ViMeLa: An interactive educational environment for the mechatronics lab in virtual reality

Introduction

Traditional education and teaching methods, although with significantly improved teaching techniques, cannot sufficiently keep the interest of the students that grew up with Internet, mobiles and tablets (Heradio, de la Torre, & Dormido, 2016). Especially sensitive to these issues are students in engineering, in particular, in mechatronics (Abulrub, Attridge, & Williams, 2011). Modem information technology is rapidly being adopted in Mechatronics Engineering education as a tool for enriching the practical experience of the students. The practical training is a vital part of Mechatronics Engineering education (Piove- san, Passerino, & Pereira, 2012). However, the high cost needed to implement laboratory experiments (for educational purposes) led to development of virtual facilities in which physical systems can be virtually controlled via Virtual Reality (VR) simulations (Brown & Green, 2016). Multimedia and VR technologies offer great potential for presenting theory and laboratory experiments in an enhancing and interesting but economical way (Anbarjafari, Haamer, Liisi, Tikk, & Valgma, 2019; Kaminska et al., 2019).

Mechatronics is synergy and interaction of mechanical, electrical and computer systems (Wikander, Torngren, & Hanson, 2001), as seen in Figure 18.1. Hence, it is an interactive combination of mechanical engineering, electronic control and computer technology, with the aim of achieving an ideal balance between mechanical structure and its overall control and performance.

Currently, mechatronics classes are divided into two parts: theoretical lectures and laboratory courses with experiments following the ‘learning by doing’ model. Expensive equipment and limited time for training do not provide sufficient educational platforms (Petrovic, Nikolic, Jovanovic, &

Structure and key elements of mechatronlcs

Figure 18.1 Structure and key elements of mechatronlcs.

Potkonjak, 2016; Popescu, Stoian, Petrisor, & Popescu, 2015). In some cases, students simulate scenarios on the computer and only later learn how mechatronic systems and devices operate in reality. For some students this approach appears too abstract and does not fully reflect the physical phenomena of particular processes.

The described drawbacks of mechatronics study are greatly improved when classroom teaching is supported by VR technology and VR tools. Virtual laboratories are a large part of these solutions. The students are able to visualize abstract concepts, to observe events at micro or macro scales, to visit various environments and interact with events and devices that usually due to place, time or safety factors are unavailable. VR laboratory simulations provide an interactive experience. Users can move freely around the environment, interact with objects, carry out tests and make decisions and mistakes until they have mastered the subject. As a result, students and graduates are better able to master and apply their knowledge in practice.

Use-cases of ViMeLa

The ViMeLa project proposes a solution for this problem by giving future students the opportunity to learn mechatronics concepts in an engaging and cost-effective environment. The project is based on a blended-learning method combining theoretical classes and VR as an experimentation tool that is more effective than purely face-to-face classes. The project consists of three unique scenarios:

  • 1. Construction, operating principles and performance of electric motors
  • 2. Industrial automation solution for controlling the process of sorting packages in a high storage warehouse
  • 3. Construction and tuning of an automatic waste sorting line

The innovation of the proposed concept lies in developing an original and novel mechatronic learning system, which is based on VR technology in a factor)', as seen in Figure 18.2, where the working spaces for the three scenarios are placed. In these scenarios, students will be able to observe, enter and move around, with a possibility to make dynamical changes in each scenario. The project is primarily meant for three target groups:

  • • students of mechatronics
  • • universities and other academic institutions
  • • businesses seeking trained personnel

Scenario I: Construction, operating principles and performance of electric motors

Assembling of electrical motors: In this part of Scenario 1, in a created VR environment, students will become familiar with properties of different types of electric motors, as well as their construction. The 3D motor models that are designed are based on authentic devices, according to their technical documentation.

The different 3D parts for various electric motors are placed on a shelf. The user will have the task of assembling a certain type of electric motor based on a selection defined for the exercise. This means that in order to realize the task the student will have to select from the shelf the appropriate 3D motor parts (stator, rotor with shaft, permanent magnets, housing, brushes, rotor bars etc.).

Factory hall created in ViMeLa project using VR

Figure 18.2 Factory hall created in ViMeLa project using VR.

After the assembling process is finished, using the VR tools, the completed motor will be automatically assessed, giving the students appropriate feedback. If the electric motor is not correcdy put together, the user will have two more chances to properly assemble the object. For the time being 3D parts are made for the following electrical machines: permanent magnet synchronous motor (PMSM), three phase induction motor, switched reluctance motor, DC commutator motor, permanent magnet DC commutator motor and pennanent magnet generator. The components of a switched reluctance motor created in VR environment and a partly assembled motor are presented in Figure 18.3 (a) and (b).

Investigation of operating principles of PMSM: In the second part of Scenario 1 the user will be able to observe the working principles and to perform various investigations of a pre-defined model of PMSM.

First, the student will have to place the tested motor on the testing bench and make appropriate connections with a power supply, control and adequate instrumentation. When the connections are realized, the user will receive information on whether the wiring is properly done. Here the user will also have two more attempts to realize the correct connections. After the connections are properly done, the user can proceed to the investigation of operating principles of the studied PMSM at different working conditions, by changing voltage, frequency and load. The measured values of voltages, frequency, input currents, input power, speed and torque are presented on a display.

The VR testing environment will enable the user to perform an even more hazardous investigation, such as an overload of the motor, for which the user will get a certain signalization of the problematic working condition.

 
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