Auto Body Repair and Painting gets new ‘virtual painter’; equipment commemorates the late Michael Saito

An Auto Body Repair and Painting student takes the new virtual painter equipment for a test drive.

HILO — The paint is virtual, but the learning is real.

Hawai‘i Community College’s Auto Body Repair and Painting (ABRP) program debuted its new virtual painter equipment this month, which students will use as they develop their auto body painting skills.

The new equipment, which recently arrived on campus, features a plaque commemorating the late ABRP Professor Michael Saito, who passed away in 2012. Saito initiated the effort to procure the advanced technology.

“Professor Saito left a rich and positive imprint on the ABRP program at HawCC,” said Joel Tanabe, an associate professor, who is chairman of the college’s Applied Technical Education Division. “Not only was he knowledgeable in his discipline, but also very ‘akamai’ on being an unselfish, compassionate human being. These desirable traits were demonstrated personally, but more importantly taught to his students as well as colleagues.”

To use the equipment, students wear a head display that shows a simulated painting booth and use a hand-held “spray gun” to paint a virtual vehicle, a process that can be viewed on a screen by instructors and other students.

To watch a video of the virtual painter in action, click the following link:

The technology allows students to learn the techniques of auto painting without using any material, which saves money, is environmentally friendly, and is practiced in a toxic-free setting, said Tanabe.

The virtual painter, made by VRSiM, Inc., also does an excellent job assessing students’ skills, ABRP instructor Garrett Fujioka said.

“It’s amazing,” said Fujioka. “It will tell you the thickness of the paint, if there’s too much texture, if there are runs, if it’s at the wrong angle. It just has a whole variety of assessment.”

The computer simulation won’t replace real, live auto body painting entirely. It will be used mostly to introduce students to the process of auto painting and also to assess students.

“We’re still going to go through the real stuff,” Fujioka said. “This just gives you another tool to use.”

This is the first major piece of virtual training equipment that HawCC’s Career and Technical Education programs have obtained, but it likely won’t be the last.

The Machine, Welding and Industrial Mechanics program hopes to acquire funding to get virtual welder equipment that offers the same benefits as the virtual painter.

Many industries are now using simulation as training; pilot simulators are a great example of realistic virtual training, said Tanabe.

“The virtuality part is here already, and it’s going to stay,” said Tanabe. “It’s a great teaching tool.”

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