Tooling-U SME Is Helping Manufacturers Upskill Staff with Virtual Reality

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By Michael Larner | 3Q 2022 | IN-6690

Manufacturers are under pressure to recruit, upskill, and retain staff. Tooling U-SME offers training via traditional training methods, but has also launched a service delivering training via Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. This is an example of a firm incorporating the latest technology in its service offering and encouraging manufacturers to utilize cutting-edge technologies.

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A Key Benefit of the Return of Trade Shows Is Uncovering Innovative Suppliers

NEWS


A lot has been written and discussed over the welcome return of trade shows, such as the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), which was held again at McCormick Place in Chicago after 4 years. One of the benefits of wandering the exhibition halls is coming across vendors you weren’t previously aware of and educating yourself via conversations with staff members at the booth.

One vendor that epitomizes this is Tooling U-SME. Formerly called Tooling University, Tooling U-SME is a not-for-profit training provider based in Cleveland, Ohio. The company’s booth was located in West Building with the Tooling & Workholding Systems specialists. Initially, there was nothing remarkable about a tooling firm having a booth in the tooling section of the show, except that Tooling U-SME offers courses to help manufacturers onboard new starters and upskill existing staff by having trainees use Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to receive and engage with training sessions.

A continuous theme of conversation at booths is the struggle both manufacturers and suppliers are having in recruiting and retaining enough talented individuals and upskilling employees to improve productivity levels. Utilizing VR is one tool to incorporate in training programs to meet several objectives.

VR Is More than Just a Novel Technology

IMPACT


Tooling U-SME offers more than 600 classes covering topics such as design for manufacturing, machining, stamping, composites processing, welding, and smart manufacturing, with the courses delivered by instructors in person or online. The company launched its Virtual Labs offering in June 2022 with trainees accessing courses via a Meta Quest 2 headset; the Virtual Labs are also available via desktops and laptops.

The Virtual Labs look to offer trainees a realistic simulated environment to better understand real-world manufacturing environments and practice the techniques required to work on a modern factory floor. The benefit of this approach is not only to provide trainees with the opportunity to build up their skills, but to do so in a safe manner. Having trainees wear VR headsets doesn’t disrupt the existing operations, doesn’t require them to travel to a training site, which preserves scarce training budgets, and enhances productivity, as trainees get practice time to reinforce the instruction.

Automotive parts supplier Cardington Yutaka Technologies, Inc. (CYT) used the VR-based training to help improve staff members’ welding technique. CYT could have had trainees watch videos and animations; however, the virtual devices could realistically simulate the look and feel of guns and torches used on the production line. The trainees used the virtual welding station to safely develop the muscle memory required to achieve a consistent outcome.

An intangible benefit of this approach is the signal it sends to existing staff that the firm is forward thinking in its embrace of new technologies, and differentiates the firm in the minds of potential younger recruits.

VR Can Become a Reality for More Manufacturers

RECOMMENDATIONS


In the past, the unit price of devices has put off potential buyers. ABI Research’s Virtual Reality Market Data: Devices, Verticals, and Value Chain market data (MD-VR-111) shows that the Average Selling Price (ASP) for VR Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) paid by manufacturers has fallen from US$796 in 2016 to US$700 in 2022. Falling prices, improved user experience, and investments in network connectivity will drive manufacturers’ adoption of VR headsets with ABI Research forecasting the device installed base to approach 150,000 units in 2027, up from 22,000 this year. In addition to Meta Quest, other devices, such as HTC VIVE, Sony PlayStation VR, and Samsung Gear, help familiarize individuals with the technology.

Younger recruits, in the coming years, will already be familiar with immersive technologies thanks to developments in the gaming industry. Many will find the opportunity to use similar technologies at work attractive. VR has the potential to be a key way to enable manufacturers to attract talented staff. Furthermore, in CYT’s experience, upskilling employees via VR headsets was equally well received by older and younger staff members. Companies need to set aside sufficient space for staff to safely practice the skills in the virtual environment.

Manufacturers are increasingly introducing Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) solutions on their factory floors to impart instructions and ensure procedures are followed correctly. Incorporating VR into upskilling programs is a continuation of this trend. To thrive in challenging operating environments, manufacturers must both upskill their employees and invest in cutting-edge technologies to boost productivity.

Tooling-U SME mirrors this approach. It is not a new breed of training company, but rather a company that has been serving the needs of manufacturers for 90 years. The company continues to innovate by utilizing the latest technology developments—implementing online learning 20 years ago, using gamification as a training aid, offering instruction via mobile apps and tablets, and, in 2022, employing VR.