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VR and simulators offer huge work-at-height potential

The integration of BIM and VR alongside advances in drone and robotics technology could change working at height beyond recognition, suggests IPAF CEO Tim Whiteman.

The past 12 months have seen rapid progress in the industry’s awareness and application of cutting-edge technologies.

At the end of 2017, IPAF announced a consultation on the uses and applications of virtual reality and simulator technology in the mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) industry.

Just a few months earlier at IPAF’s annual Europlatform conference, Jim Colvin, CEO of training software firm Serious Labs, delivered a presentation on a VR MEWP the company had been developing.

The presentation helped demonstrate how quickly the technology is advancing and has inspired leading manufacturers and rental companies to consider the potential uses of VR.

As part of its consultation, IPAF has taken versions of the MEWP simulator to Intermat, the global construction expo in Paris, and Vertikal Days, the annual gathering of the UK crane and powered access industry.

The simulator proved a real draw at both events, receiving enthusiastic responses from everyone from seasoned MEWP instructors to complete novices. Everyone who has tried the MEWP simulator or VR app has been invited to give their feedback to the consultation.

Later this year, IPAF will offer recommendations as to how the technology could be used for training, safety demonstrations, and for coaching operators on how to deal with risky scenarios that are not practical to replicate in the real world.

BIM integration

Last year, IPAF also placed the first MEWP and mast-climbing work platform (MCWP) renderings into the UK-based National BIM Library.

Architects and project managers can now place fully scalable MEWPs and MCWPs into 3D plans for buildings, helping to better assess the type and capability of the equipment needed to complete construction, fit-out or maintenance tasks.

IPAF Bolt MEWP virtual reality eLearning

IPAF Bolt MEWP virtual reality eLearning

The MEWP simulator has received positive feedback

It is entirely feasible that BIM environments could be uploaded into VR platforms in future, allowing operators to rehearse operations on a building that is yet to be constructed. This could also be used to model a complicated set of manoeuvres in higher-risk environments such as power stations or listed buildings that need complex, close-up conservation.

Game-changing tech

Technologies with the potential to take the powered access industry forward are not limited to virtual reality, however.

For example, augmented reality apps could allow operators to run through a pre-use inspection of equipment by pointing a device at the requisite parts of a machine, recording that the relevant checks have been carried out, and then approving the MEWP for use.

Robotics and drone technology are also likely to influence the way temporary work at height is conducted. Both innovations have the potential to revolutionise the powered access industry by taking away the need to lift humans into the air at all.

When considering how existing and rapidly developing technology such as VR and simulators might change the face of training, a year ago many would probably have said their influence would be minimal to non-existent.

It is fair to point out that the early generation of simulators did not sell their potential very effectively.

Now, however, with the advances made and input from MEWP experts from across the industry, it is almost inevitable that people will look to incorporate VR and simulators into training as well as rehearsals for a variety of operator scenarios.

One thing is clear: simulators and VR are here to stay and are on course to transform the industry.

Tim Whiteman is CEO and managing director of IPAF

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