New training concepts under the leadership of Thomas Schulz and Julia Martensen. Photo: DB Schenker
DB Schenker now uses virtual reality (VR) to train forklift operators. How does it work?
Julia Martensen (J. M.): Firstly, the application consists of a reconstructed forklift enclosure with a true-to-life seat and control elements, including a joystick for the fork, a steering wheel, and pedals for accelerating and reversing. In addition, the trainee wears VR glasses where the field of vision is an exact reproduction of a warehouse – our logistics center in Tilburg, the Netherlands. This enables the trainee to operate the forklift in
a virtual three-dimensional space, drive through the warehouse to a high rack, remove a pallet, transport it to a specified location, drive the forklift back, and then park it in the loading dock again. Essentially, the trainee can simulate real-life warehouse scenarios.
Are there any other similar projects at DB Schenker?
J. M.: In a logistics center in Leipzig, we use an application to train employees in packaging operations. In the VR environment, employees must place multiple canisters in a packaging box, using a process-oriented method. In addition, our colleagues in Australia are using an application to provide training in hazardous materials to employees. This training has already proved to be extremely helpful, despite being stationary – meaning there is no movement within the larger vicinity of an object or as part of a task. In the forklift application, however, the trainee can move across the entire warehouse environment. For example, it is possible to look left and right in the warehouse aisles and to move the forklift freely around the warehouse. To further enhance this realistic experience and, at the same time, counteract the feeling of dizziness, which occasionally occurs with VR applications, we have mounted a vibration plate underneath the forklift seat, which simulates the driving experience and realistically jolts at the right moment.
That sounds like a great deal of effort to simulate reality. Why not simply continue to use real forklifts and canisters?
Thomas Schulz (T. S.) : VR training offers a number of advantages. For example, it requires less time. As we have concluded from the packaging application in Leipzig, VR training requires 30% less teaching time than conventional training. A warehouse manager who has to train forklift operators continually will also appreciate, as studies have shown, that there is a faster learning curve with VR. The manager can therefore quicker transform complete novices into certified forklift operators and also quicker provide further training to experienced forklift operators. With VR training, the manager no longer has to delegate a team leader as an instructor, nor is it necessary to close off one section of the warehouse for training purposes. Furthermore, the manager can explore certain topics (for example safety) in greater depth. In the virtual space, we can simulate pedestrians suddenly walking out in front of the forklift or other situations that may require the trainee to exercise greater caution during peak periods in the warehouse. This is simply not possible in reality or, if so, only to a limited extent.
The future of forklift operator training – already in use today: the trainee sits in a true-to-life seat and wears 3D glasses to see an exact reproduction of the warehouse. The training software can display commands to amplify the training effect. Video: DB Schenker
Mr. Schulz, in your role as Member of the Board of Management (Human Resources) at DB Schenker, what potential do you believe VR has?
T. S.: As an employer constantly in competition with other companies to secure good staff, our use of VR sends a very important message: New, long-serving, and potential employees can see that vocational training and professional development, alongside occupational safety and workplace design, are held in very high regard at DB Schenker. Furthermore, it shows we are open to embracing new technologies. All of this represents one entire pillar of our HR strategy: Future Readiness. Conveying such a mindset ensures a better onboarding process for new colleagues and also encourages existing employees to think outside the box and develop their own new ideas. As simple as it may sound, another key role here is the fact that it is simply good fun!
Speaking of fun, VR training has been designed under the topic of “Gamification”. What does that mean?
J. M.: As soon as VR glasses are incorporated into a forklift simulation, or 3D canisters are used, a fun element is automatically added to the training, which, in turn, increases motivation, as proven by various studies. We have boosted this effect further by giving trainees the opportunity to achieve and beat their highest score – for example, points are awarded for the correct use of a forklift to lift pallets. I am certain that many employees are happy to use this application on their own accord (for example, during their lunch break). Would they be as happy to leaf through the pages of a handbook? I sincerely doubt it.
Presentation at the transport logistic 2019: recently, the public had an opportunity to test the forklift simulator at the world’s leading logistics trade fair. Photo: Max Lautenschläger
Outside the warehouse environment, there is a great need for more effective vocational training and professional development. What applications are conceivable here?
J. M.: VR could, for example, be used for presentation training – simply wear the glasses to have an audience of several dozen people seated before you. I have already applied this principle in soft skills training and tested it in the context of employee performance reviews. However, the application should by no means remain exclusive to the HR sector. Let’s imagine a sales pitch in which a key account manager uses 3D visualization to present a warehouse layout to his or her customer – such a scenario is very conceivable.
So far, who has developed the applications used at DB Schenker?
T. S.: Our colleagues in Australia use an application from an external provider. In contrast, we have worked closely with our partner, Fraunhofer IML, to develop our own packaging and forklift operator training at the “DB Schenker Lab for Logistics and Digitization” in Dortmund. We decided to develop our own forklift training because this is the most frequent training undertaken at any of DB Schenker’s warehouses worldwide.
What role will VR play at DB Schenker in the future?
T.S.: It will undoubtedly play an ever-increasing role! In the future, such applications will be an important response to the question of how to acquire new skills. This permeates all educational institutions and does not stop at employers. There is simply no getting around it! Another clear advantage is that the technology has also become considerably less expensive in recent times. From the outset, we designed our forklift training in such a way that it works in any of our locations. It is already clear that we will use it at our locations in Mexico, Australia, South Korea, and Dubai. We could also potentially use it outside of the warehouse environment (for example in training centers).