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Electronics Times

Eastern approach works in training

Eastern approach works in training

Bronagh Miskelly

Confucius said: “What I hear, I forget. What I see I remember. What I do, I understand.”

But what do the words of a fifth century BC Chinese philosopher have to do with training in the semiconductor industry two and a half millennia later?

Quite a lot if you talk to US company Modis Training Technologies, which is opening a #4m European virtual reality skills development centre in Wales.

Confucius’s observation sums up what Modis has observed through its training work. Its research shows that students remember 10% of what they read. They remember 20% if the words are accompanied by audio, 30% if it is also accompanied by images, 50% if the subject matter is demonstrated, and 90% if they have the opportunity to do it themselves – even if it is only a simulation.

So Modis provides a virtual reality environment where students can get hands-on experience without risk to valuable equipment.

The approach was developed by company founder Tom Orton. Orton, a 16- year veteran of Intel’s training department, became increasingly interested in developing a computer-based training system which he believed would be more measurable in terms of course value and trainee progress.

After a move to the then SGS-Thomson, Orton began developing his ideas and, four years ago, founded Modis to concentrate of VR and multimedia- based training.

At present the VR environments are presented on PCs, but the company is looking at the possibility of adding VR goggles and gloves. In the current desktop version, training instructions appear on the left of the screen with the VR environment on the right. During assessment sessions, the VR is full screen. The environment is navigated using hypertext links.

Tiffany Guichard, marketing director for the European operation, said: “It has to be very straightforward to use as many trainees do not have a lot of computer experience.”

The simulations combine user friendliness with very detailed representations of equipment and environments.

“In the simulation everything is functional,” said Guichard. “If a trainee approaches a piece of equipment and presses a button, they will see the correct displays of information and other effects. Doors open to allow maintenance routines and so on.

“We have developed a maintenance training packaging for Eaton for an ion implanter. Trainees can remove the source housing, dismantle it bit by bit, reassemble it, connect it up again, and then perform the lead and vacuum checks, all in virtual reality.”

Because the VR environment on the desktop mirrors the actual environment, the training can have quite profound effects on how people approach equipment in the real world as they already have a clear picture of layout and operations.

“Quite often, if a trainee is used to seeing a notebook, pencil and cassette arranged in a certain order, when they move into the live situation if the arrangement of cassette, notebook, pencil [is different], they will rearrange the order before starting work.”

Computer-based training also allows the effectiveness of the training to be measured, as well as the students’ progress. For example, if a number of trainees falter at the same point, it is much easier to identify this than with more subjective class-based courses.

Modis also claims the scheme reduces training periods as staff are familiar with a task before they shadow someone or tackle the equipment on the shopfloor – reducing the time required to allow them to work unsupervised. This can reduce training time from 40 days to six or eight and costs by 40 to 60%, the company claims.

The schemes can be particularly effective when they are custom-designed to represent a particular facility or company’s set-up. Current custom clients include IBM, Motorola, Samsung, Hyundai and Lucent Technologies.

Guichard said: “Most of the packages we produce are custom-designed for a particular client’s set-up. We also produce packages specific to a vendor’s equipment, such as KLA or Eaton, where they want to ensure maintenance is carried out correctly.”

Custom training software of this type costs about #20,000/hr of the course, says Guichard, and it can take up to a month to produce that hour’s worth of programme.

But these initial overheads are rapidly amortised in the savings in training. Trainees can have more flexible schedules, learning new skills in individual sessions which can be fitted around shifts or other projects.

The Welsh centre, Modis’s UK Technology & Training Centre, is a joint venture between Modis, the Welsh Development Agency and the training and enterprise councils in south east Wales.

It aims to mirror the company’s Florida activities. Modis chose Wales partly because it is a good European base in terms of language and culture and partly there were suitable facilities at the Imperial Park development in Newport.

It is currently negotiating contracts, and intends to start recruiting software and VR designers plus engineering consultants in the near future with a view to employing up to 80 people by March 2000.

Orton predicts the European market is worth #15m to #20bn a year, especially as industry figures suggest that technology-based training is likely to overtake instructor-led courses by 2002, offering VR systems a significant chunk of the training market.

Confucius’s views on business expansion are not recorded. But it would seem that introducing Europe to this method of using technology to make that technology might just be a wise call.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Miller Freeman UK Ltd

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group