An augmented vision of maintenance
05 November 2019
Sophie Hand, UK country manager industrial parts supplier EU Automation, discusses how augmented reality can benefit manufacturers and how it can be applied to maintenance.
Augmented reality is considered by some to hold the key to the creation of the smart factories promised by Industry 4.0. However, manufacturers can often be wary of buying into new technology trends, worried that the investment will not produce a tangible return.
Augmented reality (AR) technology is often confused with virtual reality (VR) technology but they are very different in terms of their applications. VR technology allows users to put on a headset and delve into a virtual world, whereas AR technology overlays information and digital content in the real world, in real-time, using a display piece or eyeglasses. In essence, it takes the existing real-world environment and adds digital information to it to create the augmented environment.
Use of AR technology in the factory setting allows workers to easily locate where their co-workers are on the factory floor, understand what machinery is being used and if it is operating within normal parameters.
AR technology offers more than just the ability to present digital content such as characters and images, it can also be used to overlay relevant information for the user on a screen. For example, looking at a furnace through a set of AR glasses allows workers to see information like its current running temperature at a glance. Using AR technology in this way has the potential to dramatically improve manufacturer’s maintenance strategies, which in turn improves performance, productivity and overall product quality.
One example is infrared thermography, an AR based technology that allows workers to view electrical systems, mechanical equipment, building applications and fluid systems using thermal vision. Engineers can use it to spot faulty connections, abnormal motors, pipe temperatures and tank levels without having to physically touch the equipment, lowering the risk involved.
Using AR in this way also allows manufacturers to employ a streamlined predictive maintenance programme. By providing visualisations of potential points of failure within the system, workers can see at a glance if there is a problem and crucially, identify which parts are at fault if there is. Replacement parts can then be ordered from an industrial parts supplier without the need for costly unplanned downtime.
In a factory, even simple maintenance tasks, such as machine servicing, can often be unnecessarily time-consuming because of the amount of administrative work involved. AR technology offers a way for a maintenance crew to see exactly which machines and equipment need servicing at a glance by using an AR device to visualise the information — cutting out needless hours spent trying to find and sort the necessary information for the task.
Training on maintaining
Digital twin technology can be combined with AR in manufacturing settings to create virtual clones of a physical asset, providing a dynamic, digital model to show technicians how to service and repair machines on the factory floor. This kind of immersive AR experience allows businesses to employ a more dynamic and cost-effective maintenance training program.
In collaboration with Bosch using the REFLEKT ONE or BOSCH CAP software platform, Jaguar Land Rover has created an iPad application that is able to provide an X-ray vision investigation of the dashboard of the Range Rover Sport vehicle. This allows them to train employees on repairing the vehicle without the need to remove, and later reinstall, the dashboard itself.
AR technology will undoubtedly revolutionise manufacturing as we know it and manufacturers should give it serious consideration. However, it is important for businesses to remember that to reap the full benefits of AR technology, it will still require careful obsolescence management, selective equipment upgrades and a willingness to explore the diverse applications of the technology.