If we consider this the ideal world of manufacturing we’re pursuing, in most cases we are not even close yet. For any company bridging the physical and virtual worlds is a huge challenge to take on as a whole. Where should we start? Do we just go for digitization for digitization’s sake; what is the data we have and need, and what to do with it? What is the key value of the change for your company and your customers?
Most of us are not equipped with enough information to answer that all in one go. Luckily you can start small!
AR is about measurable results
Let’s go further and take a modern production line in a manufacturing company and assume the bottom line here is to run that line with no bottlenecks and as close to zero downtime as possible. Downtime is enormously expensive to any manufacturing business. To give a glimpse of the magnitude: for UK manufacturers alone downtime costs £180bn a year according to a study published last autumn and cited for example by the Engineer.
In large production facilities the space and number of devices may be huge and the operators scarce. An operator may be able to see notifications of possible problems from a dashboard in a fixed location or from control room screens. But on a high-volume production line small issues will cumulate into large ones in a blink of an eye if an alert on a dashboard goes unnoticed or was seen too late. In a low-volume production line the errors may not be very frequent but a single error can be drastically expensive.
AR makes the monitoring and reaction to any problem faster and easier. The work of operators becomes a lot more flexible than with traditional equipment. With a simple AR app on smartglasses we can display the exact piece of data needed at the right time and in the right context. We can allow operators to interact with the faulty machine right from where they are standing. From the point of view of a worker on shop floor, AR apps are easy to learn, easy to use tools.
Starting with a very low-entry use case, Augmented Reality can be deployed to warn the operators of any problems the production line might be facing. Know when the vibration levels of a machine start to rise and fix it ahead before they cause serious damage. Avoid losing an expensive set of components when a reflow oven goes haywire and tries to grill them to ashes. Displaying simple information bursts using monocular smartglasses, and allowing the operators to interact with a machine quickly and efficiently helps prevent those so expensive production line downtimes. No advanced mathematics are needed to calculate the benefits.
This is a simplified example to show that AR is a tangible and effective tool in the manufacturing industry already now. The further towards the ideal case we go in bridging the physical and the virtual, the more quality data is available and the more elaborate use cases exist for Augmented Reality. Smart AR glasses and apps by industrial AR solution providers like Augumenta enable new ways to monitor and control machines and get a hold of that information IoT devices provide. From low-entry to more advanced systems, we have the pieces ready for you to use today.
|How Augumenta AR service concept functions in a smart factory environment|
So, what are the questions you should ask if you have decided Industry 4.0 and AR is the way to go? Based on our experience from a multitude of pilot projects we have established these key points one should focus on.
Ten steps development departments of industrial manufacturers should take for a successful AR pilot
Start by identifying the problem in your production that you need to solve. Are there extended periods of downtime or steering clear of bottlenecks in the process? Are there issues with low quality or safety record?
Could that problem be fixed or improved by bringing real-time information to workers, such as production alerts, operating instructions or training material?
Check if such information is available in electronic format; if yes, you have a good chance of being on a fast track to your first AR pilot. If not, take action and find ways to provide it.
It’s time to decide, which smartglasses (or tablet, or something else) are the best fit for your needs and operating environment. What is your infrastructure and who are the people working with the solution? Do your workers wear protective gear, gloves, goggles, hardhats? Are there any special safety requirements, difficult lighting or noise levels? At this stage, if not earlier, it is good to start talking to a company specialized in industrial AR.
Before heading to rolling out the pilot, define which metrics to follow. There’s no going around it - you need to know enough about the current state of production to be able to compare against the data collected during the project, in other words the “before and after” - data to see whether there was any effect thanks to AR. It’s surprisingly common that pilots are deemed successes or failures based on a gut feeling, not on concrete numbers.
Run the pilot in real production environment and conduct interviews with workers. It’s good to know their impressions in the early phases and again later on to see if their opinions change when they use AR more and more.
Make adjustments and repeat. Be ready to pivot, maybe some of the assumptions made during the planning need modifying, a wrong production parameter for AR visualization or for a metric, something that can easily be fixed for better insights. Sometimes the initial problem can prove to be the wrong one. AR technology may help you find new and innovative solutions to boost your KPIs even more.
Check the metrics, did the project result in improvements like expected?
Once more, go back to the end-users. Interview your people: they may tell you things your metrics won't show: maybe the numbers show marginal gain but employees are excited? A holistic review is a good thing to do. Always listen to your end-users, they usually find great solutions that you might not see by yourself.
Time for the final decision: do the gains exceed the costs of deploying AR in your business? They often do!
Tackle the challenge - start now
The value of starting the project now is in gaining the knowledge that you will need to make the digital transformation and with tools that already now can save you time and money. Collecting the data from these smaller projects allows you to see, which solutions work, which don’t, what directions you should take. You’ll have the tools, knowledge and skills to productize these technologies in larger scale. If you wait too much for the perfect techs to appear and try go for it all in one strike, you may never get to the end of it. Taking smaller iterations at a time makes it easier to manage the costs, evaluate the benefits, and introduce the changes in your organisation.