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CHIPS Articles: Eye on Innovation: Making Huge Strides in Virtual Reality at Norfolk Naval Shipyard

Eye on Innovation: Making Huge Strides in Virtual Reality at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
By Kristi Britt, Public Affairs Specialist, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Affairs - July 3, 2019
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Imagine conducting ship checks and training aboard a ship without ever leaving your office. At Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), this has become a reality thanks to virtual reality.

NNSY's Radiological Control Special Projects and Refueling Division (Code 105.26) has collaborated with the Nuclear Fluid Systems and Mechanical Engineering Division (Code 2320), the Nuclear Refueling Engineering Division (Code 2370), and Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) to create laser scans of vessels and develop virtual training simulations for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) workforce.

“We have worked with HII to build the point cloud for USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), taking 90 to 100 individual scans of the ship to build a virtual replica of the ship,” said Aerospace Engineer Christopher Snider. “These scans are sewn together to develop an accurate (to an eighth of an inch depending on the post production of the scans) replica and we can perform ship checks onboard the Stennis in a timely manner. Ship checks can take hours onboard the vessel, maneuvering the inner works of the ship to get where we need to go. This option doesn’t completely remove onboard ship checks from the equation but it does provide an 80 to 90 percent effective way to complete the work.”

Both NNSY and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) have the technology for laser scanning and there are currently efforts being done to scan all vessels at America’s Shipyard.

“Unlike hand drawings which don’t provide us the whole picture, these scans are a snapshot in time that shows us every component, every measurement,” said Snider. “We can show those with a need-to-know the different areas and show them what work is being done onboard. It’s a valuable innovation.”

In addition to the point cloud scans, Snider and Computer Engineer Daniel Stith have been hard at work developing a virtual reality training simulation for worker qualifications for Code 105 from the ground-up.

“Our training for our workers can be pretty expensive and time-consuming, requiring individual instructors for the trainees and consumables purchased for each mockup. Plus once one run-through is completed, we have to reset the mockup which can take hours or even days depending on the size,” said Snider. “With virtual reality, we’ve developed our own training modules for our folks so they can have that training experience in real time. They are able to make mistakes without any real world consequences and learn from them. It provides the repetition for the students and the ability to see their results in real time so they can address them at that moment. And when we need to reset, all we have to do is press a button.”

“We began getting our equipment in late 2018 and have been showing our efforts to as many people as possible so we can all take a hard look at how virtual reality can benefit the shipyard and the fleet,” said Stith. “In addition to the controllers, we also have a hands-free model as well as a walking rig to simulate walking during the training to make everything feel more real for the trainee.”

“Virtual reality isn’t going to be a replacement for all our training platforms but we want to see how it works for our trainees and what we can do to improve the simulations we develop,” said Snider. “We’re also looking into more technology and controllers to help make the simulation feel as real as possible for them. We want this to be intuitive and something we can improve with their input.”

The simulation is currently in small-scale implementation at the shipyard as the team continues to build its simulations to fit the needs to the trainers.

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Computer Engineer Daniel Stith shows how to use the hands-free headset for the virtual reality simulation.
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