Gaming environments simulate plant maintenance

Mike Bacidore, chief editor, says gaming interfaces are finding their way to the plant floor.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

As mobile and tablet computing applications make their way onto the plant floor, operators and maintenance professionals are becoming increasingly comfortable with new interfaces, so much so, in fact, that maintenance technology tools are being developed with the new gamer generation in mind. Just recently, three companies have made waves with their recognition of virtual environments.

At ABB Automation and Power World 2011 in Orlando, Florida, Martin Olausson and Susanne Timsjö of ABB Corporate Research explained what the operators of the future will look like and how ABB (www.abb.com) is developing interfaces that mimic the gaming environment.

“They’ll not accept anything less than what they have at home,” said Olausson. Eye tracking, video game software and information visualization will be integrated into industrial operator interfaces. “Digital natives will be the plant personnel of tomorrow,” he said.

Eye tracking technology, for example, allows the software to move unnecessary information out of the way. If the operator gets an alarm and isn’t looking at the screen display, perhaps the system needs to do something more to get his attention.

Timsjö described a virtual user experience in which the operator would be put directly into the space. User interfaces found on iPhones and iPads could allow operators to control a plant directly via the screen surfaces rather than using buttons. And the kind of technology that's popular in Microsoft's Kinect gaming system could allow operators to use gestures to operate controls more effectively, explained Timsjö. “Are we prepared for the future?” she wondered. “We see these devices, and when we look in the control room, we still see keyboards.”

Extending the gaming experience even further is Siemens Industry (www.usa.siemens.com/industry), which launched its Plantville game in late March. It already has more than 1,100 individuals on Facebook who like it.

Plantville (www.plantville.com) is an online gaming platform that simulates the experience of being a plant manager. Players are faced with the challenge of maintaining the operation of their plants while trying to improve the productivity, efficiency, sustainability and overall facility health.

Maintenance technology tools are being developed with the new gamer generation in mind

Plantville’s primary mission is to be educational and engage customers, employees, prospects and students. The game enables players to improve plant health by learning about and applying industrial and infrastructure products and solutions from Siemens. Gamers are measured on a number of key performance indicators (KPIs), including safety, on-time delivery, quality, energy management and employee satisfaction.

“Siemens is capitalizing on the tremendous growth of online engagement to demonstrate how our expertise can make industry and infrastructure more competitive by increasing sustainability, energy efficiency and productivity in a fun and educational environment,” said Daryl Dulaney, president and CEO, Siemens Industry. “We also hope Plantville will generate excitement in the areas of math, science and technology while inspiring a new generation of plant managers and engineers.”

In Plantville, players can select which of three virtual plants — a bottling plant, a vitamin plant or a plant that builds trains — they would like to manage first. Each plant type faces different challenges. Players identify the challenges and implement solutions to improve the KPIs. Gamers can compete with one another on a number of levels, including plant-to-plant and on specific KPIs.

To help improve the training of the nation's future welders, Lincoln Electric (www.lincolnelectric.com) developed a virtual welding system called VRTEX 360 (www.vrtex360.com). It incorporates technology Lincoln recently acquired from VRSim, a developer of training software and graphic simulation for industry and academia. The VRTEX 360 provides a virtual hands-on training experience that allows students to complete more passes than traditional training and provides real-time welding technique feedback similar to a video game to both trainers and students. The VRTEX 360 feeds computer-generated data with a virtual welding gun and helmet equipped with internal monitors. The student practices welding in virtual environments, including simulated welding booth training environment or field welding applications. Training can be conducted in various settings, including classrooms, an important consideration especially for schools and training centers with limited resources and shop space.

Let the games begin.

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