iQagent, Inc. is an award-winning mobile solutions company that strives to create innovative and useful apps for the plant floor. iQagent was born from the belief that mobile devices will continue to gain acceptance on the plant floor, and as a result, new opportunities for innovation will present themselves to companies prepared to accept the challenges.
Background and Achievements
The concept of iQagent was created at iQuest, Inc, an industrial automation firm founded by Bob Meads in 1998. iQuest is an automation solution provider with customers in a broad range of industries. When smart phones and tablets began to appear on the market, we immediately looked for ways to leverage these powerful devices to solve problems and increase efficiency on the plant floors of our customers.
After considering several approaches, we focused on two problems experienced each day on every plant floor: quick access to resources required to maintain or repair equipment, and improving communication about unplanned downtime issues. We envisioned a mobile app that would actually recognize the equipment a person was working on, and display all of the relevant technical resources about it so the technician did not have to leave the equipment to go find them; this in and of itself would allow customers to realize a very short ROI when using our product. We also wanted to provide tools to allow users to show process downtime issues to remote technical resources in order to resolve these costly problems faster. We coined the phrase, “Practical Augmented Reality” to describe a product that could be implemented in days, no matter the application, without programming or customization.
The result was iQagent, an app for the iPad 2 that was released in late 2012. Since then, iQagent has been awarded two US patents, several app awards, and adoption by globally recognized companies in the US and Europe. Our early customers include a globally recognized chemical pharmaceutical vendor and a US automaker. In 2014, we created a separate company, iQagent, Inc. that would focus exclusively on mobile apps for enterprise and industrial settings, featuring iQagent as its flagship product.
- March 18, 2013: iQagent named Plant Engineering’s Gold Product of the Year award.
- November 5, 2014: iQagent is named “Best iPad App for Business Intelligence, Information and Reference” by the Global Tabby/Business Awards committee.
Challenges to be Addressed by AR
Augmented Reality is a technology concept that, when combined with mobile and wearable devices, can solve many problems on the plant floor.
Visual identification of equipment, systems and subsystems enables retrieval of relevant data and resources at the place of use, rather than on a remote HMI display or portal; this solution alone covers a broad area and solves many diverse problems for the user, since the types of data and resources that can be returned is unlimited; schematics, manuals, and process data allow for faster maintenance actions and repairs to be performed.
Images and movies can provide reference information and instruct users in performing repairs or maintenance actions. Big data and analytics can enable operators and supervisors to increase productivity on the spot.
Detection, identification and highlighting of parts increases the efficiency of performing maintenance or repairs, and limits or eliminates human error.
Also, AR provides instant feedback on real world situations in context, rather than abstractly or by reference. Error messages, status indications, or process flow messages being displayed against real world video or images removes guesswork, eliminates human error and saves time by eliminating the need to reference other resources in order to analyze the process.
Measurement and placement projection systems can allow workers to build, mark and drill components without the need for precise manual measurements.
Why AR is a Strategic Area
Wireless networking, security, and smart mobile platforms (complete with cameras, Bluetooth, accelerometer and GPS) have recently made AR economically available for the plant floor to a broad range of industries. Arguably, the iPad 2 by Apple was the first commercially available platform which could run comprehensive AR software.
In the past, industrial and manufacturing companies were slow to accept new technologies, but this trend seems to be changing. The concepts of BYOD and CYOD have become common, signaling that smart mobile devices are being allowed, even encouraged, on the plant floor. Such companies are realizing the benefits of early adoption, and are addressing the decreasing list of concerns which would prevent adoption. Studies have shown that more companies support or are embracing BYOD, and have also shown that companies that use mobile devices in their workflows gain an average of 42 minutes per worker per eight-hour shift.
iQagent’s deep roots in industrial automation have allowed us to leverage the benefits of Augmented Reality to solve real world problems with our mobile app solutions. We have a unique perspective of the problems facing industry and strive to build apps that directly address these problems while offering the customer a rapid ROI. Two US patents, industry recognition, awards and a growing customer base in the US and Europe have encouraged us to continually improve our products, and to seek new ways to help our customers increase productivity.