April 2021 Guest Opinion: How Mixed Reality Improves Critical Facilities Operations

April 2021 Guest Opinion: How Mixed Reality Improves Critical Facilities Operations

April 29, 2021

How Mixed Reality Improves Critical Facilities Operations

Critical facilities are by definition some of the most important systems in technology organizations. The very nature of working within critical facilities operations requires a variety of attributes including precision, rigid standards, performance monitoring, emergency preparedness, safety, security, and financial risk. Modern learning strategies are revolutionizing how to hone these attributes with the expanding applications of Mixed Reality.

It is paramount to ensure staff are prepared for a variety of situations within these facilities. Subsequently, training, preparation, and knowledge are requirements to minimize downtime and ensure smooth operations. The most efficient path to creating a highly efficient facility is through training and preparation, yet one of the most challenging aspects of worker preparedness is providing hands-on practice with sensitive equipment and not jeopardizing mission-critical systems.

The inherent difficulties in taking equipment off-line for practice is one of the great challenges for critical facilities. Equipment and systems downtime stops production, security, or any number of interwoven services, which risks losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and even more if there’s an accident.

To date, the most effective means of delivering hands-on practice is providing learners with off-line equipment so they can perform critical tasks, recover from mistakes, and perform routine maintenance. But these specialized learning tools can be costly and often require experts only available to deliver learning to a small group.

For years, the technology industry has dealt with these issues by purchasing expensive equipment and risking critical systems.

But today’s modern learners are training in new ways that previous generations couldn’t possibly have imagined. The workforce of today is digital, collaborative, and required to know more, perform more critical tasks, and get up-to-speed faster than ever.

Enter Mixed Reality

The rise of Mixed Reality is providing organizations with effective solutions to drive on-the-job performance in record time while offering a safe, stable environment to foster understanding of the multitude of complex systems and equipment, and their relationship to a functioning critical facility.

The financial entry point for Mixed Reality has dropped to a degree where consumers can easily access virtual environments, and critical facilities are now taking notice, providing virtual training exercises that offer critical practice in sensitive environments.

Off-line equipment used for training in traditional critical facilities can be expensive, difficult to maintain, and may or may not provide practice scenarios with current equipment. GP Strategies has worked with clients in critical facilities to offer experiences from the catastrophic, such as data center shutdown, to more refined individual experiences, such as Live-Dead-Live tests that offer opportunities to perform extremely dangerous tasks without the need to shut down equipment. As an example, we worked with a critical facility partner to develop a series of Virtual Reality experiences that provide learners with real-world experience. Our Main Switchboard (MSB) live-dead-live test provides operators with the opportunity to use infra-red scanners to determine if an MSB has been properly shut down. The experience allows users to understand the equipment required to perform the test, understand the tasks and their proper sequence, and take knowledge assessments to ensure a synthesis of the material. The result is a significant reduction in investment to properly train facility operators while providing remote learning opportunities in a safe environment.

Real-World Scenarios

Mixed Reality has one key advantage over traditional modalities that offer real-world learning scenarios while using sensitive and often dangerous equipment.

The key advantage is that systems can be simulated in a virtual environment. Digital information can be superimposed on physical assets or can be completely recreated in increasingly effective ways at no risk to equipment or running systems.

An arc-flash simulation would be catastrophic in any setting; however, with Mixed Reality, critical facility trainers can provide simulations and practice in a way never before experienced. Previously, organizations could provide information about the hazards of an arc flash but simulating a misstep or mistake on the job could be deadly. In a virtual environment, learners can practice a Live-Dead-Live test in an actual environment, and then understand the potentially fatal risks associated with incorrectly performing the operations.

The rise of Mixed Reality means developers can now offer rendered virtual environments, and learners can navigate to just about any location and practice a multitude of exercises and standard operating procedures (SOPs) throughout the facility. The immersive nature of the virtual environment provides learners with critical practices, and most importantly, the consequences of improper operations within a safe environment.

Remote Coaching

Mixed Reality not only offers practice but also remote coaching opportunities. Imagine a scenario where a new hire is working on critical equipment. Even though they have trained on the experience, they may be unsure of the exact sequence of operation. A remote coach who is attending virtually can guide a new learner through the process from thousands of miles away.

Augmented Reality

Beyond the scope of Virtual Reality, where learners traditionally use the technology for practice and initial training, Augmented Reality is offering critical information in moments where detailed information can provide workers with everything they need to know at their fingertips. Augmented Reality offers operators the opportunity to access important information at a moment’s notice while in the actual data center environment.

Leveraging mobile devices like a phone or tablet, learners can leverage Augmented Reality for real-time assistance. An operator could find equipment information, access videos and job aids to get a refresher on troubleshooting intricate parts, or even reach out to virtual coaches and experts for assistance.

The depth and capabilities of Augmented Reality provide an extension and safeguard to operators as a stopgap and fail-safe way to perform on-the-job tasks, without jeopardizing online systems. Augmented Reality offers up important safety guards, mitigates risk, and increases efficiency by providing cost-effective solutions to bolster on-the-job performance.

Modern Learning

Modern learning is evolving at a rapid pace. Learners must be connected, collaborative, and pursue continuing education and upskilling. Critical facilities are no different, and Mixed Reality can play a significant role, from initial education and training to ongoing educational opportunities. Mixed Reality provides relevant, on-the-job performance training when combined with other modern technologies to ensure learners get the information they need when they need it.

The future of learning resides in the virtual world, whether it’s augmented, virtual, or a mix of both. For companies whose DNA is rooted in technology, Mixed Reality has become an integral component to creating a workforce that is ready to tackle the most complex problems in increasingly complex environments.

Brian Korfhage is Director of Learning Solutions at GP Strategies, where he works with organizations to infuse innovative learning strategies and technologies into learning and development programs.

GP Strategies Corporation (NYSE: GPX) is a global workforce transformation provider of organizational and technical performance solutions. GP Strategies’ solutions improve the effectiveness of organizations by delivering innovative and superior training, consulting, and business improvement services customized to meet the specific needs of its clients. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, automotive, financial services, technology, aerospace and defense industries, and other commercial and government customers. Additional information can be found at gpstrategies.com