NSK works with VR technology in production • AT-Drive technology

VR machine training at NSK’s Munderkingen factory provides a number of key benefits (Photo: Shutterstock)

Operators of high-precision grinding and honing machines for NSK’s ball bearing production now use virtual reality (VR) training methods. The VR technology has, among other things, the advantage that the machines can continue to produce, while the training can be standardized more easily. For NSK, this first project at the factory in Munderkingen (Germany) serves as a model for a future rollout elsewhere.

The production of ball bearings places very high demands on the precision of the machining. Therefore, NSK’s production sites use special high-precision grinding and honing machines. The challenge is to keep these machines running 24/7 and at the same time train the employees in how to operate them.

VR technology

NSK, in collaboration with Varity.me, has found the solution within VR technology. There is no longer any need for production downtime to run training, as it now takes place interactively in the virtual space. In addition, it is possible to hold the training decentralized on just 2 m2.

Setup process

One of the benefits of this type of training is that every operator learns to set up the machine the same way each time they switch to the next product. At the factory in Munderkingen, the established workflows are particularly important, as the factory produces a large number of customer-specific bearing types in small batches, which require frequent machine adjustments.

Fewer errors

VR-assisted training of the setup process leads to a standard operating procedure that reduces cycle time errors, downtime and quality deviations. It is important that operators can repeatedly practice and improve their setup skills without having to disassemble the machine each time.

Short training time

Carsten Schleyer, responsible for the project at NSK in Munderkingen, mentions another advantage: “The time required for training sessions in the virtual space is usually only a third of the time required for conventional training. This is primarily due to the fact that the VR training is exclusively focused on procedures without actually having to work with tools and subjects.”

Machines under development and VR technology

In practice, it soon became clear that VR technology offers many advantages for NSK, which go far beyond the training requirements. Take, for example, a machine that is still under development at the manufacturer. It is possible to install this machine in the virtual space and to train the employees in it. Setup procedures can be analyzed and optimized using the machine’s digital model. The operators can then make suggestions for optimizing these procedures and can even pass their feedback and suggestions directly to the developers of the machine, who can adjust them accordingly.

See every conceivable angle

Another advantage of such a digital machine model in virtual space is that it makes it possible to see it from every imaginable angle. For example, this can be useful for repair and maintenance personnel, who can look into the virtual machine and make a plan for replacing parts.

The NSK management sees this project as a good example of how digitization not only provides the expected benefits, but also provides insight into opportunities in other areas. “The availability of a model of a grinding or grinding machine in the virtual space not only simplifies the training of the employees, but also helps with the operation and maintenance of the respective machine,” confirms Carsten Schleyer.

The implementation of the project at NSK’s factory in Munderkingen took place in collaboration with Varity.me, an interdisciplinary team from Modellfabrik Bodensee GmbH. Varity.me developed its own software, Varity SDK, to quickly and easily develop interactive courses in virtual space.

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