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Shaping the future of steel production training

Tata Steel, in collaboration with Steel Sim VR and Varjo, is paving the way for a safer, more efficient future for industrial training. Their state-of-the-art virtual reality simulator for crane operator training not only improves safety and reduces costs but also catalyzes industry-wide digital transformation.

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Video Steel Sim VR and Varjo

Navigating the High-Risk landscape of steel production

Steel production is inherently associated with a multitude of high-risk operations and scenarios. The production process, which involves melting metal at extremely high temperatures, can be hazardous, as workers are often exposed to extreme heat, molten metal, and heavy vessels and machinery. Any misstep or spillage during this operation can have catastrophic implications.

With safety being a vital concern in the industry, Tata Steel has been pioneering in automating many aspects of their steel plants’ operations. Yet, as is always the case with machinery, failures can occur, necessitating manual override of the automation. This poses a significant challenge as operators are often inexperienced in manual procedures, given the typically reliable nature of the automation.

Due to the complexity and inherent risks of production processes, it’s vital that crane operators undergo comprehensive training that equips them with hands-on experience to swiftly react in any scenarios they may come across. To evolve from the traditional and often time-consuming apprentice-style route of training new drivers, transitioning into a virtual environment was the next logical step for Tata Steel’s IJmuiden Works. When securing funding for their digital transformation presented a challenge, the steelworks took matters into their own hands – and the solution turned out to be closer than they could have imagined.

Still from VR Simulator

Inside Tata’s innovative VR simulator

The collaboration between Tata Steel and Steel Sim VR paved the way for a state-of-the-art VR-based simulator designed to emulate training in a real-life crane cabin. Thanks to the Varjo Aero headset, everything inside the virtual cabin is crystal clear and easy to see, including details such as various screens for tasks, text and number displays, cabin buttons and joysticks. “With Varjo, we were able to create a lifelike cabin for our training simulators, which truly enhances the overall training experience,” says Zandjans.

Once the VR simulator is fully operational at Tata Steel’s IJmuiden Works, the training program is divided into two categories: one for newcomers and the other for experienced operators. The novice operators will receive basic training, while the more seasoned ones will go through a refresher course, and both groups will be trained in handling special emergency incidents, such as automation failures or breakouts. The simulation mimics the actual crane movement precisely, helping operators gain invaluable muscle memory for when such incidents occur.

“The virtual reality simulation is an exact copy of what happens in real life. Once the headset is on, you feel as though you’re actually inside the steel factory,” says Hans Pronk, Steel Making Operational Expert at Tata Steel Europe. “The feedback from our crane operators, particularly those with extensive experience, has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Another central feature of the solution is its innovative data dashboard tracking metrics of the trainee’s performance. This tool breaks down scenarios into specific tasks and goals, while recording a trainee’s ‘flight path’ to provide insightful feedback on their movements. Using a variety of data points, operators can integrate this data with a reporting system to analyze trends and identify problematic areas. For example, the data dashboard can answer queries like ‘Which scenario results in the most collisions?’.


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