Photovoltaic and wind energy plants, hydroelectric power stations, and biogas plants can be complex to design and maintain. In designing a hydroelectric power station, an engineer needs to know what the pressures, temperatures, and fluid flows will be in the facility. Virtual reality makes planning and operation easier.

The pressure, temperature, and fluid flow parameters could be simulated with simulation software. However, this only delivers vast columns of numbers or a one-dimensional representation which an engineer would have to analyze bit by bit.

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg, Germany sought out to make this process easier, and developed a method that visualizes the processes inside energy conversion plants. To do so, they coupled 3-D plant engineering and simulation results with a virtual reality (VR) program developed at the IFF.

“A special software tool has enabled us to visualize all the motion sequences for the first time ever – at just the push of a button,” explains Dr. Matthias Gohla, Manager of the Process and Plant Engineering Business Unit.

Arrows that move through the VR model show engineers the direction in which and speed at which fluids and gases flow through a plant. Colored markings indicate potential weak points such as areas where critical temperatures, deposits, or erosions could occur. The virtual insights ensure that plants become more efficient and have lower emissions.

“Our VR model also helps plant operators in day-to-day operation,” says project manager Dr. Martin Endig. Extensive documentation may be implemented in the system - instead of searching through instruction manuals for desired information, a technician merely needs to click on the appropriate representation to obtain data on a certain plant component. Moreover, personnel can be trained to handle a plant before it is operational. Even critical situations can be simulated without endangering employees. The developers are currently working on another tool that notifies operators when a component is due for maintenance.