Virtual reality: Bringing turbines into the office

What if you could assess a turbine blade right at your desk, and check out machines up close without having to visit the plant? Virtual reality (VR) is making it possible. Siemens can simulate a complete turbine train in unprecedented detail.

by Tim Rokita

Approximately one year ago, project manager Kai Sonntag and the engineering team for industrial steam turbine service in Nuremberg had an idea. They wanted to create virtual worlds like those that have long existed in computer games and use them for industrial purposes. This idea has enormous potential. State-of-the-art VR glasses now make it possible to create extremely realistic simulations. Clever ideas, such as VR smart phone apps, also make virtual experiences easer and available at all times.

Experience machines up close

“With help from an external partner, we first simulated a realistic train consisting of an industrial steam turbine, gears, a generator and a capacitor based on 3D models and production drawings,” says Sonntag. In the end, the complete turbo set was in place in a virtual hall. The result stunned even experienced VR experts. Thanks to accurate proportions and a high degree of detail, it was very much like visiting a real-life plant.

Siemens already integrates the VR application into technician training courses. Since they can not only view components virtually but also open or move them around, trainees get a hands-on look at what to expect when they visit a construction site. In the future, Sonntag and his team would like to make it possible to analyze additional turbo set components and simulate operating states such as starting up the turbine.

Product presentations of the future

The VR experts are working on additional ideas. They want to harness the enormous potential of virtual reality for customers and interested parties as well. So they are developing an application that can project a number of turbine parts or complete machines into space with the aid of Microsoft HoloLens. People look through the transparent screens of a pair of glasses and see virtual parts in the real-life environment where they are located. Thanks to this so-called “mixed reality” application, customers can assess, for example, a turbine blade right at their desks and learn more about the technology. “Virtual and mixed-reality applications are ideally suited to helping people quickly and easily experience our portfolio up close,” explains Erhard Friedrich Eder, who heads Industrial Steam Turbines at Siemens.

Siemens has also developed a smart phone application that virtually simulates a power plant solution for the industrial steam turbine market. It’s easy to transport and can be used anywhere. “Virtual reality applications are the product presentations of the future,” states Karim Amin, a sales manager with Siemens, adding: “These new digital capabilities give our customers realistic representations of our portfolio, so that they get a hands-on look at our technological lead in the digitalized world.”

Virtual guidance for technicians

A third pioneering application scenario is known as “Virtual Guidance.” With this technology, a technician’s field of vision is transferred to an expert’s monitor in any location, also using glasses of a sort. The expert then sees exactly what the technician on site is seeing and can provide targeted instructions. It is also possible to use HoloLens to project the expert’s hands or drawings directly into the technician’s field of vision. For example, the expert can point to a screw or sketch a quick explanation on a touch pad.

“VR has enormous potential for industrial use,” remarks project manager Sonntag. “We can transfer what we are currently doing with an industrial steam turbine to any other project. VR is thus allowing Siemens to further tap the enormous potential of digitalization.”

02, 28, 2018

Tim Rokita, free journalist in Germany

Picture credits: Siemens AG

 

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