Bremerton, Wash. —
Correctly painting a surface aboard a Navy vessel is not as easy as using a rattle can to repaint a mailbox or using a brush to touch up a fence at home. Painters throughout Shop 71, Painters, Blasters and Tilesetters, are taught how to put just the right amount of double-layer epoxy paint on a surface. Too little paint and the surface isn’t properly protected from corrosion. Too much paint and it might crack, which also leaves the surface vulnerable.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility uses a virtual reality simulator while training new painters and blasters to help maximize training time, reduce training cost and to help protect the environment.
“We were using hands-on training before we started using the simulator,” explained Travis McGreger, who has been a training instructor with Shop 71 since 2011. “We’ve been using a simulator since around 2010, but the new simulator helps provide better training than ever before. The current simulator has better software, a better graphics card and has better motion tracking. Since it uses a full oculus headset with a much clearer view than before, the painting surface looks very realistic to the point that you can see overspray.”
Travis Morgan, who has been a training instructor with Shop 71 since 2017, said there is a cost benefit to using a simulator to help develop students’ basic skills. Students using the simulator can wear street clothes and start training as soon as the machine boots up.
“Every time a painter suits up and paints something, they use about $125 worth of equipment,” Morgan said. “It takes time for them to suit up that isn’t used actually painting something. Hands-on painting releases volatile organic compounds. We also avoid spilling paint when we use the simulator.”
Virtual reality training helps teach students the bedrock skills that all painters must possess, which are how to keep their paint sprayers the correct distance from a surface, and how to move their paint sprayers at exactly the right speed and orientation to ensure the right amount of paint is applied to a surface.
“The simulator tracks exactly how students hold and move the sprayer,” McGreger explained. “The software provides real-time feedback to the instructor as well. We can pause what they are doing and show them where they’ve moved the sprayer too quickly or too slowly. We can show them where they overlapped their paint layers too much or too little.”
The simulator does not replace all hands-on training. Morgan said that Shop 26, the Welding Shop, built 16 real-world panels that mirror a panel students paint in virtual reality. It shows them how similar virtual reality training is to painting in the real world.
“We use the simulator to help build up their muscle memory,” explained McGreger. “When they pick up a real sprayer, the speed and distance must be second nature to them.”
Using the simulator is also safer for inexperienced painters.
“You can’t get paint injection with a simulator,” McGreger explained. “The paint comes out of the sprayer at a high pressure. You can actually cut yourself and inject paint under your skin if you’re not careful.”
Any time a paint sprayer is used in training, or on an actual project, the sprayer and lines must be properly cleaned so the equipment doesn’t clog up or get ruined. The solvents used to clean the equipment must then be disposed of properly. Virtual reality training only requires powering down the simulator to clean up.
“Most of our students don’t have any experience painting,” said McGreger. “We get people straight out of high school, from (local grocery stores), or coming from a different trade. Using the simulator is the best way to help them build their skills.”