Drives and Controls Magazine
Siemens uses VR to optimise operations at UK VSD plant
Published:  09 September, 2016

Siemens is using a virtual reality (VR) installation at its Congleton variable-speed drives factory in Cheshire, UK, to simulate and optimise assembly processes, to design workcells, and for factory planning. It is even using VR for everyday tasks, such as organising office moves.

The VR system ­– a Virtalis ActiveWall – projects images onto the wall and floor, and is combined with optical tracking of participants, some of them wearing head-mounted displays, for extra levels of immersion.

Siemens has found that the VR system can save considerable time when designing new production cells. “It removes the big issues early on and lets us concentrate on simple refinements,” explains layout planning engineer, Adrian Webster. “Typically, we build a mock-up of a new cell on the factory floor. Previously, we would need to leave it there for four weeks to resolve all the issues. Now, we are finding two days’ digital review, plus just one week on the factory floor, solves all the issues.

“It is costly to create the tooling to manufacture a new product”, adds Siemens’ mechanical team leader, Simon Charlson, “and mistakes tend to be expensive. We are now working with our suppliers to bring their virtual tooling into our design reviews. We are finding that this agile development is resulting in great communication between mechanical, electrical and design engineers, and is shortening lead times.”

“Typically, we’re finding that we are reducing the snagging list of a new cell design by 90%,” reports transformation manager, Anil Thomas. “We are even finding more and different snags virtually and solving them in VR. This will certainly have a positive impact on our product lifecycle.”

The Siemens team is also saving money by using virtual “interrogation” of belt and drive mechanisms, for example, resulting in fewer mistakes. A recent VR design review picked up a clash within two minutes that had not been obvious on a CAD screen.

Siemens is using its virtual reality system to help save time when planning operations at its Congleton VSD plant

“Our VR has been a game-changer for us and how we work,” says Carl German, another transformation manager at the VSD plant. “It’s no exaggeration to say it has changed the way we think and act.”

Every worker in the factory has now seen or experienced the VR installation. “It’s key that the technology is not seen as something for a privileged few,” says German. “As a result, we now bring VR into every facet of what we do.”

“We are not resting on our laurels, as it is apparent there is much more we can do with this technology,” adds Thomas. “We’d like to work with Virtalis to create a roadmap to incorporate real-time collaboration with other Siemens factories around the world as well as haptics and motion capture.”