New approaches to enhance staff training with Digital Twins
How will augmented reality digital twins support the future skills development and productivity of the UK rail workforce? PAULEY discuss their experience introducing this technology to the rail sector.
HS2 Stations Augmented Reality Digital Twin project
Augmented reality (AR) allows digital information to be overlaid on top of live visual information, for instance, adding annotations to objects which can be seen through a smartphone camera. Recently, an AR digital twin was produced of the new HS2 station Old Oak Common Station, London, planned to open in 2026. The Innovate UK funded HS2 Stations augmented reality digital twin project demonstrated a range of learning applications for a digital twin, using the very latest design data. PAULEY, HS2, National College for High Speed Rail, WSP and Inventya, worked together to deliver the new multipurpose twin environment at the end of 2019. This enables users to undertake complete digital journeys through the simulated Old Oak Common station environment.
The high-quality multimodal transport interchange will provide easy interchanges with several other mainline and commuter rail services, including the Elizabeth Line and the Great Western Main Line. It will set new expectations for the design and operation of new transport infrastructure within the UK and further afield. This will inevitably create challenges in terms of training and upskilling future rail station staff.
Digital twins create a capability to devise and enact synthetic scenarios to provide training and develop continuity management planning activities. The outcomes will better prepare managers and staff for future emergencies, maintenance, fault finding and impact planning. The lessons learned will help to minimise future disruption for the travelling public many years before the physical station is constructed. For example, the wider implications of scenarios involving the denial of access to key platforms can be finely explored and addressed through detailed contingency plans. This will allow suitable queuing space layouts and foot traffic paths across the concourse.
The digital twin environment facilitates delivery of training and development of competency in operations (control room, platform, maintenance, etc) and customer management, improving the skill and competency of staff, boosting their ability to meet and exceed customer expectations. The findings have prompted improvements to plans for signage and customer information via physical remodelling to optimise retail return-on-investment and the passenger experience.
Stakeholders, employees and customers become empowered to explore 3D twin visualisation of the station. This will ensure that operating staff are fully aware of passenger personas including those with Equality Act protected characteristics (for example the elderly, individuals travelling with children, luggage, wheelchairs, blind, deaf and cognitive impaired) and the difficulties these individuals encounter. Staff can then take active measures to provide assistance as necessary.
The current digital models of the Old Oak Common environment will be updated as station development progresses through subsequent build stages. Any conceptual design information that exists in the current model will gradually be replaced by actual design and construction data. Once physical sensors and automated systems are commissioned at Old Oak Common the existing digital twin model will be integrated with the internet of things data feeds. As a result of this process, the digital twin will mature with real world assets and deliver added value over a similar time-frame for mechanical and electrical systems and construction stages thereafter. It is anticipated that project managers and asset managers will return to the digital twin to finesse plans for future refurbishment and upgrade projects.
As this functionality is finalised and goes live, the learning and productivity applications for the digital twin model will grow significantly. Real-time operations data will become accessible in AR so future managers and technicians will be able to identify challenges or faults and collaborate to rapidly find solutions that optimise productivity. This new capability is likely to influence future working practice at stations like Old Oak Common. The potential to provide staff with headsets to virtually view stations may reduce the need for control rooms at expensive, central locations.
Human factors specialists will need to carry out fidelity analysis studies and validate that the adoption of innovative digital simulations for competency assessment purposes will be safe and representative of real-world performance standards, assessment criteria and conditions. RSSB is likely to play a pivotal role here, just as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) were closely involved with the adoption of simulation technology in the aviation sector.
Digital Twin Learning and Productivity
A number of applications for learning and productivity have been identified during this and other digital twin projects (including pilots at Network Rail, HS1 and HS2, Crossrail and TfL. These include:
- Skills, training and competency management – Providing contemporary and engaging opportunities for professional training and competencies that are currently learnt in situ.
- Customer experience – Attempting to imagine the world of expectation for 21st century passengers, their travel requirements and the impact that a station has on their experience.
- Maintenance instruction at the point of need – Visualising complex engineering maintenance activities to ensure that the impact on passenger experience is minimised through better logistical planning, leading to fewer over-running engineering works.
- Health and safety – Deploying the emergency services to optimise scenario planning of major incidents (people flow, evacuation, emergency procedures).
- Variable usage of space – Visualising the impact of design concepts on the travelling public to facilitate improved engagement with pr0spective users and stakeholders.
- Wayfinding, signage and traffic flow – Modelling different ways to direct passengers to ensure they locate their platform (or shop, restaurant, preferred exit etc) quickly and easily.
Regular engagement with scenarios will allow trainees, maintainers and operators of train and track to explore off-line digital twins that exhibit typical or historic operational data, or a real-time digital twin showing live data. This will allow them to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to support effective operation.
Seamless collaboration between trainees, maintainers and operators will ensure they are all fully equipped to respond to any given situation during day-to-day operations. This will improve the running of trains, stations and track, thereby fundamentally improving infrastructure productivity and the customer experience.
The Rail Sector Deal looks to build on the strong partnerships between the rail sector and the government to exploit the opportunities of new digital technologies. This will improve the efficient use of the GB rail network capacity and enhance the experience of the passengers by improving the service they receive.
Digital twins help organisations collaborate and empower their teams to drive a more efficient and productive workforce through immersive digital experiences. Clients including NTAR, Siemens and NCHSR have already experienced savings of 25-30% in training costs and a significant reduction in training asset costs when using a digital twin as opposed to physical training options.
Article by Phil Pauley, Director at Pauley Digital Innovation Specialists, firstname.lastname@example.org