Stay informed

Planning assembly operations and work benches in virtual reality

Point proven! A workshop on using virtual reality (VR) to design an assembly work bench for a cleanroom has shown that VR makes industrial planning processes much faster and more flexible. 

Cardboard engineering has become a well-established lean production method for efficiently planning industrial work benches. It involves building models made from cardboard and wood that can be subsequently modified to suit requirements. This means production sequences can be simulated and ergonomically optimised to scale. There is, however, a disadvantage to this method. Cardboard engineering takes up a lot of space because, if you want to meaningfully evaluate actual working sequences, it is essential to work on a scale of 1:1. What’s more, it is often necessary to recreate fairly large production areas.

By contrast, using virtual reality technology to build and validate assembly work benches makes the whole process simpler and more sustainable, while also saving a great deal of time. This becomes strikingly clear when you look at a practical example. For instance, during a project to configure an assembly work bench for the production of a new medical product from the Sanner Group, item partnered with Halocline GmbH & Co. KG, developer of virtual reality planning software of the same name that is used to plan production and assembly operations. The design work for the project was carried out in a workshop as part of a new planning concept developed by item. This successful collaboration is a model example of the opportunities that the use of virtual reality opens up for industrial planning processes.

Configure industrial work benches online

Discover what the Work Bench Configurator with its 3D view and smart functions can do. Simply put together your own custom work bench for manual assembly operations in your web browser or use the tool with Halocline software and explore virtual reality design techniques with a VR headset.

Best practise for virtual cardboard engineering with a VR headset

Sanner, which is based in Bensheim, develops solutions in the fields of medical technology, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare. The company is a global market leader in desiccant closures, has a workforce of over 600 and supplies customers in more than 150 countries. A CDMO (Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization) project the company was working on in the medical technology sector focused on the initial-series version of a dosing aid and involved complex manual assembly operations. As part of this project, Sanner set out to design the ideal assembly work bench, so that a new drug delivery system could, in the future, be manufactured efficiently in an optimum working environment. The company decided to approach item for support with the project for two main reasons. Firstly, the item building kit systems for industrial applications are standard solutions in numerous sectors and companies. Secondly, item is also a pioneer of digital engineering.

We can make changes to constructions quickly and easily and then immediately switch to a virtual environment to check how these modifications might impact the working processes.


– Christian Thiel, senior product manager and online tools expert at item










For example, the Work Bench Configurator from item can be used to design assembly work benches online while taking account of specific requirements in terms of efficiency as well as the needs of staff. item and Halocline have been in close contact for a number of years and we have reported on the collaboration between the two companies in a previous blog post. During an on-site workshop at Sanner, Halocline and item used Halocline’s production planning software to configure a new work bench for assembly processes in virtual reality. Christian Thiel, senior product manager and online tools expert at item explains: “We wanted to explore the opportunities that would be opened up by combining our products and tools with VR. “We can make changes to constructions quickly and easily and then immediately switch to a virtual environment to check how these modifications might impact the working processes.” Virtual cardboard engineering is therefore much more flexible and faster than traditional cardboard engineering using models made of wood and cardboard. Incidentally, you can also watch a recording of a joint webinar held by item, Halocline and Sanner in the item Academy. If you have a free item user account, you can access the recording directly.

A conventional VR headset is all you need to use the VR software from Halocline.

Carrying out virtual assembly with no prior know-how

“We worked with Halocline to put together a kind of gallery. This gives users access to a library of example applications from item. As a result, they can set up a basic production environment in a virtual reality environment with just a few clicks,” explains Thiel. Halocline puts everything users need in place in order to plan an assembly work bench or a rack construction. Users can create simple geometries, such as boxes, and select relevant components in the VR software without needing to have any prior specialist knowledge. This helps them create whole new concepts in a short space of time. Alternatively, they can start off by building a basic concept with the item online tools and then transfer that to Halocline. Throughout every stage, the planning concept revolves around the working process at hand. Key questions include:

  • Where does material have to be transported to?
  • Which individual worksteps need to be carried out during assembly?
  • Where do essential tools need to be positioned to ensure the whole sequence flows smoothly and ergonomically?

It is also crucially important to clearly define requirements. “In VR, you focus very much on the product and the process. The VR results can then be used to finalise the engineering project in more detail using the online tools,” says Thiel. Carrying out and evaluating processes in the virtual reality environment using a VR headset gives users valuable insight. For example, they then know where small load carriers (SLCs) ideally need to be positioned to guarantee exemplary picking processes.

