Engineers need virtual assistants

Virtual Reality in Engineering Education

Testing industrial processes virtually before moving from theory to practice - this is guaranteed by the new Machine @ Hand assistance system from Fraunhofer IGD. It is already used in paramedic training and should also be useful as training for engineers. We present the system and take a look at other teaching systems with virtual reality.

Learning in the virtual world - in the ambulance simulator, future paramedics learn processes and hand movements.

Photo: Fraunhofer IGD / DRK KV Herford-Stadt e.V.

What can the virtual training tool Machine @ Head

The Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD has published its virtual training tool Machine @ Hand. It is first used in the voluntary paramedic training of the DRK-Kreisverband Herford-Stadt e.V. The tool is similar to a flight simulator and is intended to support trainees in the future. The apprentice practices in virtual reality until he or she knows in their sleep which drawer should be opened in which emergency. The tool ensures that you can act safely and often saves you having to go to a central training location. In total, paramedics have to work 800 hours in training. The DRK would also like to make volunteering more attractive by using this new solution. The virtual reality solution is intended to attract volunteers for the job, because more than 80% of paramedics are on duty voluntarily. The simpler and more attractive the training, the higher the volunteer rate. At least that's the basic idea.

Visual assistance systems for many industries

Machine @ Hand is applicable to numerous industries. The visual assistance system was developed for the manufacturing industry, where workflows are becoming more and more complex. Allowing trainees to completely dismantle large machines is no longer up-to-date and also too costly. Heidelberger Druckmaschinen is already relying on the tool from Fraunhofer IGD. Dr. Mario Aehnelt heads the “Visual Assistance Technologies” department and clearly sees the transferability and potential: “Basically, Machine @ Hand can be transferred to any type of machine or technical unit, for example medical staff could be trained to use new dialysis systems . "

Put on virtual reality glasses and learn

The virtual training world can be entered via virtual reality glasses, a tablet or a smartphone. Three-dimensional work instructions appear in front of the user's eyes. Special knowledge or programming experience is not required. The tool is designed to be explicitly situational and quickly accessible. On the basis of modular 3D models, interactive learning moments can be created by fading in and out, animating objects and integrating text, images and videos. Trainees can also give feedback and make their own comments within the tool. Impressions can be shared directly with colleagues.

Machine @ Hand application in use at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen.

Photo: Fraunhofer IGD

The engineer of the future masters virtual reality

Engineers are by no means virtual reality (VR) experts. But technological progress is advancing and many engineers now need “on-the-job training” in order to learn new skills. This also includes planning work steps or construction plans in advance in the virtual environment.

Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and cyber-physical companies bring with them a new level of networking in industry. The maintenance and checking of production elements in particular has become indispensable in the era of Industry 4.0. We have listed what the machine control of tomorrow might look like here.

A current study by acatech, the German academy of technical sciences, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IMl shows that “intelligent maintenance” has not yet arrived in German companies. For the study, 96 companies were surveyed for whom smart machine maintenance is a key issue. The main result: Most companies have no or only a very weak database. This is so important, for example, in order to be able to identify and rectify faults in the machines in good time. Analyzes of real-time data can better monitor systems and point out possible problems.

Certain maintenance tasks can also be carried out using augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality. The two technologies are useful for training courses or when employees work across teams and are spatially separated. Only one in twenty companies surveyed stated that they use AR or VR for such purposes.

The study clearly shows that too few industrial companies are still relying on smart technologies. However, there are already a few examples of how this can be implemented. One of them is the Living Lab at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University. Here students are prepared for Industry 4.0.

Living Lab at the DHBW

The virtual factory can also exist at the university, for example in the DHBW's Living Lab. Together with dual partners, the construction of a model factory is simulated here. This includes realistic processes in production, logistics, service and plant management. The name of the virtual factory is no coincidence, because the processes should “live”. That means that they are constantly changing or expanding. Like in real professional life. In addition, the findings are incorporated into teaching.

The interdisciplinary approach enables practice-oriented and needs-based engineering training. The findings will be incorporated into the teaching of industrial engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and mechatronics, as well as computer science and business informatics.

Future-oriented technologies such as virtual reality tools will increasingly be incorporated into studies and training, and prospective engineers can try out virtual scenarios and draw conclusions from them. A helpful support for the practice.

Other topics:

Manage tools correctly with tracking tools

Researchers and engineers are working on these future scenarios

Quiz: Virtual Reality


A contribution by:

  • Sarah Janczura

    Sarah Janczura is content manager and responsible editor for After an internship with a focus on social media, she worked as an online editor in a digital agency. She writes about technology, research and career topics.