A virtual laboratory for raw materials engineering
VR-Lab is an interdisciplinary project aiming to solve the challenge of mining and metallurgy students, whose practical knowledge transfer require them to visit a hazardous location and operate critical machinery. Moreover, operating furnaces at such high temperature not only requires constant vigilance from the instructors but also demands repeated operations due to an overwhelming number of students.
This project conceptualises the working of a furnace, within the context of metal reduction and provides students with a virtual and safe environment to learn the operational aspects of working with an electric-arc furnace. This method of inducting procedural and academically engineered steps for the operation of furnace benefits the students as well as professionals to learn the operation of a given furnace and a given experiment in a safe and interactive environment.
Contemporary European education
The VR-Lab application presents a platform that facilitates the gamification and virtualisation of interdisciplinary domains. The project has developed an education package for Master students studying metallurgy and professionals already working in the industry. VR-Lab is accessible by the learners every year, allowing them to roam and experiment freely in a highly interactive, responsive, informative, educational and safe virtual laboratory. At the same time, VR-Lab also has an indirect impact of boosting the image of metallurgy Master programmes demonstrating cutting-edge, modern VR technology in the classroom, to increase the student recruitment figures of these programmes. This, therefore, helps by graduating generations which have a more in-depth and more precise understanding of metallurgical processes and thus develops creative minds that will eventually drastically improve these processes and support the entire value chain.
The achievements of the VR-Lab project include:
- Fore bringer of Smart Classrooms for metallurgy students, where they can visualise the complex operations of an operational Electric-Arc furnace in a safe environment and with minimal supervision meeting the trends of establishing digitised education, also knowns as Education 4.0.
- Such smart classroom not only provides the visualisation benefits to understand the process better, but the emerging and interactive technology also motivates them towards the field. Experience gained in such virtual laboratories educates and familiarises them with the operational safety procedures as well as elevates their motivation when performing the task.
- The VR-Lab reduces human hours for laboratory instructor or a trained technician and provides confidence to the students when operating actual furnace, which indirectly reduces the chances of mistakes and re-doing the experiment.
- Apart from the integral and safety benefits, this course includes the videos from various SMEs in the field who have achieved exceptional fits in this domain. Going beyond the aim of making classrooms smart and safe, this video demonstrates how the theoretical aspect of their course is applied practically by discussing challenges, best practises and methods of upscaling the experiment, as in Industry. Combined with the other aspects of their academic curriculum, this provides a wholesome and pragmatic education.
- An educational version of a calculating software was developed by Kobolde start-up supported by EIT RawMaterials Booster. The RAWMATMIX software is made available to students via an online platform, and it is used to compute the raw materials requirements and anticipates the composition of resulting end product when treated by a specific metallurgical process.
The next step for the team is to customise the VR application developed for VR-Lab into different fields as a visualisation, initial training, knowledge transfer and best practises toolkit. Hence, providing opportunities for further extending the knowledge across domains and optimising the use of natural resources currently used in core engineering fields.
VR-Lab project consortium:
- RWTH Aachen, Germany (Lead Partner)
- Aalto University, Finland
- KTH (Royal Institute of Technology), Sweden
- National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Greece
- Swerea SWECAST AB, Sweden
- TalTech University, Estonia
- TATA STEEL, the Netherlands