Augmented Reality: the Human Interface with the Industrial Internet of Things

Are you noticing an emerging trend in manufacturing? After years of hype about Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing, companies with industrial facilities are beginning to install Internet-connected sensors organized in networks of connected devices, also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), in growing numbers.

Industrial IoT Is Not a Fad

According to a recent report published by Verizon, the number of IoT connections in the manufacturing sector rose 204% from 2013 to 2014. These connect data from industrial machines to services that provide alerts and instructions on consoles in control rooms to reduce plant downtime. The same Verizon study provides many examples of IIoT benefits in other industries as well: companies that move merchandise are reducing fuel consumption using data captured, transmitted and analyzed in near real time. Connected “smart” streetlights require less planned maintenance when their sensors send an alert for needed repairs. Other examples include smart meters in homes, which reduce the cost of operations for utilities. An analysis from the World Economic Forum describes other near-term advantages of globally introducing IIoT such as operational cost reduction, increasing worker efficiency and data monetization. These are only the tip of the iceberg of benefits.

Many predict that as a result of IIoT adoption, the global industrial landscape is shifting towards a more resource efficient, sustainable production economy. Part of the equation includes combining IIoT with other technologies. Companies that deploy IIoT must also build and maintain advanced systems to manage and mine Big Data.

Big Data

To act upon and even predict factory-related events in the future, companies need to mine Big Data and continually detect patterns in large-scale data sets with Deep Learning technologies. Combined with vast processing power “for hire” in the cloud, these technologies are putting cost-saving processes like predictive maintenance and dynamic fault correction within reach of many more companies. With predictive technologies, managers can optimize responses better and adapt their organizations more quickly to address incidents. A study from General Electric in collaboration with Accenture highlights that for this reason, two managers out of three are already planning to implement Big Data Mining as a follow up to IIoT implementation.

Data and Objects Also Need Human Interfaces

Having post-processing analytics and predictive technologies is valuable to those who are in control centers, but what happens when a technician is dispatched to the field or in the factory to service a connected machine? Augmented Reality provides the human workforce with an interface between the data from these sensors and the real world.

The real time visualization (or “consumption”) of sensor data is an important component of the larger equation. Sensor tracking protocols are not new. In fact, SCADA can be traced back to the ‘70s but when combined with Augmented Reality, new options are available. As industrial equipment becomes more and more complex, workers constantly face long procedures that often involve monitoring and decision-making. When assisted by Augmented Reality during this process, the worker with the contextual guidance as well as all the up-to-date information required for successful decision-making can perform tasks more quickly and with lower errors.

How It Works

Let’s examine a compelling use case for AR and IIoT: maintenance of Internet-connected machines. A worker servicing a machine facing a fault needs to access the real time data readings of the internal variables of all the machine components in order to diagnose the problem and choose the right procedure to apply. In current scenarios the worker needs to phone the central control room in order to access the data or, in some cases, retrieve the data readings from a nearby terminal, then return to the machine. With an AR-enabled device, the worker can simply point the device at the machine, visualize the real time internal readings overlaid on top of the respective components, and decide the best procedure (as shown in the ARise event presentation about data integration). The same device can then provide guidance for the procedure, informing the worker with the contextual data needed at every step.

Another use case that can benefit from the combination of AR and IoT is job documentation. Through the interaction with real time sensor data, workers can document the status of machines during each step, feeding data directly into ERP systems, without having to fill out long paper-based forms as part of their service documentation. Procedures can be documented with greater precision, eliminating the possibility for human error during data gathering.

Big Data and Augmented Reality

When deploying IoT in industrial contexts, entrepreneurs should take into account the two faces of the value of the data produced by this technology. The offline processing capabilities of Big Data Mining algorithms provide a powerful prediction and analysis tool. In parallel, implementing Augmented Reality allows those who are in the field to reap the benefits of having real time onsite contextual data. 

Some AREA members are already able to demonstrate the potential of combining sensors, Big Data and Augmented Reality. Have you heard of projects that tap IIoT in new and interesting ways with Augmented Reality? Share with us in the comments of this post.

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