The Virtual Engineering Centre rolls out remote learning and digital skills development to drive innovation

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There is a growing demand for digital skills across industry for businesses to remain competitive and grow within an ever-changing environment. Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive of the Workers Education Association, explains that 11.5 million UK adults lacking basic digital skills and the country losing out on £63 billion in GDP from its existing digital skills gap every year – the challenge is stark (Source: Digital Transformation – RACONTEUR.NET, September 2020).

Shipyard and maritime company Cammel Laird and project partners, the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) continue to work in partnership with the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) through Project FAITH (Fuel Assemblies Incorporating Thermal Hydraulics), a two-year research and development project funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) that aims to build experimental rigs for thermal hydraulics tests as a model for implementing the shipyard’s modular construction techniques for the nuclear industry.

FAITH collaborators are learning how advanced digital solutions and the continued development of digital skills within the workforce, can support their businesses to overcome project delivery challenges. The VEC has provided Cammel Laird and NNL a safe and unique hands-on experience for exploring how digital tools and visualisation techniques can help to improve their project review processes, exploring opportunities for across teams and departments, especially whilst working remotely.

Through a digital testbed, the project has investigated navigation and interactions for environmental demonstrations. Understanding the business benefits, the companies have prepared their Computer Aided Design (CAD) data and visionary renders for the use of Virtual Reality (VR) within their own teams. The VEC making unbiased software recommendations, based on their specific needs, including functionality comparisons and benefits to them. Utilising the VEC facilities, Cammel Laird and NNL representatives have been able to create and safely test interactive Virtual Reality VR environments which will be used for HAZOP testing, using navigational functionalities to ensure they meet best “good practice guidelines” and increase the safety of their teams.

This collaborative learning has taken place within a safe and controlled environment including social distancing, safely positioning all team members and ensuring regular cleaning of tools and equipment. The specific digital skills which have been developed through these sessions will enable Cammel Laird and NNL to work confidently and remotely, using new skills and developing an understanding in-house and beyond Project FAITH.

Mark Bankhead, Technology Manager and Scientist at NNL reflects on the success of Project FAITH so far and how this will help NNL beyond FAITH:

“The support we have received from the Virtual Engineering Centre has been invaluable to our team, especially during these uncertain times. We understand the need to digitise our methods in order to gain the most out of our processes and to remain as competitive as ever. Working safely with our project partners has meant our teams have developed new skills which we can now feed into additional new projects and workflows in the future.”

Supporting digital skills and the development of the future workforce, the VEC introduced a student placement from the University of Edinburgh to support Cammel Laird and the NNL. Harry Doyle who is a Mechanical Engineer on a six-month placement with the VEC, will be able to link into academic research and optimise the benefits of virtual reality use to help improve their project review processes.

Harry Doyle has been excited to work with Cammel Laird and the NNL on this project, allowing for an interesting experience, learning first hand from well established businesses:

“The opportunity to work with the likes of Cammel Laird and the NNL is very exciting to me and I have learnt a lot already through my placement with the VEC. Working closely with an experienced team has enabled me to learn more first-hand about the demand and need for digital tools from businesses of all sizes to fit their bespoke needs and it has been a pleasure to support them on this.”

The University of Liverpool fully supports and encourages the development of valuable partnerships in order to deliver the greatest impact across industry and the North West, which is laid out in the Strategy 2026 document here.

To find out more information on Project FAITH, please click here.

The University of Liverpool whitepaper can be downloaded here.

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