Coperion is showing customers how activities like operator training, machine troubleshooting and plant layout can take place without having to be, well, physically there.
It doesn't require time travel or challenging theories from the late great Stephen Hawking, but it does require a certain level of trust and bravery as you strap something that could be described as "a video game console for your eyes" over your head and exit this world to enter a computer-generated one.
"What the virtual reality experience does is it actually gets you into a full production line, where all our equipment would be, so if you're not familiar with loading a silo or the silo itself, you could point and click and go up on top of the silo and check out how the piping would go into the silo," John Winski, director of sales for Coperion K-Tron in Sewell, New Jersey, said during an 8 May booth tour.
"If you go down to the silo ground level, you could see the valves," he explained. "You could see how the material flows through the valves by sticking your head inside of the valve and seeing what's going on — in this case, without getting hurt."
Coperion K-Tron is part of Coperion's equipment and systems division. Parent company Coperion GmbH is based in Stuttgart, Germany.
With virtual reality, customers have the opportunity to not only look at an extruder system, but also see what is going on inside.
"You can see the raw material in solid form being melted within the extruder and then coming out at the end of the extruder, prior to going in the pelletiser," Winski said. "And then you can actually see what it's like going through the pelletiser."
It also allows operators to get familiar with unfamiliar equipment in what is perceived as real time, and also helps with setting up and positioning additional process lines for seamless installation at a plant.
"It gives the user the ability to say, 'What are the limitations? Do I have enough space to pull equipment away or am I too close and I have to change my layout?'" he said. "It gives the user a lot of flexibility."
For companies with multiple facility locations, especially globally, access to a virtual reality plant can make troubleshooting across continents a much simpler task, as well.
"If I were to be sitting in Houston and I have a problem in China, I can [use the virtual reality plant] to go in and see what's happening," Winski said. "If it's a processing problem, I can put myself in there and troubleshoot remotely."
If you expand it further into Industry 4.0 standards, he added, it provides even more flexibility for preventive maintenance and a better understanding of how your equipment is running.
But for those looking to maintain some of their true lives, the company is also showing various applications of augmented reality — no headset required.
Shari Lake, Coperion K-Tron's director of marketing, showed how augmented reality can display additional imagery, data and process information by scanning a QR code on certain machinery, such as the company's STS 35 Mc11 twin-screw extruder for masterbatch, for example.
"It helps us explain a few things about the processes. … It's a great way to communicate how equipment works without having to [physically] go inside it," she said. "It's thinking forward, thinking into the future."