Packing with Mixed Reality: KLM uses Microsoft HoloLens to redefine its cargo training experience with mixed reality
March 26, 2019
KLM is helping to reduce staff turnover and improve efficiency by training employees packing freight crates with Microsoft HoloLens. Staff are able to visualize errors and learn on the job even with security restrictions meaning they cannot access, and therefore see, the crates they pack when they are placed on the aircraft.
How do you safely transport cargo by air? Training new cargo staff to pack goods quickly while achieving maximum productivity and minimum damage to goods is an everyday challenge for Dutch airline KLM. Now, using Microsoft HoloLens to innovate its basic training program, KLM has reduced the training time and improved the impact of the training.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the oldest airline in the world to be operating under its original name. The company, which is now part of the AirFrance–KLM group, operates flights worldwide, carrying 32.7 million passengers and 623,000 tons of cargo every year on its fleet of more than 200 aircraft.
Since its merger with Air France in 2004, KLM’s Cargo business has grown in capacity, the number of freight destinations it serves and the broad range of cargo types it carries. To offer the best service to its customers, KLM Cargo is using HoloLens to increase workers’ skills and create a more efficient cargo process.
Blazing a trail in training innovation
“In the Netherlands, there is a shortage of low-skilled staff,” says Edwin Bleumink, Innovation Manager for Learning Technology at KLM. “Workers can find a job anywhere, which means they often come and go quickly. We usually have a new group of cargo staff starting every week that needs to be trained.”
The conventional training method consisted of one day of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations followed by a three-day practical training. But employees lacked motivation and often failed to retain critical information.
Moreover, existing staff paid little attention to managing the complete cargo process, and new hires struggled with a lack of visibility into the supply chain.
To overcome these challenges, KLM realized it needed to radically innovate its basic training to onboard new cargo operatives quickly but with more impact than before, so that staff could do their job to a much higher standard.
Henny van Kessel, owner of KLM partner, HVK Learning, says: “We essentially had two goals in redesigning the basic training program. One was to improve operational efficiency of the cargo packing process to deliver the best possible customer service, and the other was to give new workers an engaging learning experience that would motivate them and greatly improve their productivity.”
With that in mind, what KLM Cargo has developed using HoloLens is a mixed reality training program that is inspiring, absorbing, and impactful. The team has increased training efficiency by 25 percent through reducing the program by a day yet improving retained knowledge by 30 percent. They have seen a big upturn in workers’ awareness of the importance of their work and seen much improved teamwork despite shift patterns. Workers are motivated to perform better and are much more engaged in their work.
Gert Mijnders, KLM Cargo Manager Compliance Knowledge Center, says: “We’re very pleased with the HoloLens training because we can now simulate the entire cargo packing process, which is something we haven’t been able to do before. We also see that trained staff retain knowledge far better, which has undoubtedly led to productivity gains.”
Rethinking educational concepts with visual learning
KLM Cargo began its journey into mixed reality following an experimental collaboration with KLM’s technical division, Engineering & Maintenance (E&M). Van Kessel initiated a partnership between KLM and the Dutch Aerospace Centre to look at ways of innovating E&M training programs to have more impact.
“The Dutch Aerospace Centre was one of the first organizations in the Netherlands to have the HoloLens headset,” says Van Kessel. “We decided to perform a proof of concept to explore how the technology could redefine technical training. We wanted to see whether HoloLens could improve engineers’ knowledge and understanding of a complex system, such as aircraft air conditioning.”
Edwin Bleumink adds: “Taking what we learned from the E&M experiment, we decided to build a simulation of the entire Cargo packing process so that trainees could see, through HoloLens, how building pallets contributes to the process. And if you make a mistake, you can try again—without any consequences. A very common mistake in pallet packing is that cargo workers don’t leave enough space free for locks to be attached, so the pallets can’t be secured on the plane. This surprised many of the HoloLens trainees because, until the training module rejected their pallet, they were convinced it was ready for loading and that they’d done a good job.”
Bleumink continues: “We work in an industry where capital expenditure is enormous. We can’t afford to ground an aircraft to use for training, and physical simulations would be very costly. With HoloLens, we’re able to give trainees a real-life experience without disrupting our fast-moving, time-critical cargo business.”
An impactful learning experience for new workers
As a result of introducing HoloLens to basic cargo training, KLM has seen a number of marked improvements that validate the decision to innovate. Workers are confident and assured in what they do; they understand why it’s so important to pack pallets the right way.
Trainees report that they value being able to ‘learn by doing’ in a safe environment where there is room for mistakes, and floor managers see a noticeable improvement in applying knowledge from training to the job.
The new educational concept with the use of HoloLens has led to a shared learning experience that is far more impactful than conventional training and has redefined the role of the trainers, who have become facilitators during the learning process, rather than instructors transferring knowledge in a static way.
Van Kessel says: “We know from research that with lecture-based training, after 20 minutes of listening you lose attention. But with HoloLens, we saw trainees work on an assignment for 45 minutes without losing focus. When you’re wearing HoloLens, you’re in the moment and your brain can’t think of anything else. That’s the real value of HoloLens when it comes to training.”
Van Kessel continues: “We tested the impact of the new training. The experimental group was trained with HoloLens and the control group was trained in the conventional way using slides. What we found was that the HoloLens group could remember every part and those trained conventionally couldn’t.”
Cargo worker Montero says: “It’s much better because you’re not just learning, you get to work straight away. You actually do the real work but using the headset in a normal space instead of on the work floor where mistakes matter. So, you already have a bit of practical experience when you start the job.”
Now, with its mixed reality training experience, KLM Cargo is in a position to tackle the question of transporting dangerous goods in a way that almost guarantees safety in transit. “You can imagine with dangerous goods, with oil and chemicals, that you could simulate in HoloLens how to pack these goods well,” says Bleumink. “We’d be able to include different training modules depending on the type of goods. With chemicals, for example, there are certain types that cannot be stacked. So, this could be a very interesting next step for Cargo.”
KLM wants to be the most digitized airline in Europe and what the company has seen in the HoloLens cargo project aligns closely with its higher business goals. Becoming digital requires business transformation, reinventing operating models, and doing things differently. The HoloLens project contributes to all of these.
Bleumink concludes: “Although the new basic training is a standalone solution, in the future if we want to expand this approach to other parts of the business, we’ll need to use data. And if we do that, we’ll need to connect it to other processes. Then, who knows what possibilities that might bring.”
Bleumink and Van Kessel are convinced that HoloLens will play an important role in future learning. They combined their knowledge and experiences and started LearningLinkers. They specialize in double-blended learning programs, increasing the impact of learning by connecting business and human with smart use of technology.
If you are interested in their educational concepts using HoloLens, please contact them via www.learninglinkers.com.
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We essentially had two goals in redesigning the basic training program. One was to improve operational efficiency of the cargo packing process to deliver the best possible customer service, and the other was to give new workers an engaging learning experience that would motivate them and greatly improve their productivity.
Henny van Kessel: Owner