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No paint required: High-tech system lets students spray bytes

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Richard Talley, the collision repair technology instructor at Tennessee Technology Center-Shelbyville, paints with the virtual painter, a training aid used by students.
(T-G Photo by Jim Davis)
The technology of gaming has arrived at the Tennessee Technology Center in Shelbyville, with an advanced training device for students in the collision repair program.

In August the center purchased a virtual paint spray machine, becoming the first school in the Tennessee system to employ the technology.

New students may learn the fundamental techniques of painting via the Sim Spray. By donning an optical helmet, students are transported to the paint spray booth.

Virtual painting

Visually, the computer projects a 3-D animation of an automobile part, and using a spray-gun controller, a student may apply primer and paint layers.

Hands-on practice time increases, as only a few taps on a monitor are required to begin a new training session.

Training costs are dramatically reduced -- the need for paint, thinner, parts, and facilities are eliminated.

It's eco-friendly as well.

Faster, cheaper

Once a student has tried out the system, instructor Richard Talley is able to review their work, quantifying speed, coverage and overspray via computer modeling, rather than by a visual review.

"It's been a great money-saver," said Talley.

As a generation of skilled tradesmen age into retirement, the "cool factor" of simulated training is an attractive draw to younger students.

Contained in a space about the size of a standard mechanic's toolbox, for about $25,000 TTCS has expanded their ability to train more students more efficiently without adding facilities or equipment. The system also tabulates the school's return on investment (ROI) in terms of amount of paint applied or wasted, and the VOC emissions reclaimed.

Instant feedback

The SimSpray also provides students immediate feedback -- instructors can highlight drips, orange peel, and dry spray to show students where their angle, distance, and speed were off.

Once a student finishes their project, the student information saves as a report to a USB device. The student report contains both images and scores for the completed project and each individual coat.

This allows instructors to track student's progress throughout the semester and determine which areas they excel in, and which need more attention.

According to Talley, the device has been well-received by his students.