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Today to tomorrow: VR training for the automotive industry

Size of the automotive training industry: The automotive industry employs 7.25 million people in the USA, of whom 1.5 million are in skilled manufacturing. Meanwhile, the EU’s automotive manufacturers and distributors employ 12.2 million people – 2.3 million in highly skilled roles. In the UK alone, 799,000 people are employed in the industry, 158,000 of them in manufacturing.

 

Training spend per annum: Training as an automobile mechanic costs anything from around £580 (online, self-certificating) to £19,250 (two-year associate’s degree, with certification). Graduate-level engineering training at the top institutions costs upwards of £30,000. Sales training can run to anything from £385 to £19,000 per day, depending on the quality and reputation of the trainer. A conservative estimate would suggest that the British automotive industry spends £190 million on training per year.

 

Key training areas: Mechanics and manufacturing both require specialised, high-skills training; the industry also has a large sales force, who require training to develop detailed product knowledge.

 

Training today

In the UK, specialist motor vehicle engineering and maintenance skills are developed through a layered series of vocational qualifications, ranging from levels 1 to 5 of the National Qualifications Framework (i.e. from secondary school leaver to graduate diploma). The industry employs nearly 65,000 apprentices who train via workplace and day release programs.

Workplace training is generally a preferred solution, since FE colleges often train their students in outdated skills with obsolete equipment. However, the Wright Reportsuggests that small businesses often have difficulty providing apprenticeships or upskilling employees through workplace training, simply because they can’t spare the money or working time.

Workplace training and cross-industry recruitment takes place through the Maintenance Upskilling programme, which attempts to future-proof employee skills bases through an introduction to robotics and automated systems management.

Top-up training is also necessary throughout a mechanic’s career. According to the UK Automotive Council’s recent report, 20,000 people within the British automotive industry have an identified learning need, and some 2,500 jobs are currently vacant. The majority of these are design and engineering positions.

E-learning already plays a significant role in automotive training. Training materials are provided and assessments carried out via mobile devices, making the theoretical components more scalable and accessible. Assessments are also gamified to promote engagement with the training materials.

Likewise, the automotive industry has been quick to adopt VR as a training device. Workstation optimisation, vehicle design and assembly training are all being carried out in VR environments, to reduce the cost and time involved in testing, reiterating, retesting and so on.

VR paint simulators eliminate the inevitable wastage of materials by airbrush trainees. The simulators offer detailed feedback, identifying areas of overspray or underspray and clearly demonstrating areas for improvement in students’ technique.

Bosch uses VR to provide ‘virtual tours’ of its engines to technicians, allowing them to explore the machines they’ll be working on at a detailed level. It’s one thing to point at parts of an engine and explain where the fuel goes and what happens to it, but it’s quite another to actually move through that process in a close-up that would be impossible – or at least unsafe – with a working engine.

In particular, Bosch’s VR training clearly identifies their design innovations, component by component, helping technicians acclimatise to the new layouts and understand how the new engine differs from what they’re used to.

The future

SMMT predicts increasing automation over the next decade will cause machining and traditional manufacturing skills to be superseded by advanced programming and machine control skills. By 2020, its estimated 50,000 jobs in British automotive manufacturing will be automated.

The current government intends to train three million apprentices in the motor vehicle industry by 2020. Meanwhile, some manufacturers are planning to extend their apprenticeship programs to graduate and postgraduate level, training programmers and machine controllers on the job and closing down existing graduate employment programmes.

Put simply: workplace training in the automotive industry is set to expand fivefold, and extend to more advanced levels than before.

Investment in VR training for mechanical roles is likely to grow. The present uses of VR to explore complex technologies and train staff in routine tasks are likely to come together, with VR being used to practice assembly and maintenance of new technologies before their launch.

VR is also expanding into design engineering  – Ford and Hyundai are already simulating prototype vehicles and exploring them with 3D headsets and haptic feedback to test for comfort, accessibility and function, rather than using physical mock-ups. Virtual engineering is likely to become the industry standard, sooner rather than later, simply because it eliminates the need to spend money building prototypes. As a result, designers will need training in simulation design and programming. Training a new generation of VR professionals will itself require VR training.

As the centres of global manufacturing shift, the Indian automotive industry will grow: it’s predicted to be the world’s third largest by the end of 2016. International manufacturers operating in India have invested heavily in electric and hybrid technologies, which creates demand for retraining in the manufacturing and maintenance workforces.

India is also a massive eLearning market, the fastest growing in the world (at 55% per annum). The technologies Bosch uses to demonstrate new engines will be ideally suited to educating this large workforce in the ins and outs of electric and hybrid automobiles.

Automotive sales are already becoming more tech-heavy: mobile apps have been proven to increase productivity and results in car dealerships. Sales reps will likely need to be trained in operating VR devices and interfaces, given that Audi is already rolling out virtual dealerships.

The automotive industry has been quick to adopt VR, and is aware that it needs to evolve its training programmes – and fast. In the past, it’s trained people to do a job – they’ll be a toolmaker, a machinist, a mechanic, a buyer or a dealer.

Now, automotive businesses need to develop and train agility and responsiveness to technological development, future-proofing their workforces for an increasingly dynamic industry. VR provides that opportunity, and has hit the mass market at a time of definite need and potential growth in the industry – perfect timing.

For more information on how our VR services can provide workplace training for your industry, visit our website.

 

Image via Wikimedia Commons