Virtual-Engineering Power Plants
We are familiar with the fact that photovoltaic and wind energy installations, hydroelectric power stations and biogas resources provide us with much desired clean and green energy and with minimal or no carbon content. But they are still in the stage of infancy and needed more work on them in order to replace fossil fuels. One of the toughest aspect is they are complex to design and maintain. Scientists are trying to tackle this aspect with the help of virtual reality (VR). They think that VR will make planning and operation easier.
We can try and visualize the current scenario. Suppose you are the design engineer of a hydroelectric power station. Your obvious task is to design the hydroelectric power station. Now you would like to know about the simple stats of a hydroelectric power station such as what the pressures, temperatures and fluid flows will be in the station. You have to analyze data for hours of course with the help of a computer. You might want to simulate them with simulation software. However all you would get is the vast columns of numbers or a one-dimensional representation. You have to go through this bit by bit, a pretty herculean task by any standard.
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg have been working on a specific project to make life easier for people involved in alternative energy projects. They are developing a technique that envisages the processes inside energy conversion plants, e.g. such as photovoltaic, wind, biogas and hydroelectric power stations. They have combined 3-D plant engineering and simulation results with a virtual reality (VR) program developed at the IFF. Dr. Matthias Gohla, who is the Manager of the Process and Plant Engineering Business Unit, elaborates how the software works, “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.”
Arrows that move through the VR model can be of great help to the engineers in pointing out the direction in which fluids and gases flow through a plant. They will also tell about the speed of the fluid and gases. They are using colored markings to specify the potential weak points such as areas where critical temperatures, deposits or erosions could crop up. They can also warn about a potential for collisions when the plant components are moving. The virtual insights assist engineering and should therefore make certain that plants become more proficient and have lower emissions.
Dr. Martin Endig, who is the project manager, points out the advantages of VR, “Our VR model also helps plant operators in day-to-day operation.” They will incorporate extensive documentation into the system. This will enable a technician to click on the appropriate plant component to acquire its data. He won’t have to fish out the data from bulky thick instruction manuals. One of the greatest advantages would be that staff could be trained to handle a plant before it is operational. This VR would be helpful from safety point too because critical situations can be simulated without endangering employees. They are also working on another tool that notifies operators when a component is due for maintenance.