by Jeremy Miles - Learning Solutions Architect.

Building real-world skills training from the manufacturing life cycle

Having one source of information (a single unified digital data source) that underpins the entire manufacturing life cycle is gaining momentum, particularly in the automotive and aerospace sectors. 

Having this one thread of digital data has many benefits:

  • One common database used by designers, manufacturers and maintainers, that allows for the realisation of efficiencies
  • The elimination of the majority of hard tooling
  • The reduction of errors through data duplication

So, can such a concept be equally applied to the Learning and Development (L&D) life cycle?  And if so, what sort of impact could this single digital data thread have on performance improvement through skills development?

The concept of the Digital Thread

It could be argued (as I often do) that digital technologies play a significant part in enhancing the effectiveness of skills development. The concept of the digital thread, that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, has not been fully realised however in the world of L&D. Technical training interventions tend to be isolated;

Taking a more holistic approach could help L&D map against the manufacturing digital thread to create an information backbone that underpins workforce development.  This way we can identify the specific intersections where data generated as part of the production process can be channelled directly into the skills development process.

Data sharing

Product development and skills development are intrinsically linked, particularly at a time of rapid technological change. 

This is not to say that the information, or processes, underpinning the manufacturing digital thread will be identical to that required to develop workforce capability - but there should be significant overlap. 

It is the sharing of data that links the two together (see our Smart Learning Diagram) and provides the backbone to the digital threads model.  It illustrates how to ground training in the real world by providing information directly from the manufacturing life cycle.

It’s an interesting concept, but where’s the evidence?  Well, there are plenty of real-world examples where learning content is being derived directly from the manufacturing life cycle:

  • Data from CAD models can be incorporated into virtual reality environments to provide user-navigable 3D simulations. These are used extensively in automotive and aerospace training
  • Performance algorithms can be incorporated with the 3D models to simulate equipment response under load.
    In use in oil and gas refinery training programmes
  • Augmented reality can overlay parts alignment coordinates onto training assembly rigs enhancing training of correct assembly procedures
  • Haptics, or force-feedback, allows for realistic physical interaction with virtual objects, providing additional sensory feedback in training environments. With data sourced from the digital production environments this extension of VR is already in use in medical, automotive, aerospace and nuclear industries
  • Digital reference data is becoming the source of interactive technical publications. When enhanced with 3D modelling and localised through proximity sensing the mobile IETP (interactive electronic technical publication)
    is becoming an essential tool for maintenance and operational staff alike

Developing learning experiences

It is the responsibility of the training sector to develop learning experiences that reflect the real world. Yet typically the currency of training lags significantly behind technical development.

By considering the manufacturing and skills development life cycles as an associated set of processes, sharing common data points, we can begin to harmonise the output of each.

This Digital Thread concept provides an accessible model for L&D to work with to develop skills programmes and to capitalise on the potential of the advanced manufacturing technologies that are playing an increasing part in the engineering sector across many industries.

About the author

Jeremy Miles is a Learning Solutions Architect with over 30 years experience in the field of knowledge transfer. His early career as a research biologist gave him the opportunity to develop teaching videos as an alternative to animal dissection. He pioneered the application of streaming video in education before moving into the private sector where he has assisted a number of web and communications agencies, and their clients, to capitalise on the use of digital media. He now advises corporations on their learning strategies, integrating competence development, workplace skills assessment, learning infrastructure and performance management.


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