Date of Award


Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Engineering (Research)


Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

First Advisor

Mr. D. Fallon

Second Advisor

Dr. J. Harhen


The increasing importance of training and upgrading skills has led to the use of new interactive technologies in the development of more effective training tools. Previous techniques for training Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine operators, while excellent for their time, varied from brief inexpensive tutorials to expensive on the job training. A CNC machine uses a computer to perform the functions of the machine using a part program stored in the memory of the computer. This thesis describes a Virtual Reality (VR) model of a CNC milling machine, implemented within a VR environment representing a CNC workshop. Its development and application as a training tool is described. Its intended use is as a virtual simulator for training novice milling machine operators as well as testing and debugging CNC programs.

VR allows a synthetic environment to be created using a desktop PC. The synthetic environment may represent an actual environment. VR represents a useful educational technology, which permits interaction between user and virtual machine, for example, where the real environment may be either too dangerous or expensive to provide at the early stages of training.

An organisation has to place specific emphasis on committing resources to industrial training in order to succeed in the marketplace. It is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure that the training program adopted has sufficient content and addresses critical issues such as safety. This training application offers an interactive, inexpensive means of educating trainees in the basic operations of a CNC milling machine.

The VR industrial training application is intended to assist first time users in familiarising themselves with a specific type of milling machine. It is developed within a framework which will allow other virtual CNC machines to be added later to the training application. CNC programs may also be created and edited using a computer emulation of a CNC control panel, an existing product developed by the Industrial partner for this research. This control panel is a Windows-based program that emulates the functionality and workings of the Fanuc OM controller. Basic CNC programs can be simulated using the developed virtual milling machine and a virtual work-piece. Once a virtual component is created the user may navigate around the work-piece and inspect the design. If the design is satisfactory the CNC file may then be used to manufacture a component on an actual CNC machine. The developed application needs no additional hardware, thus it is inexpensive and may be viewed by anyone with access to a desktop PC or viewed at a remote location over the Internet.

A series of field trials were undertaken, using the VR training tool. 20 participants completed a series of tutorials in which they interacted with the virtual milling machine. Each subject retrieved existing CNC programs via the CNC control panel and simulated the manufacture of a virtual component on screen in real-time. Among the results tabulated from the questionnaire, 80% believed that this training tool would reduce the risk of a dangerous accident if used at the early stage of training an operator and 95% believed that VR will be an effective training tool for milling machine operators.


Submitted to the National Council for Educational Awards May 1998

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