The VRTEX 360

The state-of-the-art virtual reality trainer is not just a game. It’s “Wii meets welding.”

By Richard Banks | Photos By Jamie Cole

Dave Dehrkoop,who oversees tooling and technology for the plant, demonstrates the VRTEX 360 welding simulator with help from an employee.

It’s as much fun as a video game, but with considerably more purpose. That’s the VRTEX 360, say those who’ve used the 3D virtual reality welding trainer at AGCO’s Jackson, Minn., plant.

It’s “Wii meets welding,” says Dave Derhkoop, who oversees tooling and technology at Jackson, where various pieces of AGCO equipment are assembled, such as TerraGator and RoGator applicators, SprayCoupe rowcrop sprayers, and beginning in early 2012, Massey Ferguson and Challenger row-crop tractors.

How It Works

The VRTEX is an interactive welding simulator that uses a welding gun and helmet connected to a CPU of sorts that’s about the size of small generator. The helmet includes speakers and 3D goggles, through which the trainee sees a virtual welding gun and work site, such as a high-rise or welding booth. Speakers in the helmet broadcast the telltale pop and sizzle of materials being melted and joined.

The fact that none of it’s real doesn’t mean the results of the training aren’t accurate. Each weld made on the interactive VRTEX scores the welder on such things as welding gun angles and position, travel speed and technique. A monitor connected to the VRTEX allows an instructor to watch the weld in real time and play it back for review with the trainee.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

“We show the good and then the other thing that we do is we show the bad,” says Deanna Postlethwaite, marketing manager of Lincoln Electric automation division, the company that helped develop the VRTEX. “One of the things we do is we simulate a good puddle,” which is the area of molten metal that forms during the welding process.

“But we also simulate those discontinuities that would appear as a result of improper welding technique,” explains Postlethwaite. “If you go too fast that puddle’s going to be smaller and you’ll see more excess spatter and hear the difference in the weld.

“One of the things I find the most amazing is, as soon as somebody pulls up that helmet after they’ve done a weld [on the VRTEX], and their first response is, ‘Wow.  That’s realistic.’ We’ve put them in that 3D environment where we’ve ensured that welding puddle looks as realistic as possible.”

Faster, Stronger

Derhkoop says AGCO, which was one of the first large manufacturers to employ the three-year-old technology, uses it to train new welders, as well keep experienced ones up-to-date on new technologies, materials and methods. And while it’s not meant to replace hands-on training, it’s use allows for cost and time savings, because it doesn’t actually require real materials and tools, as well as a lengthy set up for each training session like real welding does.

“We’ve found that it vastly speeds up training,” explains Derhkoop. “It’s is about 30 to 40% faster and the welders … come away with a better diagnostic understanding of what’s going on with the weld.

“A solid weld,” continues Derhkoop, “is fundamental to a good product. We know the farmer is getting a piece of equipment that’s going to be strong and defect-free; a piece of equipment that’s going to last.”

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