Digital Engineering Chair - Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Programmable Logic Controllers are the backbone of industrial automation that play an ever-important role towards the digitalization of factories. With the development of edge devices and the Internet of Things, having a workforce that’s familiar and comfortable in handling PLCs becomes a prerequisite for the manufacturing floor of the future, especially for small and medium-sized companies that don’t necessarily have access to PLC experts.
In 2022, Ruhr-University Bochum, LINPRA, and the Łukasiewicz Institute for Sustainable Technologies came together in the EITM-funded activity VR-PLC. The activity created introductory courses on PLCs and PLC programming. Instructions and exercises on PLC programming were conducted in an interactive, virtual learning environment in which learners could manipulate the virtual environment and observe the effect of their program.
In 2023, Kauno Kolegija and Lupio joined the consortium to build upon these results by expanding the programming exercises to intermediate and advanced levels, preparing professionals and their companies for the digital transformation.
To increase the impact in 2023, the project focuses on the train-the-trainer approach. Instead of approaching individuals, the project focuses on VET trainers and professionals who acquire skills to continue with the education of others. This not only increases the number of possible participants that can be reached by the project but also helps strengthen the Skills.Move platform as a trustworthy resource for upskilling.
The digital environment brings significant benefits to participants in the workshops. By removing the need for physical hardware, access to the learning content is made significantly easier and cheaper. The learning content can be consumed remotely, in their own time, and is integrated into the Skills.Move platform. Therefore, existing, traditional learning nuggets can be included in the learning paths, and the virtual environment is integrated into the existing certification and badge system of EITM.
The digital transformation puts immense pressure on employees and companies to up- and reskill to match the increasing demands of the industry of the future. In this trend, automation and digitalization are key trends that are already dominant in Western Europe but still on the rise in Eastern European RIS countries. There, the workforce still often lacks the skills and experiences necessary to work on and maintain automation equipment.
One key aspect of this transformation is PLC controllers. While they have been commonly used in factories in Europe for quite a while, this equipment is quickly becoming the prerequisite for further digitalization toward a smart, human-centered factory. Technologies like the Internet of Things and Digital Twins rely on telemetry data gathered by various sensors sent by industrial controllers to aggregate and analyze them in the cloud.
By strengthening the employees’ fundamental understanding of underlying technology, this project lays the groundwork for a successful digital transformation in Eastern European industries. By involving the existing workforce from the beginning of the process, the companies become more inclusive, resilient, and innovative.
Through the train-the-trainers approach, the partners plan to focus on equipping VET instructors with the necessary skills to deliver trainings in VR. In a special, EIT Labeled, hybrid workshop, upcoming VR Trainers learn the practical skills necessary to deliver their technical trainings in VR. By focusing on effective communication and leadership within collaborative VR environments, the workshop brings benefits to VET instructors from all disciplines.