Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started, companies had been looking for innovative ways to reduce travel — to save on expenses while more efficiently taking advantage of resources and expertise distributed globally. In some specific cases, virtual reality can be a compelling solution. Virtual reality (VR) technology has evolved to the point where it is powerful, easy to use and accessible. The key is identifying those cases where it makes sense.
At Aptiv, we continuously build the capabilities of our employees as part of our Lean 2.0 efforts. To ensure that our sites adhere to Lean principles of maximizing efficiency and minimizing waste, we had been flying experts to sites around the world for intensive training with small groups over a three-day period. The success of the Lean training relies heavily on the ability of employees to grasp the concepts of continuous improvement and reinforce it as a daily habit. This business-critical training requires participants to be fully engaged, which had meant keeping our experts on planes and holding in-person meetings in dozens of sites each year.
In late 2019 — having no idea that in months, planes would be grounded, borders would be closed, and employees would be working from home — we decided to apply the Lean principles of increasing efficiencies and reducing costs to the way we train our employees. The first alternative people might think of is a PC-based web conference — a video conference call and/or a shared screen for a slide presentation, using Microsoft Teams or similar technology. But that approach tends to exclude hourly employees, and even with salaried employees, participants in those calls can get distracted by incoming emails, reports that need to be completed or other work with pressing deadlines.
The second alternative that we investigated was VR. When you are wearing a VR headset, there are no distractions. You are fully immersed. A widely cited study by the National Training Laboratories (NTL) in 2017 found that retention rates for VR training are 75 percent, versus lecture-style learning at 5 percent and reading at 10 percent. After reviewing multiple VR solutions, we knew this was something Aptiv absolutely needed to start applying.
How we are doing it
Working with The Leadership Network, in January 2020 we started developing Aptiv-specific Lean 2.0 training modules using the Oculus Quest platform. With just a Wi-Fi connection and an Oculus headset, participants join a virtual room with other participants and an instructor — all potentially in different locations. Inside the headset, they see other participants’ avatars. Presentations are done in three dimensions around the room. Participants can even pick up a virtual pen and draw on a virtual whiteboard.
The Oculus headsets are light, wireless and easy to use. Participants could easily wear them for one- to two-hour sessions. There is no other hardware required.
Because our experts develop and facilitate the training modules, we are able to ensure consistency and quality across the organization. The 3D environment allows us to present much more information in a short amount of time, and the headsets keep participants fully engaged.
We started by piloting this training in a couple of Aptiv locations and have since utilized this approach in more than 10 locations globally with great success. In the meantime, we’re exploring other uses of the technology.
For example, we are looking into conducting a Lean maturity assessment remotely. Using a body camera, someone can walk around a factory and stream the video to a remote Lean expert wearing a headset. The expert could give immediate feedback on what they see, ask questions and make recommendations in real time. Similarly, we could conduct a remote assessment on the safety readiness of a plant to reopen, or use VR to communicate and collaborate with customers more effectively.
For an organization with more than 180,000 geographically dispersed employees, VR provides Aptiv with an effective, easy-to-use option for scalable learning and collaboration. In the wake of COVID-19 fears limiting travel, more organizations are sure to follow us down this path.