Digitalise our world. How virtual reality makes the impossible possible?

Published on: 27 February 2024

This is a story by Maarten Hardeman about his major challenge of making the impossible possible for Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning (HVAC) projects: no failure of the HVAC equipment ever, by maintaining the chillers in a safe way.

 Maarten_Hardeman_Trane_028_Foto1.jpgEven after 24 years at Trane, there has never been a dull moment!

More than half my life, I’ve been part of the Dutch team of Trane. I came here straight after Technical College 24 years ago. Now, at the age of 45 years, I still enjoy every day at Trane. As an application engineer, I manage huge (inter)national HVAC projects. I feel I can really make a difference for our clients, to whom I speak on a daily basis. They want to know everything. From the smallest technical details to how we ensure the perfect condition of our machines when they reach their final destination.

Trane, a world leader in cooling and heating systems, (rental) services and solutions

Trane is an American multinational company that creates comfortable, energy-efficient indoor environments for commercial and residential applications. By using leadership in building technology and energy solutions, we develop the right solutions for the customer and the climate. In the Netherlands, we work from Soest. Just around the corner from my hometown.
Today, clients are more and more demanding. Safety comes first, always. So, everything we build is severely tested to comply with all international standards. We are constantly challenged to create new, innovative solutions for practical issues. Let me give you the example of replacing fans in huge air conditioning systems at data centres.

How to replace fans of a high-placed chiller in a safe way?

In the case of this high-rise building, the fans of the air conditioning system are placed high. So you can imagine you’re not allowed to ‘just walk on the system’ and replace the fan. Actually, we instruct our clients not to walk on it at all. But you can only reach the fans by walking on it. Feel the struggle?
To help us find a safer solution for mechanics, we asked Walraven to develop an efficient solution to reach the fans and replace them. This sounds easier than it was.

The digital world showed us the impossible


We were already familiar with other Walraven products. However, this case requested a custom-made solution. A solution for a challenge we have never faced before. With Virtual Reality (VR), Walraven developed a digital world in which they placed their specially designed safety handrail with a service deck. Together, we simulated the process of replacing the fans. We had mechanics joining us in the digital world. Since they’re the ones who actually do the job in real life, they provided us with valuable suggestions to make the solution safer and easier to work with.
In addition to the use of VR, we also developed a mock-up. This was a 2 by 2-metre mock-up which was installed on a real installation of our client. This helped us to finetune the installation even further and perform the necessary quality tests.

VR enables different conversations

When we asked our client to ‘walk with us’ in the digital world, a whole different conversation came up. You’re actually commenting on the design as if it were already built. This gave us more valuable insights. It was unique to have a client involved in such an early stage of product development.

Training in the digital world can improve real-life maintenance

2024_Trane_VR.PNGThe way VR creates a digital world, which is so real, can help us in the future. We see opportunities to fine-tune how maintenance is done further. Creating a digital world shows us if mechanics can still reach all parts when replacements are needed. Additionally, we can imagine using the VR environment to train new mechanics and engineers.

The developed solution will be the new standard

Our client is happy with the solution, and the solution has already been severely tested. So we will deliver it as a standard option. Hopefully, our collaboration with Walraven will continue to be as promising as the development process.

Personally, it was great to be a part of this exciting journey. These are the challenges that keep me at Trane, year after year.

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