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Q&A: Why 3D Training Simulators are Important in Industrial, Medical and Military Markets

A 2D modeling animation done for Stihl. Source: Chicago Technical Media

While video is in an important training tool, technical animation does it one better by teaching efficient workplace concepts to audiences in a matter of minutes.

Training can often not be accomplished through just words or pictures. Video helps in terms of explaining details, but with technical animation, principles of complex machines or devices can be easily demonstrated. Animation also plays a role in garnering the attention of people at big events such as trade shows or marketing exhibitions where video alone won’t do the trick.

Chicago Technical Media CEO Ari Zahavi sat down with Electronics360 to explain what technical animations do and why they are important in training not just students, but those in the industrial, medical and military markets.

1. Tell us about your 3D training simulators and where they are used.

3D training simulators generally are used by all branches of the US military, major equipment manufacturers, oil and gas industry and medical device companies. We have produced training simulators for a medical device manufacturer as well as a midstream oil and gas company.

2. Why are 3D training simulators important?

Think of a training simulator as a comprehensive, learn-by-doing manual that is far superior to the regular PDF version.

Let’s take a vehicle for example. A training simulator starts with vehicle familiarization. It is a true to life 3D model the user can rotate, zoom in, select components to read and watch their descriptions, uses and precautions, hide certain components to reveal others hidden underneath, and get an understanding of the machine.

The simulator continues with procedure training, including safety and common mistakes. The user learns the steps, getting instant feedback and corrections on any mistakes made. The software can track user progress, including areas where mistakes were made for additional corrective action.

The simulator also works as a manual, showing maintenance procedures where the user can follow along in the software as the procedure is performed in real life.

All of this can be performed without using the actual equipment, without scheduling or rental costs, or risk of injury or equipment damage. Companies training multiple users can even connect the software to real life physical controls and mount screens in front of the user for additional realism, where warranted.

Using a training simulator is best to augment real-life training, especially in the earlier, remedial or refresher stages.

3. What do you find that high school and college students most want from these simulators and how does it help them in a career in the industrial space?

Industrial simulators can introduce millions of students to multiple industrial careers in the most unobtrusive, well-received way possible: through play.

The most important things are depth and realism of options and a sandbox structure where players can have freedom of action. Depth and realism of options means that, for example, in a training simulator of a vehicle that normally has 50 possible actions in real life, these actions are also present in the simulator. Sandbox refers to a type of non-linear games, where players are free to do as they like as opposed to following a linear script. There can be linear tasks or challenges, but players can explore the equipment on their own using in-game resources. A bulldozer simulator, for example, may have multiple in-game construction sites with interactive equipment and ground that responds to bulldozer actions.

4. The company also makes 3D computer animations. Who uses these and what are they used for?

Because animation packs a lot of information into a short amount of time, it’s used in high distraction environments like trade shows and social media.

Trade show exhibitors leave short animations playing on repeat as an automated sales pitch, which is noticed by most people walking by. Attendees who watch the animation understand product basics and approach the booth ready to discuss the subject matter instead of asking what the exhibit is all about.

Safety training is big on animation because understanding safety means understanding processes and relationships among many moving parts. Safety violations occur when people either don’t understand the danger or think they can negate the danger with their actions. Both stem from not fully understanding the processes involved and the inevitability of a dangerous outcome. An animation gives a clear and easy to remember visual explanation.

Product or equipment sales is a major use of animation and 3D renderings (computer generated images), which can replace product photography. Many images on Amazon or in magazines are renderings, and capital equipment salespeople use technical animation to explain the product to both technical and non-technical decision makers.

5. Why are computer animations better than just using video or voice?

Animation explains concepts. You can explain how a car engine works in 60 seconds with animation, but you can never do it with video. An animation can also show things that are hard to film: anything that’s too big, too small, too remote or too dangerous – use animation. Where video shines is building emotion or showing proof. Emotional commercials, social ads, or footage of existing conditions.

6. What would a company that wants computer animation use it for to increase business or drive interest?

Certainly at trade shows. Also for technical sales.

Salespeople equipped with animations explaining machinery and processes can deliver their sales pitch in minutes even to non-technical decision makers.

The same animation can then be reused perpetually on websites and social media.

7. The company is part of an industrial incubator in Chicago called mHub, what does this bring to the table in terms of how you do business? Are there other companies that you work with in the hub?

mHUb Chicago is truly an amazing place for manufacturing-related startups and we are thrilled to have discovered it in our city. We have done business with other member companies, but the main benefit is being in the optimistic, creative atmosphere of other early stage companies. Learning about other industries and always being in the active, energetic environment is genuinely extremely valuable for our company. mHub is also a good source of networking and referrals, both for business and industry expertise.

8. What’s next for the company in terms of innovation for the future? What’s the next big thing that will be happening in the market?

There has been a lot of talk for augmented reality and virtual reality over the last few years, but we don’t think that will become prevalent in the coming years as people expect.

Game-like interactive 3D simulators, using existing computer and smartphone screens, will probably become widely adopted. They offer an immense, immediate benefit without changing behavior patterns and without any new infrastructure.

Most people already look in their phones throughout the day. If you make available a mini-game of your equipment, people can learn and practice the basics on their own time. It doesn’t require scheduling a demo with sales staff with inevitable follow ups, it can be done in a coffee shop or on the train, or waiting in line.

Introducing students to jobs or equipment has never been easier, either. Releasing a well-made equipment simulator on the go-to game service Steam will bring exposure to its 15 million members, who can download and play the software.

This does not mean just students. Time flies, but video games became popular in the 1980s. The first generation to grow up on video games is now nearing 40. Entertainment Software Association puts the average male video game player’s age at 32, and the average female player’s age at 36.

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