New recruits at UK glass manufacturer Beatson Clark are training to operate IS production machines using virtual reality technology.

The South Yorkshire container glass manufacturer has been working with virtual reality group VRMT to develop a new training system to help staff understand more detail about the glassmaking process.

The training programme recreates a lifelike 3D virtual model of the factory and allows IS machine operators to fully understand the bottle-forming process and identify faults.

“We have been working closely with VRMT for several months to develop the programme, which is the first of its kind to be used by a glass manufacturer anywhere in the world,” said Trevor Phillips, Production and Engineering Director at Beatson Clark.

“Trying to learn the glass forming process from a book, or even on the shop floor, is difficult because the trainee cannot see exactly what is happening, so it takes quite a while to grasp.

“Because the virtual machine is highly visual the trainee becomes immersed in the programme –rather like when you’re engrossed in a good movie – and it becomes easier to recall what has happened.

“Currently the VR programme is training machine operators, but in future we can also use it to provide detailed refresher training for existing staff.”

Tony Pawinski from VRMT added: “Trevor showed great vision in the early days and immediately saw the future potential of VR for revolutionising IS training, not just for machine operators new and old but also for a whole raft of personnel who are indirectly involved with the production of glass containers.

“This includes support staff such as Karen Scholey. Even customers can now be safely shown the complexity of glass bottle manufacturing and discuss it with more clarity.

Case study: Karen Scholey, Buyer at Beatson Clark

Trevor Phillips: “I was interested to see how quickly someone could learn, from having no knowledge of the forming process at all to being able to explain how it works without any help. Karen Scholey, our buyer, volunteered.

“Firstly I showed her our real single-section training machine and various pieces of mould equipment. I then asked Karen questions about the section and found that she could not remember what we had talked about.

“Then she went onto the virtual machine and I took her through the programme so that she could actually see the forming process. I then slowed the section down to a quarter of its normal speed and talked her through what was happening.

“We spent 45 minutes on the VR machine, after which Karen could write down what was happening step by step. She also explained when re-heat times started and ended and could quite easily identify each piece of mould equipment.

“A week later I asked Karen to take me through the process again, which she did with ease. She said that she simply visualised the section again, like recalling a film or TV programme she had watched, and she could still explain what was happening and why.”

Pictured: Beatson Clark employee Karen Scholey using the VR training system