Joint Virtual Reality Center in Packaging Valley

Joint Virtual Reality Center in Packaging Valley opens up new possibilities for packaging machine engineering
The tracks are laid for innovation in the third dimension

This year Packaging Valley Germany e.V. will start up the ambitious “Virtual Reality and Innovation Center for Packaging Machine Engineering” in the Solpark industrial park in Schwäbisch Hall. As a joint project of member companies of Packaging Valley, the Virtual Reality Center – subsequently referred to as VR-Center – is a part of the Initiative 4.0 in packaging machine engineering and will be at the disposal of all participating member companies. Other interested companies and non-members are also welcomed to participate. The idea is to have VR-Technology applied as often as possible and thereby speed its’ growth accordingly.

The new center will commence operations in December 2015. Total investment will be around 700,000 Euro over the project period of three years. A group of sponsoring companies amongst the member companies of Packaging Valley will provide the budget, supplemented by support from the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRE). The funding to the amount of 200,000 Euro was recently confirmed by Director General Guido Rebstock of the Ministry of Finance and Economics. The Federal State Baden-Wuerttemberg supports exemplary Cluster initiatives with innovative objectives. Through the collaboration of Packaging Valley with the Technology Center Schwäbisch Hall, suitable premises were made available in an existing building in the Solpark industrial park in the immediate vicinity of member companies.

The methods of virtual engineering represent a key technology for future competitiveness in the field of special machine engineering. For packaging machines in particular, the themes of virtual design, digital mock-ups, virtual commissioning, process simulation and training by means of VR are regarded as significant for the consolidation of the competitive position. One component of Industry 4.0 in the area of special machine construction is the integration and visualization through 3D-presentation. In the future, with the use of Cloud solutions, customer locations all over the world can be served by VR applications. Moreover, VR simulation and representation enable savings and improvements in allocation of resources for prototypes and new developments.

The initial project phase over the next three years aims to contribute to the improvement of infrastructure in rural districts. Cooperation with clusters and networks are thus also strengthened in other branches and regions. Building upon the concepts for the new center in the Solpark established by the Virtual Dimension Center (VDC) in Fellbach, it is designed to become a permanent feature after the first three years of operation. Accordingly a technological foundation will have been established to continue operations in the Center or the respective companies. For companies, the methods of virtual engineering are an important technology for the improvement of competitiveness in the packaging industry.

Possible Applications:

// Virtual Design

Prior to the construction of a prototype, an agreement with the customer as to the configuration of an optimum machine line can be made. Through the visualization of virtual designs, a number of alternatives can be provided and played out at an early stage. Focus of implementation is on the most suitable solution.

// Digital Mock-Ups

For larger machines, it is customary at present to build full scale wooden models with which the machine is presented to the customer to test ergonomics, processes and product paths. VR should eliminate the need for such mock-ups. Time and resources are saved.

// Virtual Commissioning / Process Simulation

Using simulation methods, procedures and processes can be tested before the machine is ready to operate. Any deficiencies or weaknesses in the system are immediately recognized.

// Training for Employees and Customers

Representation of equipment as a 3D-model and simulation of procedures enable practical training schemes without detriment to work in production. Training on the VR-model provides considerable benefits and specific machine-related skills. Details and functions are conveyed simply and efficiently, in particular for mechanics and operators on-site. It is also an extremely useful aspect of customer service. Customers and international partners can be introduced to the equipment and trained, regardless of location.

// Design and Development

Applications which are already based on VR technology during the development and construction phase invariably lead to closer collaboration between designers, technicians and IT specialists. All-encompassing solutions can thus be found at the earliest time, processes are sped up and existing know-how bundled.

// Agreement with customers in ordering and processing phase

With VR-Technology, possibilities open up for late phase improvements and amendments.. These are presented and integrated in the process even if not immediately available on site.

// Research & Development

The Center supports cooperation in the fields of Research & Development together with joint projects and new solutions. One important theme in the Industry 4.0 workgroups is the improvement of communication amongst machines. Here too, VR-Technology can make its contribution in finding solutions.

Immediate Benefits:

  1. Technology incorporated in the process at an early stage
    The existence of this technology in part gives rise to new requirements which then in turn give rise to new developments and specifications. Early incorporation of VR Technology enables more economical implementation of customer driven modifications.
  2. Nearness to employees, customers and R&D institutes
    Geographic proximity means short routes and full access to all available offers. Mutual exchanges are encouraged and lead to further Innovation.
  3. No investment cost for the communal use of rooms and of hardware and Software
    Volume of investment for the individual participant is considerably reduced through distribution amongst several companies. Premises and machine lines can be used for diverse applications. Examples given above only serve to show a few applications. The environment provides good networking and comprehensive contact possibilities.
  4. Supervision by VR Experts
    Joint supervision also imparts knowledge to the project partners, which is not always available in all companies at this level of expertise.
  5. Common goals strengthen cooperation within the cluster
    The offer supports reciprocal exchange. The joint project is exemplary and also supports development in other business fields.
  6. Additional innovation possibilities through contributions by companies outside the cluster

    The project will continue even after the end of the project period. The companies will continue to intensively follow with the theme “Virtual Reality”. Software is continuously developed and will be increasingly integrated in future production processes. After the end of the three-year pilot phase the decision shall be made as to whether capacity of the VR-Center is sufficient in terms of services, hardware and software based on existing demand and conditions, or whether there is a need to cover the requirements individually in the individual companies. This could be the case in larger companies. In the case of smaller companies, the continuation by means of an appropriate financial plan could be envisaged. The interlinking of machine engineering, VR-Technology and the necessary IT requirements provide a model for Cross-Clustering.

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