Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer technologies that simulate a real environment for users. Until now, it has been mainly associated with video gaming. However, Linde has now adapted this technology for the field of industrial-scale plant engineering. The ideas is to use this application early on in the project lifecycle to train operators who will later be working in the real facility. The technology can also be used to immediately visualise design changes during a plant’s planning phase and show these modifications to the customer.
So how does virtual reality work?
Users can put on a VR headset and use a hand-held controller to explore all of the module’s platforms and study its valves and compressors from every angle. They can even step inside process components such as heat exchangers and coldboxes – something that would not be possible in real life. The buttons on the controller can be used to take small steps forward or even giant leaps through the virtual world, enabling users to jump on and off coldboxes, for example. In a different mode, users can shrink the entire plant to the size of a human being. They can then view the plant from the outside or walk into it, bend down and look into all levels.
Users can also navigate by taking actual steps and changing direction in the real world. These actions are translated in real time into identical movements in the virtual world. However, users have to move within a clearly defined area inside a room. The system also comes with an in-built safety mechanism because the VR headset disconnects users from their actual surroundings. If a user gets close to the edge of this designated area, a blue fence flashes up on the VR headset, warning users not to go any further in that direction. They can, however, continue to virtually click their way through the plant using the buttons on the controller.
Further innovations on the horizon
Following on from the virtual reality application, the Digital Base Camp is now working on new innovations. This department focuses on using data intelligently to drive digitalisation across the company. It aims, for instance, to further improve Group-internal processes and develop new services for customers.
Predictive maintenance is a prime example here. In future, Linde wants to be able to predict when a component is likely to fail. To do this, it uses algorithms to evaluate data that sensors have been gathering in industrial plants for many years now. Past service incidents can be used to calculate the probability of future events. Technicians could then replace individual components in advance and minimise downtime for the entire plant.
In the future customers can expect completely new services.
Virtual Reality tour presentation at Gastech 2017 (Tokyo)