The virtual flour mill: remote learning ahead of its time
nabim’s Virtual Mill could have been designed specifically for the “new normal” of social distancing and remote working.
In fact the initial stages of the high-tech CGI system first appeared in 2017, providing a unique online training aid for the next generation of millers – wherever they live in the world.
The site currently contains 3D training rooms on purifier, plansifter and roller mill, enabling students to see inside the closed milling process. Visitors may ‘walk' round the mill building from floor to floor while the most recent developemnts have been the construction of a laboratory, a packing area amd a warehouse.
At first glance, it seems more akin to a computer game than a bespoke learning environment. Indeed the software used to create the Virtual Mill is based on the same technology that underpins many of the bestsellers on X-Box and Playstation.
It was developed by Chris Bullen and his team at Visit, an Essex-based tech company which specialises in creating remote working and learning environments.
“We use the same type of software tools for the Virtual Mill that are used in creating the majority of computer games. However while typical computer games cost millions to develop, the Virtual Mill has been produced on a relatively small budget. We’ve focused on creating graphics that are ‘fit for purpose’ in teaching the students, rather than total realism.”
Unlike many computer games that need powerful computers, the Virtual Mill runs on any typical PC over a relatively slow speed internet connection, making it ideal for remote areas without reliable online services.
“We’ve been doing this type of work for over 10 years with multi-national companies such as BP & Castrol,” Chris says, “but it’s only in the last couple of years that the technologies – PC graphics, internet, streaming services and so on – have reached the point where it has become financially viable and reliable for broad business use.
“We worked with milling experts and made several visits to mills in order to understand the work flow and equipment used in the flour milling process. As a result we were able to produce 3D models of the grounds of a modern flour mill, including a training centre and the main equipment in the various buildings.
“The aim of what we’ve produced is that it will become an integral part of the nabim training offering, providing exercises and challenges where students can learn by exploring to find answers and putting what they have learnt into practice by solving problems in a 3D environment.”
The Virtual Mill is just one facet of nabim’s renowned distance learning course, which has enabled hundreds of would-be millers not only to take their first steps into the industry but to progress to senior positions.
They include Norbert Cabral, a graduate of the course who currently works as manager of milling at the Canadian International Grains Institute in Winnipeg, as well as mentoring students.
“The course has seven modules, which cover the areas that are very important for milling staff in different levels to learn and handle higher positions in the company. I took all seven modules in one year.
“When I was a young miller I went through the stage when I thought that I knew everything in milling. But as you mature, and as you gain experience, you realise that there is lots to learn in this industry. And in this industry, learning never ends.”
Find out more about how we are using the technologies of virtual mill to support our students who are taking exams this year with online revision sessions, next year's students with a whole session of online tutorials planned, plus training for our milling mentors.