Virtual Reality Is Advancing Product Development

Experience the real thing but without the risk: Virtual reality saves valuable resources in product design and in training technicians – and is igniting the turbo for progress. An interview with Andreas Koch, IT Analyst Virtual Reality.

The first things that many people think of upon hearing the term “virtual reality” are Google Glass or PlayStations. What does VR have to do with wind turbines?

Even though VR technology comes from the entertainment area, it is rapidly developing into a tool in this industry. It is unleashing increasing potential for serious applications. At Senvion, we are currently concentrating on the areas of technical training and product development.

What exactly is VR bringing to the table for technical training?

Completely new training opportunities and methods are opening up in this area. We will be able to carry out a number of our courses for service technicians or wind turbine operators regardless of location and equipment – in virtual facilities in the training center instead of the real ones. As a result, trainers and participants can be thousands of kilometers apart which enables a much greater degree of flexibility. And we can use this new potential to help reduce the risks for trainers and participants. VR allows us to intensively train our service technicians with products even before they are on the market.

And what can VR achieve in product development?

Virtual reality is a sub-area of virtual product development.  Through quick visualization and free interaction, it is possible to support design, implement ergonomic and assembly investigations, and to scrutinise states of development earlier and more efficiently.

Andreas Koch IT-Analyst Virtual Reality
With VR, engineers are able to experience their construction projects long before they are actually built.

What exactly does that mean?

It is all about the “virtual prototype”. Why not investigate and analyze the new turbine design virtually before we build the prototype out of steel? With VR, engineers are able to experience their construction projects long before they are actually built. As such, it relates to installation and workroom investigations - can I change the air filter in a complex nacelle construction without a problem? How well can I achieve threaded joints with my tool? All this can be simulated comfortably in a virtual facility – with a level of realism that has never been achieved before. Complex constructions can suddenly be “experienced” – even if they are not there at all. Mistakes can be discovered significantly more easily - even before they develop. This saves nerves, time, and money.

How does one get into your virtual facilities?

Very easily: You put the video glasses on, take two controllers – similar to joysticks on a games console – and you are directly into a virtual facility. You can look around, move, and interact virtually. This interaction differentiates “real” VR from the widely distributed 360-degree videos. Everyone who has tried it once in our VR lab at the TechCenter in Osterrönfeld describes an intense feeling of being right in the middle of it. Our engineers say that a virtual nacelle is the same as a real one.

And how do you create the virtual worlds?

Data from product development is the basis for everything. We take our data directly from the 3D constructions of our engineers – and visually process it so that a “real” wind turbine emerges.

Do you think the future is mostly virtual?

In the coming years, there will be considerable progress. What sounds utopian today will soon be possible tomorrow. Senvion wants to expand the use of VR on an intensive basis. We are right at the forefront here and we are already holding intensive dialogues with other companies in order to ensure we progress this further into the future.