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    Digital Varioline as a pilot for virtual training courses

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    15. September 2022
    5:25 min.

    Krones has proved to be a digital-era trendsetter with its innovative simulation technology. The machine, which was originally created as a virtual model for training purposes, now offers many additional options that help simplify a number of processes right up to commissioning, thus offering a whole range of benefits especially for line owners.

    As a result of social distancing and the travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, many processes have been switched to the digital world, not least at Krones. These constraints initially posed a major challenge for our in-house Academy, in particular, as it was for quite some time impossible to attend face-to-face training courses on Krones’ premises. In order to successfully complete a training session, however, it was absolutely essential for both the trainees and trainers to be there together at the machines in question.

    It should be borne in mind that the complex machines which must be made available to the Academy are very cost-intensive and take up an enormous amount of space. This challenging situation spurred the Academy to innovate. In summer 2021, the idea was born to digitally simulate machines with the help of augmented reality (AR), a technology used to add virtual objects to the real world. In conjunction with the in-house simulation department, the Krones Academy launched a project aimed at creating a machine in as much detail as possible, making it suitable not only for digital training courses but also for software tests. The maxim here is: The more real a model is, the greater the training success.

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    The Academy’s project team (left to right): Dr. Tomas Nahlovsky, Carina Klein, Sebastian Oswald and Manuel Ostermann

    Interacting with a virtual machine

    “You have to feel as if you’re standing in front of the real machine, as if it were a hologram,” says Manuel Ostermann, Training Manager at the Krones Academy. The project team rose to the challenge and chose the Varioline for this pilot project. With its 60 movable axes, this is the most complex machine in packaging technology. To render the simulation as realistic as possible in regard to size, colours, textures, torques and individual screws and bolts, glasses are used to display the model visible on the screen as a “real-world” hologram. Filling and packaging companies, and technicians from Krones’ service team, can view these machine constructs in great detail.

    Everyone can benefit from this development. Erwin HächlManuel OstermannTraining Manager at the Krones Academy

    But the project team was not satisfied with creating “just” a hologram. “We quickly came to realise that we did not only want to present the machine as a hologram, we also wanted to interact with it in real time,” explains Manuel Ostermann. And the closer the Krones Academy team came to the goal of this holographic model and the finer the degree of detail got, the more benefits and innovation potential could be obtained for the various departments in the value added chain.

    One thing is clear for Ostermann: “Everyone can benefit from this development.” But he emphasises that, for a technician, the result cannot replace a real machine in every respect. That is because there are limits to what a virtual machine can provide: “Technicians must be able to pick up components with their hands, to feel what they’re doing. It is this experience and the skills and knowledge our technicians have accumulated over all the years that have ultimately made us the leading group in our sector.”

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    It is possible to interact with the virtual machine in a similar way as with a physical model.

    Truly enriching both for in-house and external training purposes

    The virtual machine opens up entirely new options for basic and advanced training. That is because as soon as entries and/or changes like parameter adjustments are made on the real – i.e. physical – operator terminal, these have a direct effect on the virtual real-time simulation of the machine. The same applies in the opposite direction: A virtual error caused by a manual intervention on the virtual machine, for example, will have an effect on the operator terminal. That means that a holographic simulation can be optimally used in training sessions for triggering situations that must be avoided on the real machine, so as to prevent any dangers and risks.

    So a machine’s functions and settings can be tested on a permanent and risk-free basis by means of a holographic simulation, without the risk of damaging any real components. The same is also true for developing and programming new models. Long before such models are actually produced, a digital design can be used to locate and identify possible errors in the software or in the machine’s design. The virtual machine is already a definite boon for the filling and packaging industries and for the Krones service team as an effective tool for in-house and external training. In Manuel Ostermann’s view, this result is due not least to the joint effort of all the people and departments cooperating in the project: “Project implementation was such a success only because everyone involved in the Packaging Technology Simulation and Information Management Digital Data and Technologies departments worked so closely together and we got external support from the Munich-based company, machineering.”

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    Product and sales specialists are also absolutely thrilled by this new development and are keen to present it to their customers.

    “The feedback we get is always gratifying and makes us feel like we’ve created something really unique,” says Manuel Ostermann. A possible plan for the future, he continues, is an optional package which consists of the virtual model being made available a few months before the line itself is delivered. That would mean the operators can be trained on the relevant machines in the hall where these will be installed long before final commissioning takes place.

    Identifying software problems before commissioning starts

    Detecting potential errors in the hologram at an early stage and then remedying them optimises the subsequent commissioning routine for the physical machine. Software problems which are identified way before final commissioning will shorten the installation process and thus make it more efficient. The task now is to discover what other inherent potential the virtual machine may have: “We’re only just starting this phase,” explains Ostermann. He is fully convinced that “our future is digital!”

    The feedback we get is always gratifying and makes us feel like we’ve created something really unique. Erwin HächlManuel OstermannTraining Manager at the Krones Academy

    Farsighted planning in Krones’ Rosenheim plant has ensured that all machines are already designed in such detail that it will later be possible to create virtual models of them without any major additional outlay. Besides the Varioline, moreover, another machine in the packing and palletising range (for which usable data are already available) is planned as a digital model. But the creation of a virtual machine is in no way an end in itself, as Manuel Ostermann emphasises: “What’s crucial for implementation are the benefits we can obtain from a virtual model.”

    15. September 2022
    5:25 min.

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