In September 2020, HSSMI, a sustainable manufacturing innovation consultancy, founded in 2012, received funding from Horizon 2020 Project XR4ALL to develop a Virtual Training Creator (VTC) for Phase 1 of their 2nd Open Call.

 

Advancing innovative and sustainable manufacturing

HSSMI helps companies create impact by addressing challenges using practical, problem-solving methodologies and offering tangible solutions, focused on three key areas: scale-up of products and processes, productivity enhancing opportunities, and supporting the transition to a circular economy.

Virtual Training Creator (VTC)

HSSMI has an extensive track record in UK and European funding for collaborative R&D projects. One of the less well-known funding mechanisms they have explored successfully over the last years is the so-called Financial Support for Third Parties (FSTP) or Cascade Funding. The main objective of this financing method is to simplify administrative procedures with SMEs, thus allowing some projects financed by the EU to issue, in turn, open calls to obtain more funding. You can find all of the current open calls here.

Most recently, HSSMI received funding from XR4ALL to develop a Virtual Training Creator (VTC). Workforce training in industry has always been challenging because it often requires travelling long distances, potential safety issues and complex training scenarios. With the ability to transport users to realistic, risk-reduced work scenarios, Virtual Reality (VR) can be used to teach the required skills and procedures fixed to a role while actively engaging users in the learning process.

 

 

VR enables users to learn through practical experiences, which have proven to increase the quality of learning and retention by 75-90%. However, in a manufacturing environment where processes are constantly changing, an isolated immersive training will not scale unless an easy-to-use content creation plugin is provided. Although the adoption of this technology has increased, the ability to develop immersive technology by industry is still scarce and it mainly relies on developers that create a non-editable immersive application.

To facilitate the development of immersive training applications and to reduce the challenges pertaining to the creation stage of the project, HSSMI is developing a content creation tool that integrates work instructions, animated 3D models and training features in an easy step-by-step approach. Each instruction will be segmented into individual steps showing animations, 3D models and text instructions which can easily be edited. The solution will be powered by Unreal Engine, which will enable the training to be deployed in any device selected by the user.

The project will result in:

  • A plugin which includes predeveloped functions that enable virtual training content creation
  • Integration of engineering data from various sources to provide interactive experiences
  • A training that can be deployed across all devices and platforms
  • Reductions in the time it takes to create an interactive and bespoke virtual training
  • Increased ability to introduce change within the current engineering workflows and upskill workforce to facilitate emerging technology adoption
  • A demonstrator of the plugin for a battery teardown application

Talking about some of the lessons learned along the way, Brais Carballedo, Technical Lead for Digital Manufacturing Tools at HSSMI, says:

“I wasn’t very familiar with Cascade funding before applying. The calls are very specific and targeted, therefore it is vital to engage with the relevant funding body to ensure you understand the scope, eligibility rules and application process. I found it very helpful to get in touch with the projects offering Cascade funding directly and to attend information webinars to clarify any questions we had. I found Cascade funding projects to be well suited for SMEs and start-ups as the scope is well defined and timescales are short, which helps to focus.”

 

Outcomes to date

According to Brais Carballedo, the project has already led to more engagement with the XR community and is helping to strengthen HSSMI’s network with other companies working in the same area.

The first phase of the project has successfully been completed with the Digital Manufacturing Tools (DMT) team at HSSMI developing a technical concept paper which provides a deep-dive insight into the plugin solution. The first trials have been carried out to test the importing and integration of the CAD and engineering data as well as the final packaging. The business model has also been defined to analyse the value proposition and potential routes to market for the tool to be available to the wider community.

The VTC project has been selected for the second phase and the team has received positive feedback. A battery teardown training will be developed as part of the second phase of the project to test and validate the final solution. It is expected that the VTC plugin tool will reduce the development time from 1-2 weeks to a couple of days.

HSSMI regularly participates in a variety of KTN activities and events, EU and non-EU related, including training and road-mapping activities. With regards to European Programmes, Brais mentioned:

“KTN and the UK Horizon 2020 NCP (National Contact Point) for ICT and FET (Future and Enabling Technologies) have been very responsive and helpful along the way as we were progressing with our project ideas, advising on different cascade funding opportunities and introducing us to the right partners.”

 

To find out more, visit https://www.hssmi.org/

 

VTC project has received funding from XR4ALL, which received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement Nº 825545.