Virtual reality spray paint training software wins FLC Award


A spray-paint technician in training uses VirtualPaint, a painting simulator
designed to teach military personnel, commercial painters and other paint
spray technicians the correct techniques for spray paint operation.

Spray paint training and designing next-generation power plants don’t seem, at first glance, to have much to do with one another. But, Ames Laboratory recently partnered with the Iowa Waste Reduction Center at the University of Northern Iowa to improve spray paint training using a virtual engineering software toolkit. The software enhancements won a regional Federal Laboratory Consortium award for applying federally developed technology to industry needs.

VirtualPaint software, developed by the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, is a painting simulator designed to teach military personnel, commercial painters and other paint spray technicians the correct techniques for spray paint operations. Practicing paint skills in a virtual environment rather than a spray booth reduces hazardous air emissions, saves paint and reduces travel time for paint trainees.

IWRC staff sought to expand the capabilities of VirtualPaint and knew they needed a software solution that could handle the program’s large data models and maintain realistic real-time virtual painting simulations. Ames Laboratory’s VE-Suite, an open source virtual engineering software toolkit, fit the job.

“VE-Suite is most often used to help engineers design and interact virtually with complex systems like agricultural devices and power plants,” said Mark Bryden, director in Ames Laboratory’s Simulation, Modeling and Decision Science program. “But VE-Suite is useful in any case where we encounter two problems: how to make decisions when faced with huge amounts of information from many different sources and how to create a virtual environment in real time to interact with this information.”

VE-Suite is made up of tools that read, display and combine multiple steady and dynamic data sets, including graphics data and physics data in two or three dimensions.

In engineering, what results is a virtual decision-making environment that reduces the engineering design cycle and brings new technologies into production quicker and at less cost. In the case of VirtualPaint, VE-Suite helped improve the software’s user interface to include multiple modes, automate installation and calibration, and introduce more realistic renderings of paint application in multiple colors.

"Expanding user customization capabilities, increasing spray model accuracy and generating a more realistic simulation of spray application significantly increases the training value of the VirtualPaint system,” said Jeremiah Treloar, VirtualPaint program manager at the Iowa Waste Reduction Center. “VE-Suite’s development team at the Ames Laboratory deserves a lot of credit for the work they have done to successfully re-design the VirtualPaint software. We are excited to evaluate how the finished product benefits VirtualPaint users."

The Federal Laboratory Consortium Midcontinent Region presented the Excellence in Technology Transfer award at its meeting in San Antonio on Sept. 6.  The consortium is a nationwide Congressionally chartered network of federal laboratories aimed at promoting technology transfer.

“The Ames Laboratory is pleased to be recognized by the FLC for our ability to transfer Ames Lab developed technologies into materials, solutions, techniques and processes needed by industry and government alike,” said Deb Covey, Ames Laboratory’s associate director for sponsored research administration. “VE-Suite’s library of tools continues to provide industry, government and other organizations with new applications to help address their needs.” 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy provided partial funding for the development of VE-Suite.

The IWRC has been providing environmental services including business assistance and industry training, as well as research and development with an emphasis on the painting and coatings industry for nearly 25 years. IWRC is a non-profit organization, part of Business and Community Services at the University of Northern Iowa. For more information, visit


(at right) Deb Covey (center), Ames Laboratory associate director for sponsored research administration, accepts the Federal Laboratory Consortium Midcontinent Excellence in Technology Transfer award for improvement to VirtualPaint. Susan Sprake (left), FLC Midcontinent coordinator, presents the award, joined by Karina Edmonds (right), the Department of Energy's technology transfer coordinator.