Cleaning in virtual

Exposure meets immersion: In order to clean containment plants entirely, operators must be capable of safely managing the various processes and steps. Fette Compacting takes advantage of Virtual Reality for efficient and risk-free training.

The operation of containment plants requires well-trained personnel. It must be possible to clean plants entirely in order to prevent contamination by operators or products. But the containment process must not be interrupted even during cleaning. This applies in particular to processing highly-active substances on a Wash-in-Place tablet press with isolator.

Users in pharmaceutical production face an additional difficulty, as explained by Tim Klingenhof, Trainer at Fette Compacting: "A survey among our customers confirmed that training is essential: a significant percentage of fault process costs is attributable to inadequate training. Sound training promotes process reliability and leads to savings in the region of six-digit sums. Having said that, training requires a few days on the machine until each step has been mastered and the processes internalized. This, in turn, ties machine capacity."

Operator training goes digital

While looking for an efficient training method, Fette Compacting tested the possibilities offered by virtual reality. "We are currently developing various digital tools, in cooperation with our clients, and very iteratively", claims Klingenhof. "Right from the start, virtual reality was an obvious choice for our training. A VR solution enables us to practice a process as often as is required. This is independent of the availability of the real machine planned for production. Furthermore, in VR we can allow the trainee to make mistakes leading to scenarios which would otherwise endanger personal safety or the machine. Virtual reality even permits training sessions before a machine is installed. The decisive factor for us was to define the right application scenario for high containment in advance and to find the right partner."

This partner is Spatialists (Bizzlogic GmbH), is based in Hamburg, and is one of Europe's top start-ups in the area of virtual reality. Co-founder Fabio Buccheri explains how VR training works: "For the training sessions, we generate a typical pharmaceutical production room containing a contaminated isolator. The operator uses a gaming notebook, a set of VR glasses, and two controllers to enter the virtual world where he/she can implement cleaning processes. The operator can put their hands into virtual glove ports and work in the isolator. The brain perceives these actions as real. We even transfer each production sound into the program to further increase the degree of immersion."

Practice, practice, practice - until a high score is reached

It goes without saying that there is one thing VR training cannot offer: real haptics. But that's not the point, according to Buccheri: "It is much more important that the operators internalize the cleaning process as such. This works really well thanks to the high degree of repeatability offered by VR. As an additional motivator, we also incorporate gamification elements, e.g. a scoring system for those who remove the most residue from critical points."

VR training offered by Fette Compacting will be available as of summer 2019 when an entire cleaning step will be possible as a virtual scenario. Then, using realistic 3D data, other processes are to be integrated in virtual reality enabling the digital training range to steadily increase.