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OCTC Developing VR to Train Manufacturing Students

Owensboro Community & Technical College is using a grant from the National Science Foundation to create a virtual reality-based training program for higher-education students in advanced manufacturing.

Economy Manufacturing
(TNS) — With a $593,464 grant from the National Science Foundation, Owensboro Community & Technical College will be developing a virtual reality (VR) training application for advanced manufacturing that will be used by post-secondary institutions across the United States.

The Advanced Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative, or AMTEC, which is housed at OCTC's 1501 Frederica St. campus, is leading the project that is slated to kick off Oct. 1.

Jason Simon, director of AMTEC, said developing this training aid will benefit the skilled workforce of tomorrow.

During the first year of the grant, AMTEC will be developing skill standards, Simon said.

"We will be talking with industry partners across the country who can tell us what technicians need to understand when they get to a worksite," he said. "We put the industry in the driver's seat to tell us what they need our technicians to know."

Once the application is developed, it will then be rolled out to AMTEC partners across the United States who will have access to and pilot its curriculum. From there, any fine-tuning or adjustments can be made to hopefully make the VR an industry standard, Simon said.

The VR will be developed to be used in conjunction with a simulator students already train on to prepare for the industry. It will be designed to understand troubleshooting faults that are commonly seen in the field.

"Let's say you have a technician that is working on a line at Toyota Manufacturing," Simon said. "For some reason, the human machine interface starts throwing a fault saying the robot is not performing correctly. A technician will have to come up to the line and troubleshoot down to determine what is wrong and how to fix it."

He said the VR will simulate a situation similar to that to train technicians what to do and how to do it so that when they are in the field under such circumstances they will already know how to handle it.

These days, Simon said, advanced manufacturing technicians need to not only know how to change hydraulic pumps, but also how to understand cybersecurity and how to troubleshoot other cyber concerns. This VR will help with that endeavor, he said.

For this project, which is titled Strengthening the Industry 4.0 Workforce through Virtual Reality Training, OCTC and AMTEC will be collaborating with zSpace, a leader in VR technology. The VR application that is developed will then be shared with other college and secondary students training in advanced manufacturing across the country.

Project partner Mary Batch, the talent management manager for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, said that there is a "considerable gap" in the labor market and qualified talent.

"Our strategy is to position ourselves in creating and building a flexible and adaptable workforce that can navigate current and upcoming technology challenges," Batch said. "That, at the same time, drives long-term economic growth."

This VR application will expand opportunities by building up talent, Batch said.

Scott Williams, OCTC president, said this project will help to promote "a diverse, highly skilled and globally competitive workforce in Kentucky and the nation."

"In the current and post COVID-19 era, introducing future technicians to industry 4.0 concepts is critically important to ensure a well-trained workforce is ready to fill the needs of industry," he said.

©2021 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.