The Work Bench Configurator – specialist software for industry

This new-found insight can then be put straight to use in the free Work Bench Configurator, which enables users to custom-design the handling area and reaching distances at the work bench. Numerous components, including tablets, Pivot Arms with trays and Container Profiles designed to hold Parts Containers and Grab Containers, can be integrated in any position. Thanks to intuitive drag-and-drop functionality and automatic adjustments, a finished assembly work bench can be put together on the online tool’s 3D work area in next to no time. In the project with Sanner, a whole range of bench variants were first developed in a joint workshop, with virtual cardboard engineering being used to establish the basics, develop the concept and then plan the finer details. There was a very clear focus on the handling areas because, when manufacturing the initial-series version of the dosing aid, production staff need to fit elements into a manual press by hand. Once this process had been tested out virtually, the concept design of the work bench was modified during more detailed planning carried out by item. This collaboration helped to produce the ideal working environment.

Using a VR headset to immerse yourself in a realistic working environment and put an assembly work bench to the test – that is now a very real option, thanks to collaboration between item and Halocline.

Workshop highlights the opportunities that virtual reality brings to assembly work

The workshop with item, Sanner and Halocline lasted half a day in total. Once the initial objectives had been specified, all the participants had the opportunity to put on a VR headset and dive into the virtual world, as Thiel explains: “You really need VR to get to grips with sizes and dimensions. “It’s about getting a feel for the virtual world.” Six different work bench variants emerged from the concept development stage, with all the necessary objects and equipment for the assembly process made available in the online tool. Building these various models out of cardboard and wood using conventional cardboard engineering techniques would have cost a lot of time and money.

The different variants were narrowed down to two, which were once more closely scrutinised in virtual reality, with a member of staff from Sanner validating the assembly process at the virtual model of the work bench.

By contrast, thanks to Halocline, the different variants could be configured, copied and adjusted with relative ease. The next step was testing them with the actual working process. The different variants were thus narrowed down to two models for the cleanroom assembly work, which were once more closely scrutinised in virtual reality, with a member of staff from Sanner validating the assembly process at the virtual model of the work bench. The main aim of this testing was to check whether the tool and SLCs on the final work bench model were located in the perfect positions for the working process. A spaghetti diagram was used to map all the work sequences. This helped very precisely demonstrate the efficiency of the assembly processes and show how staff would move around and work with their hands. The next stage was simply to modify a few more details of the work bench.

A virtual model such as this can be used to carry out meaningful tests even before the structure is built in real life.

A work bench for cleanroom conditions – with ESD safety built in

The new work bench for Sanner was specially designed for use in clean production conditions. The smooth, unbroken surfaces of the item components are perfectly suited for this kind of sensitive working environment and the modular construction principle at the heart of the design ensures the work bench can be quickly and easily modified or extended. As a result, item offers maximum flexibility in the planning and implementation phases for solutions to be used in cleanroom production. What’s more, as the medical product in question needs to be protected against electrostatic discharge (ESD), an electrostatic protected area (EPA) was essential. Special materials incorporated into the table top ensure charges are safely dissipated away from the working surface, keeping electrical components safe from harm.

The height-adjustable work bench is equipped with several Pivot Arms so the working area can be adapted perfectly to the physical attributes of any user.

All the components comply with the dissipation resistance and surface resistance limits set out in IEC 61340. The height-adjustable work bench is equipped with several Pivot Arms so the working area can be adapted perfectly to the physical attributes of any user. Even the material supply components follow ergonomic principles, with open SLCs arranged one above the other to give staff a clear view of their contents. Specially shaped Grab Containers fitted directly to the SLCs make removing parts easy, so that even the smallest of components can be picked manually. A keyboard and monitor are mounted on a Keyboard Shelf, so there is always plenty of space on the working surface for the assembly process itself.

Why virtual reality is a worthwhile option for industrial companies

Using virtual reality in the planning process helps deliver assembly work benches that meet customer requirements from the outset. The design in question becomes much more tangible, because users can put on a VR headset and dive into a realistic, three-dimensional digital world. As a result, the work bench can be customised to suit an individual’s physical attributes. Potential design errors and inefficient working sequences can be very deliberately avoided because all the sequences in question can be validated and the functionality and ergonomics of the work benches can be tested. Ultimately, this is good for both product design and the entire planning process, which is significantly speeded up and improved. Combining VR software from Halocline with the online tools from item creates maximum flexibility and looks set to be the way assembly work benches will be planned in the future.

Are you interested in digitalisation and what the future holds for industry? Then we have something that’s right up your street! Simply subscribe to the item blog by completing the box at the top right.