More efficiency, reduced travel costs, enhanced capabilities for remotely guided, on-site technicians, improved safety for employees. Many are the benefits of technologies such as Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence when applied to industrial production.
The rapid deployment of supporting technology and the fall in wearable devices’ prices (already happened to handheld ones) are contributing to the spread of Augmented Reality-based solutions integrated with Artificial Intelligence capabilities, now expected to be a “can’t-live-without tech” for every company in the field of Industrial Manufacturing.
Augmented Reality and its derivatives. What are they?
Augmented Reality can be seen as an extension of the user’s environment, which becomes enriched in real-time with superimposed digital models and information, such as texts, graphics, and multimedia. The aim of this technology is to “augment” or, in other words, to improve the physical world with contextual, significant, and relevant information. By contrast, Virtual Reality technology radically changes the users’ perception of the world as it immerses them into an artificial, unreal, and computer-generated environment. Elements are then separated from the actual world and replicated into a virtual one, in which users rely on their five senses to interact with objects and places. Mixed Reality can be positioned in the middle, as it integrates digital models into the physical world, enabling users to interact with them while remaining aware of the natural environment around them.
The main differences lie in the devices used and, therefore, in the functions provided and the sector where they can be employed.
Augmented Reality for Industry 4.0
Field technicians often face unknown assets, thus asking the company to send an expert on-site. Such procedures are costly and time-consuming; in short, inefficient. Likewise, maintenance and repairing interventions nowadays represent the most critical processes for companies. Here comes into play this technology, which helps to perform maintenance activities, exploiting features such as remote collaboration, training, or machinery presentation. Augmented Reality can bridge the skills gap and reduce errors made by operators, thus ensuring a rapid and efficient sharing of know-how as well as increasing the percentage of first-time fixes and giving more accurate diagnoses. Moreover, by leveraging the integration with Artificial Intelligence, users are equipped with all the necessary tools to automatically “capture” their experiences, which are then processed by powerful algorithms and shared within the organization. Technological asset tagging, photo and video indexing, real-time translation, and creation of operational workflows, are just a few examples of the available features provided by the integration of Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence.
These features help to create a shared and reusable knowledge base through fully automatic processes. Therefore, upon each technical intervention, the application automatically and proactively “suggests” all possible solutions resulted from learning previous activities’ procedures.
The technology breakthrough reflects increasingly sophisticated machines requiring maintenance interventions performed by resources with a higher degree of specialization. Expert maintenance technicians are however, extremely rare to find and are usually forced to move across the world to respond to growing requests for intervention, thus extending machine downtime and increasing expenses for companies.
In this regard, remote training on new procedures or complex activities is becoming more and more important. Implementing these functionalities proves to be game-changing for situations which are difficult or too expensive to recreate in reality.
The available information may also be integrated with connected IoT devices (displaying the data needed for real-time checks on the proper functioning of an asset) or combined with the BIM (Building Information Modeling) methodology to evaluate the impact of possible plant installations before their actual creation. Moreover, the assets’ digital twins can be manipulated in real-time and enriched with further information by “anchoring” notes shared by those remote users with the skills needed to support the execution of field activities. Such functions enhance the expertise and allow technicians to complete maintenance and assistance interventions rapidly and efficiently.
Finally, it is worth noting how the current global emergency and the resulting restrictions have boomed those features allowing remote collaboration, machinery presentations, and related remote functionalities. These two particular uses of technology allow minimizing personnel travels, both in case of operational and training activities, thus taking digital information wherever the business requires it, in total safety, and with even higher results than those achievable with traditional methods.
The benefits of AR and AI applied to Industrial Manufacturing
Due to the intrinsic nature of the activities field technicians are performing daily, AR and AI provide several opportunities for development to production companies, making Industrial Manufacturing a leading market segment for the transition toward the “new normal”. Indeed, they have marked a turning point in many different business processes, from sales and marketing activities to Field Service and remote support, from training and learning to the manufacturing sector. AR and AI have proven to bring value to industrial companies adopting them, both in terms of reduced time for work execution, thanks to faster maintenance procedures, improved staff productivity and efficiency, and increased workforce safety thanks to hands-free activity, remote training and collaboration.
To be more specific:
– Operators can perform their tasks more efficiently, thanks to hands-free vocal instructions and real-time remote support.
– Specialized skills and expertise are transferred to the entire organization for shared and proactive use.
– Training inexperienced staff is faster and easier, thanks to collaborative learning.
– Productivity, safety, and customer service reach the highest standards.
The combination of AR and AI is able to “extend” the resources’ capabilities, supporting them through guided procedures while carrying out maintenance activities on production lines, arming them with pertinent and automatic information on plant assets, and, last but not least, connecting them with other colleagues to receive or give real-time assistance. The continuous transfer of corporate knowledge is, therefore, now a reality. l
About the author: Alberto Battistutti is Marketing & Communications Specialist at OverIT.