Augmented Reality in Future Manufacturing
In a previous post we described how, by developing a new framework that leverages Augmented Reality, IoT, social networking and advances in hardware, the members of the European SatisFactory consortium seek to increase productivity in manufacturing.
After a period of design and development, SatisFactory solutions and technologies will be validated at three pilot manufacturing facilities.
Each of the three pilot sites corresponds to a different industry:
- Chemical Processes: The Chemical Process Engineering Research Institute (CPERI) is a non-profit research and technological development organization based in Thessaloniki, Greece.
- Industrial Automation: Comau S.p.A is a global supplier of industrial automation systems and services based in Turin, Italy.
- Energy: Systems Sunlight S.A. headquartered in Athens, Greece, is a manufacturer of energy storage and power systems for industrial and consumer applications.
Installation and validation of the SatisFactory framework at each of the sites is an iterative process, with Augmented Reality devices (with technology partner GlassUp) and other technologies to be implemented in the coming months.
While this article focuses on plans for Augmented Reality at each of the three pilot sites, there are many more technological aspects bringing together innovations for streamlining efficiency in the factory. A publicly available project report sheds light on the use cases described below.
Continuous Production in Chemical Processing
CPERI is an institute that performs research and provides services to industries related to chemical engineering, energy and materials. CPERI is an ideal site for testing and improving continuous processes. In contrast to batch manufacturing of goods, continuous processes for chemical, pharmaceutical, food processing and other types of plants impose different challenges. As the facilities use equipment that must run continuously, any downtime can be costly. When shutdowns occur, incomplete products must often be disposed of, and the corresponding infrastructure (e.g., pipes, vessels, etc.) thoroughly cleansed of remaining materials.
Startup and shutdown procedures must be validated and documented to prevent all unwanted impacts. Typically such procedures require several hours to complete. CPERI is pioneering Augmented Reality in a use case for plant startup procedures, in which an operator using an AR device completes a task normally requiring many sequential steps done in several hours for starting up a plant.
The AR-enabled system incorporates a human-machine interface to display real time feedback to the operator from the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) automation system and other process control systems. Without AR, such tasks must be performed by an experienced operator referencing a manual, while the new AR solution proposes a workflow with reduced attention switching and can be performed by someone with less prior experience.
Additional use cases for AR are being designed and discussed with other SatisFactory pilot sites. CPERI, along with its partners, are also authoring a set of standard operating procedures for enabling and using Augmented Reality to improve productivity and compliance in continuous manufacturing and other chemical industrial processes.
Discrete Manufacturing in Heavy Industry
Part of the Fiat Group, Comau provides industrial automation systems for manufacturing in the automotive, aerospace, steel and petrochemical industries. The company specializes in:
- Body welding equipment for a variety of vehicle types
- Manufacturing systems for engine powertrain components
- Robotic systems for a range of manufacturing use cases
Comau is developing an Augmented Reality-enhanced system to help a user assemble a robot wrist, a process that normally requires four hours and over 290 individual steps to complete. The proposed AR solution, to be provided on a device that’s either fixed or wearable (e.g., smart glasses), uses animations that appear over the real world to guide the technician through steps to complete the task in less time and with fewer errors than existing methods.
As with CPERI, the AR solution will eventually be integrated into the site’s IT infrastructure, including warehouse management, enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution systems to provide real time data and support.
Remote operator assistance and technician training are other use cases being evaluated. Operators will be able to request live help and collaboration from remote experts for tasks, as well as choose training scenarios from online repositories for on-the-spot examples and guidance. Comau is also evaluating how AR can be used to record processes performed for verification and future training purposes.
Augmented Reality in Power System Manufacturing
Systems Sunlight’s integrated energy products span a range of industries from vehicles and consumer electronics to utilities and defense. The company operates a manufacturing facility where assembly lines produce batteries, transforming raw materials into ready-to-use products. Battery production requires continuous monitoring of variables such as cell temperature, which is measured with a thermal camera.
Augmented Reality is being evaluated for producing “motive batteries” for powering machinery: in a two-hour assembly process of six major steps, an operator places battery cells in a metal box whose sequence depends on battery type. The cells are then connected by means of a battery string and later checked whether they need additional electrolyte filling. They are then sealed with regular or water-filling plugs. In the next two stages, the terminal plugs and labels are installed and the batteries are checked for quality. Finally, the batteries are transported to a warehouse for dispatch to customers.
Systems Sunlight will implement Augmented Reality guidance on a fixed or wearable device so the technician can work hands free. Besides the expected benefits that animated steps overlaid on the field of view can provide, the company anticipates the technology will increase the overall motivation of technicians and operators. They plan to measure this increase with surveys after the conclusion of pilot testing.
If the pilot is successful, the company will explore use of Augmented Reality on further production lines and create a training system combining AR and gamification, along with quizzes to reinforce knowledge.
A Template for Manufacturing Efficiency
The lessons learned in these three pilot project sites will allow the SatisFactory solutions to be fine-tuned and demonstrate their value for the manufacturing sector.
In 2017, they will be made available to the European manufacturing industry to improve efficiency through novel interaction and collaboration technologies. The solutions also aim to improve the quality of life and overall working experience of factory operators, and mark a major step forward in European manufacturing competitiveness.