Virtual and 3D technologies for tomorrow's skilled workforce

Aug. 25, 2009
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, explores how virtual and 3-D technologies will form tomorrow's skilled workforce.

The Maintenance Crisis is a formidable challenge and might even be the largest issue facing manufacturing. Many companies are actively working on innovative ways to mitigate, if not completely fix, our future.

The impact movies make on our lives is amazing. Consisting of nothing more than images on film, and now pixels, they produce visual canvases that transport us to places without actually having to leave home. I remember old movies as clearly as if I saw them yesterday. For example, before graduating high school, a group of us drove to a theater, plopped down four bucks for tickets, put on some funky looking shades and watched the 3-D movie “Coming At You.” It was far from Oscar-worthy, but it was so cool because spaghetti sauce, water and milk leaped off of the screen and, well, came right at us. This flick generated great belly laughs, especially with us pun masters cracking jokes throughout the movie. This diversion provided solace for anxious teenagers unsure of the future world.


Fast-forward to today. Computing technology has evolved to unbelievable levels. Remember the futuristic Spielberg thriller, “The Minority Report,” in which Tom Cruise played a detective who stands in a police station, waves his hands and without a computer monitor was able to open, close and move images of case files projected in front of him?

Well, believe it or not, those computing technologies are available today. And, as my daughter says to validate something incredible, “for real.” Believe it or not, this lowly maintenance evangelist was able to open, close and move computer images in front of him without a mouse, but with a flick of the wrist. And this wasn’t in some lab or at some mysterious government base. This technology is found at a community college.

I saw a practical Disney-like application of 3-D technology. An anatomical view of a human head appeared to be rotating just inches away from my face. I saw blood circulation, muscle and bone structure, all in motion. This virtualization process will enable future healthcare professionals to use the 3-D computer-generated images to fast-track their learning and become more effective caregivers. That is the vision of Larry Keen, president of Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) in Fayetteville, N.C.

FTCC works with nearby Fort Bragg to educate wounded and outgoing veterans along with thousands of regular and continuing-education students. These scholars help support area business and government centers, and numerous defense contractors.

Keen engaged private company Navigator under the leadership of site manager Don Seidel to build a 3-D imaging center. It leverages the technology to accelerate the learning cycle for students in healthcare as well as maintenance and other occupational fields. I saw the “bat cave,” a room the size of a closet. Armed only with 3-D glasses, I was transported to a Portuguese mountainside villa and heard a trickle of water from a running stream.

Then, a few keystrokes revealed an animated pump with color-coded parts to illustrate where to apply PM and condition monitoring. Then, with another keystroke, I was able to see the pump’s exploded view and rotate it to see varying angles and perspectives. It was amazing and it got my mind racing. We could learn better PMs, do safety training, practice emergency responses and see how to perform infrequent but critical repairs.

Keen is setting up 3-D systems with other community colleges and high schools to prepare students for the future workplace challenges. However, this technology is far from fully developed. Navigator is trying to cover the cost of software development as educational budget cuts come into play. Companies and students love the technology, but hesitate to pay for its development.

I hope more deep-pocketed companies partner with Navigator and other 3-D developers so these educational tools can flourish. Letting future workers get experiential learning will provide the formal training that our workforce needs as it evolves into future generations of workers. The technology will bring younger people into a pipeline of skilled workers that can minimize the maintenance crisis. I can just see it — “Coming to a classroom near you, The Maintenance Crisis Solution.”

For real!

If you have any ideas about accelerating or supporting this process, feel free to contact Joel at [email protected].

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