Göppingen A stone in a turnout is enough to stop traffic on a railway line. This is always a problem, but especially so: Deutsche Bahn has never been so punctual. A small army of 11,000 maintenance personnel is to provide a remedy, they take care of the problems on the tracks.
Although more staff would be needed, the shortage of skilled workers is also hitting the railways. In addition, many fitters will retire in the next few years, reports Franziska Kost, Specialist Qualification Consultant at DB Netz. This is a challenge for them. How to preserve and pass on the knowledge of experienced employees? And how to train as many new people as efficiently as possible?
For several years, Kost has been relying on “mixed reality”: new employees have been trained using software from Teamviewer and the Hololens data glasses from Microsoft. The technology allows you to create and edit a virtual version of the turnout, get out individual parts or practice repairs. “This results in a better illustration, deeper understanding and helps to link theory and practice more closely,” says the manager.
A study by PwC consultants in the USA last year showed that training with VR glasses can be very effective. What has been learned is better memorized than, for example, after conventional lessons. There is less distraction, just by the fact that the smartphone is not available.
The metaverse hit the headlines last October when Mark Zuckerberg declared the mixing of reality and virtuality to be the basic concept and the hope for growth and renamed Facebook to Meta without further ado. Since then, there has been “an incredible wave of customer interest,” reports management consultant Tibor Merey from the consulting firm BCG.
However, many companies are still at the beginning. According to a survey commissioned by Teamviewer from the Handelsblatt Research Institute among 4,500 decision-makers in Europe, only a quarter say that they already see the metaverse as part of the corporate world.
TeamViewer already sells Metaverse applications
Most companies are just discovering the Metaverse. However, some have been interested in it for years, including TeamViewer. Product Manager Hendrik Witt is certain: “The Metaverse will revolutionize the industry.“
The German software house has been betting on the trend, which it calls “Industrial metaverse”, for four years. It took over numerous start-ups from the field such as Ubimax or Viscopic, invested and developed “frontline”. With the software, companies can carry out inventories, assemble or maintain machines. DHL, Audi, Coca-Cola are already using them, Siemens joined a few days ago. Witt speaks of “a few hundred customers”.
However: the hype is great and the metaverse is technically demanding. VR glasses are clunky, expensive, and they cause nausea. For example, Meta is now increasing the price of its latest Quest 2 glasses by $ 100 to around $ 500 for the most powerful version due to rising costs.
Many metaverses are nothing more than advanced online games such as Fortnite. There is no longer just playing, but concerts are taking place or users can buy sneakers. But that’s not a reason for many people to buy VR glasses yet. “In my opinion, the big adaptation will come via the office and business world,” says Merey of BCG.
The digital expert draws a parallel with other innovations. “This is very similar to the mobile phone – the thick bone or the car phone was first used by businessmen.“ Similar to the smartphone, VR glasses are not only becoming lighter and cheaper, but also more bearable. At the end of the year, Meta will launch its long-awaited glasses “Project Cambria”. Patent applications show that Apple is also working on one. Microsoft has been on the market with its Holo-Lens for a long time and thus appeals mainly to business customers.
As with the railway, the new glasses no longer completely shield users from the outside world. The “augmented reality” or AR, the “adapted reality”, is making its way in. “VR and AR are growing together, soon you will no longer know the distinction,” says Merey.
The new glasses are becoming lighter, more attractive – and more indispensable over time. Similar to how the Metaverse brings people together during games or shopping, “we believe that the same will happen in business processes of companies,” says Yaad Oren, head of the SAP Innovation Center Network.
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In industry, the metaverse is called the “digital twin”, which means the virtual representation of an object or system. Whether a company is designing a machine or a production line, the twin simulates, plans and improves the project in real time before and during implementation. According to the industry service Markets & Markets, sales of the technology are still at $ 6.9 billion worldwide this year, but are expected to rise sharply to $ 73.5 billion over the next five years.
Companies such as Siemens are working with providers such as TeamViewer to develop building kits that companies can use to create digital twins. With their help, engineers can design countless versions of machines or urban planners can simulate in real time the effect of new buildings on the air flow in a city district – all with almost no programming knowledge.
Applications without programming knowledge
When Teamviewer Product Manager Witt talks to potential customers, he has good arguments. Reduce costs, increase efficiency. For example, Audi trains its employees in the Brussels factory for the e-tron model, which was put into operation a few years ago, in quality assurance with TeamViewer. Instead of reading an operating manual with 150 pages, the employees learn intuitively and quickly what is important for the final acceptance of the vehicles: they have to check 150 quality features in five minutes.
“Until now, digitization has taken place in the office,” says Witt. “Now it finally reaches the skilled worker.” According to TeamViewer, 80 percent of the world’s working people are not sitting in an office, a total of 2.7 billion people. Your skills, qualifications and also checks are increasingly accompanied by software and data collection and mediation.
Employee concerns must be addressed
Training courses such as at Deutsche Bahn are an important application. According to the consulting firm PwC, “soft skills”, i.e. social competence, are learned well with VR. A difficult conversation with employees can be practiced and behavioral hints can be internalized. According to the analysis, they are more “emotionally connected” than in the classroom. What is taught there in two hours is learned via VR in 29 minutes.
The investment in the VR glasses is necessary, they cost around 1000 euros including the screen and other hardware. But according to PwC, a VR training course pays off from 375 participants, then the VR version is just as expensive as a traditional training course. From 3000 users, it should be more than half cheaper.
However, not every employee adopts the new technology the same way. Overall, the feedback was “very positive,” reports Kost from DB Netz. Especially younger and tech-savvy employees are enthusiastic, but sometimes she also gets to hear other comments: “I didn’t need that for 20 years.“ Taking the path towards virtual reality in the professional world should nevertheless be unstoppable.