HYDAC Australia, in conjunction with Deakin Motion Lab, has constructed a virtual reality (VR) wheel lock hydraulic power unit training system – amid many others in the pipeline – to meet the urgent requirement for trained complex machinery technicians.
The reasoning behind the construction of the VR wheel lock hydraulic unit is based on the “huge challenges” the mining industry faces in not only getting technicians to remote locations to service and maintain systems but also “in managing the live, dynamic and increasingly complex systems” once they arrive on site, HYDAC managing director Mark Keen says.
“And this doesn’t even take into account the challenges around training students in the operation, maintenance and repair of these systems; safe access to dynamic working systems is almost impossible for students and trainees.”
The mining industry is “crying out” for solutions, Keen emphasises. “Complaints about a lack of skilled people in the fluid power industry and inadequate training are rife. And with the advent of Industry 4.0 HYDAC is doing its utmost to improve efficiency, effectiveness, accessibility, speediness, and sustainability of complex machinery training in novel VR ways.”
VR wheel lock hydraulic power unit prototype of actual unit
The physical wheel lock hydraulic power unit – built by HYDAC for a mining company’s iron ore train and on which the prototype hinges – can be seen at the company’s Altona headquarters.
The fluid power company recently invited a German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AHK) contingent to a VR wheel lock hydraulic power unit training session. Guests were given Oculus Quest VR headsets that permitted direct interaction with the power unit while using their virtual hands and real voices to communicate with each other and execute assessment tasks such as cleaning coolers and changing pressure elements and hydraulic filters to checking the pressure of hydro-pneumatic accumulators.
Keen explains that each iron ore train carriage has thousands of tons of ore in it. Once the train reaches its destination the train is parked and a whole carriage is tipped to dump the iron ore, which is moved along by a conveyor system straight onto boats or into a stacker reclaimer for storage.
“The wheel lock puts locks in between train carry through to hold them in position. Currently we are holding the second wheel lock in the new generation that we’ve designed for the mining company, with an order for the third system coming through,” he says.
“We’re replacing 10/15 year-old-systems that have no advanced electronic control and no condition monitoring etc.
“The system supplies high pressure oil at approximately 800 litres a minute. The forces and the energy required are phenomenally high so we use pilot pressure to open a series of large logic valves and enable the flow to go extremely quickly into the cylinders. But then we have to control the cylinders to stop as well; otherwise they would be smashed to pieces. So it’s a huge amount of precisely controlled flowing energy.”
The wheel lock hydraulic power unit is ultimately set to be used at mines in Pilbara, Keen points out.
“Technicians responsible for serving and maintaining this system can’t reasonably train on it because it’s a live system working 24/7. This highlights the significance of the VR training they can do beforehand to equip them for the tasks at hand,” he says.
Nord Drivesystems Australia managing director Max Jarmatz comments that it was the first time he has ever undertaken VR maintenance. “It’s pretty impressive to see how real the VR experience compares to the actual machine we saw earlier in the tour; the guidance, checklist in place and tools all look pretty real. I believe that after the training I could be sent on-site to effectively service the machine, which is pretty impressive.”
Henkell Brothers managing director Hans Henkell says he is “fascinated by the replicability” of the system. “I see VR training as being just as necessary in every other industry as it is in the field of hydraulics for training and advertising etc. It’s also huge from an entertainment point of view – the possibilities are endless.”
Deakin Motion Lab director Stefan Greuter says that researchers at Deakin Motion Lab focus on the interaction design to enable hands-on interaction and a consistent and connected training experience for users of VR and AR devices.
“By providing customised training in VR and AR field support, HYDAC extracts the environmental emissions resulting from HYDAC’s training activities by digitising the requirement for travel and equipment transport to customers and training centres, making hydraulics training more accessible to students,” Professor Greuter says.
Phase two of the project is centred on digital twin technology, which generates virtual replicas of physical devices using advanced condition monitoring to improve mining and other operations through the power of this technology, to be followed by phase three’s transition to Microsoft’s HoloLens with full real-time digital support for workers in the field.
“This will allow the experience of projected information onto the lenses of any number of participants in the field – they will get pop up information including menus, tasks, lists, instructions, exploded view diagrams and tools etc,” Keen says.
“But more importantly a trainer or supervisor anywhere in the country can see what the technician sees and give direct instructions in real time as well as verify that the maintenance is taking place correctly.”