand, and to become aware of chemical and industrial risks on the other. The solution enables learners to be placed in reconstructed situations without the danger of physical and/or material damage. Indeed, the use of virtual reality for educational purposes was considered relevant compared to a real-life learning situation.

The lines are fully functional for simulation (level sensors, overflow, chemical reactions, valve settings, etc.).

An educational tool

The UIMM Bretagne Training Centre's teaching team and Creasynth worked together to reproduce and design the structure of the simulation of the various lines and processes in such a way as to promote the didactic aspect of the experiment. A gradual approach to the process and a progressive organisation of the difficulties were therefore favoured. Thus, three levels of difficulty are proposed: initiation, intermediate and expert. Cues guiding the learner's progress have been designed and are proposed in the first two levels: very detailed in the initiation level, more synthesised in the intermediate category. In the expert level, the learner evolves in complete autonomy.

The solution allows trainers to use active teaching methods by proposing "virtual" professional situations, favouring the link between theory and practice.

In order to facilitate the trainer's work with his learners, the simulation is totally autonomous in its operation. The trainer can modify the application in real time. The trainer has a downloadable report enabling him to evaluate the skills worked on by the learners during the immersive activity.

By having a complete suite of learning sequences in an industrial environment operating under a virtual reality headset, trainers are able to train and assess the skills worked on by their learners in compliance with certification standards.

A session report provides trainers with comprehensive feedback on the learners' activity.

Ergonomic design

The simulation tool is laptop-based and should be usable by the widest possible range of learners, regardless of their aptitude for and familiarity with computers.

Creasynth and the UIMM Bretagne training centre's educational team ensured the quality of the application's ergonomics. The solution developed aims to make it intuitive for learners to move around in the virtual environment. In particular, new forms of interaction have been designed, of the "natural interaction" type. Based on the principle of reproducing real technical gestures transposed into virtual reality, these interactions encourage the immersion of learners in the simulation and aim to reduce the acclimatisation time specific to immersive tools.

The simulation goes as far as the functional reproduction of the electrical cabinets, whose buttons and elements, like all the other elements of the simulation, handle and react exactly like their real twins.

A solution designed in agile mode

Throughout the project, Creasynth ensured that the educational requirements and needs of the UIMM Bretagne training centre were in line with the current development possibilities of virtual reality and the constraints specific to the project.

The project was managed in agile mode. The method meets the joint desire of the Pôle Formation UIMM Bretagne and Creasynth to prioritise the pedagogical approach and the transposition of the real processing line to the digital twin.

This iterative development procedure, consisting of tests and validations of the immersive methods, corresponded perfectly to the needs of the project while guaranteeing the educational quality of the whole. A protocol for testing and delivery of betas was thus put in place in the middle of the project. Together with the deployment of an online project monitoring tool, this method allowed the development of the simulation to be paralleled by the tests carried out by the teaching team and the learners.

As such, an iteration of the Unreal Engine has been specifically designed and implemented to develop the functionality of the solution, including a real-time fluid and gas solver used in the simulation.

This approach enabled the project to be completed in a short and controlled timeframe (7 months), while optimising the tool from a technical and pedagogical point of view even before its delivery.