Rolls-Royce and Qatar Airways have introduced virtual reality (VR) training in what the engine manufacturer expects to be the beginning of widespread adoption of the technology.
The initial VR instruction helps prepare Doha-based Qatar engineers for disassembling Trent XWB engines for shipment. The XWB’s size means it must be broken into pieces before being moved, such as to an overhaul shop. Normally, learning the process requires using a real engine, which is expensive and carries risks. The VR interface, which uses HTC’s Vive equipment, gives maintenance engineers a real-world experience at a fraction of the cost.
“The virtual reality environment simulates very effectively the physical world in which the engine separation activity takes place,” Rolls-Royce customer service training manager Steve Buckland said. “That will open up a massive opportunity to embed practical training in a virtual sense into many training courses.”
Rolls-Royce has been developing VR and augmented-reality (AR) training for several years. The company sees the new technology as ideal supplements to existing training, particularly in applications where real-world resources either are difficult to access or not always required. Examples include refresher training and laying the foundation for new processes that can then be honed on actual engines.
“In the same way pilots complete elements of their training in a simulator, certain engineering tasks can be taught through virtual reality,” Rolls-Royce president-civil aerospace Chris Cholerton said.
“Virtual reality has a valuable application here. It’s going to save time, money, and [it] frees up engines that could otherwise be on aircraft, keeping passengers moving,” Buckland, who developed the training program, said. “Nothing will beat learning with an engine and this will never be replaced, but new technology is allowing us to be innovative with the ways we teach engineers.”
The Qatar training is an example of VR. An AR application could include overlaying technical data, such as a diagram for removing a component, over the real component sitting in front of an engineer. Such technology could turn a maintenance manual into an interactive guide that technicians use as they learn and even perform tasks, rather than referencing before they start their work.
The Rolls-Royce/Qatar partnership is the latest example of VR being used to make maintenance training more cost-effective and accessible without affecting its quality. AFI KLM E&M is using mixed reality for Boeing 777 type certification training for its maintenance staff. Wearing a Microsoft HoloLens headset, maintenance engineers can manipulate the aircraft systems and see the results of their actions in a realistic way. AFI KLM E&M received EASA approval for the system in September 2018. “Mixed reality is great for classroom training,” said James Kornberg, innovation director. The airline MRO is using virtual reality to support Airbus A320 engine run-ups.