Industry Views: AR/VR Is at Your Doorstep
Gary Parr | March 19, 2018
Pioneers always take a beating, and Google’s Google Glass augmented-reality (AR) product was the groundbreaker that got punched in the gut—and face.
While the company stopped selling the devices to the general public in Jan. 2015, the technology lived on. Now, thanks to companies such as UbiMAX GmbH, Bremen, Germany (ubimax.de), it’s standing on the doorsteps of manufacturing facilities around the globe.
The same can be said for virtual reality (VR), a technology that quickly went from geek toy to gaming device to serious design / training / maintenance / operating tool. A quick look into just about any industry sector will uncover all types of applications where VR is being used on at least an experimental basis.
Manufacturing, both discrete and process, is right in the thick of it because, it could be argued, plant operations can benefit most from both technologies on a multitude of fronts. The great thing is that AR/VR technology doesn’t need to be proven. That work has been completed. The next step is adoption, which is happening rapidly.
Research released in 2016 by consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers LLP, Arlington, VA (pwc.com), indicated that more than one in three manufacturers were expected to adopt AR/VR technologies by 2018. All indications are that the research findings were correct, and, by the end of the year, we may discover that the projections were conservative. More than 70% of respondents also indicated that the technology would be at least moderately important to manufacturing competitiveness in the next three years (4.2% extremely important, 18.3% very important, 50% moderately important, 27.5% not important). The way technology progresses these days, there is little doubt that the moderately-important group has shifted significantly to the very- and extremely-important categories.
What areas are the biggest targets? The top five are:
• product design and development
• virtual assembly/improved process design
• safety- and manufacturing-skills training
• maintenance, repair, or operation of equipment
• data and information access.
In other words, every important area in today’s plants.
But where will the impact be greatest? What are knowledgeable people in the industry seeing today, and what do they see for tomorrow? To gain some insight, we asked the obvious question: Where do you see augmented/virtual reality having the biggest impact on manufacturing and why? The answers we received are enlightening.
Modeling Manufacturing Complexes
Santanu Das, senior vice president of design engineering, Bentley Systems Inc., Exton, PA, bentley.com
From design to operations, we continue to see the increased value of virtual-reality technology in manufacturing plants. For instance, plants engaging in brownfield engineering and building projects can use virtual-reality technology to capture and model the existing context of the site to make informed decisions, and to create conceptual and detailed engineering designs.
Using drone and LiDAR [laser imaging, dectection, and ranging] technology to capture images, and then processing the images with photogrammetry software, engineers can create engineering-ready 3D models of entire manufacturing complexes—buildings, production facilities, roads, and parking areas. It is especially helpful to create new reality meshes in situations where existing-plant site surveys are incomplete or non-existent, or where plants have merged.
The engineering models and corresponding data collected from sensors within the plant can be used from design through construction, and then into operations and maintenance to inform day-to-day decisions that help to optimize plant performance. Drones can then be used to inspect areas that may be dangerous or difficult to reach, which makes the inspection process safer and less time consuming. Virtual representations of real-time conditions provide improved visibility, which can help mitigate safety hazards, costly equipment failures, or process interruptions.
Steven Lustig, vice president of engineering, East West Manufacturing, Atlanta, ewmfg.com
In manufacturing, AR/VR will first be used—and is already being used—for complex manufacturing where an assembler has a series of detailed steps to perform (think aerospace). AR/VR guides the worker instead of the person constantly referring to written work instructions. It will also be used to monitor and control equipment in a factory. For example, you would look at the line and machine performance (run rate) and health (pressure, temperature, etc.) would be displayed. A simple gesture or tap would make changes instead of pushing physical buttons on the machine.
As to why VR/AR will take hold? It’s pretty basic. The technology provides remote access to experts and allows people to virtually see the same things even when in different places. The convenience and cost savings are a benefit to large companies, certainly, but especially to small- and medium-sized operations.
Training, Productivity, Safety
Youssef Mestari, program director, Honeywell Connected Plant, Houston, honeywellprocess.com
I see the biggest impacts of augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) in three areas of manufacturing. One is competency development, where drastically reduced training times of as much as 60% and increased retention rates of as much as 100% can be achieved by immersive on-demand training. AR/VR simulation allows workers to learn specific job activities by doing them, while safely experiencing the consequences of their decisions.
Another area is worker productivity. Mobility tools using AR/VR can connect people and assets in the field. For example, intelligent wearables enable a worker to see the status of a field asset while at the same time pulling up maintenance procedures. Or—if the manual is insufficient— the worker can connect with a subject-matter expert, who can see exactly what the field worker sees.
Last, but not least, AR/VR technology improves safety. Proper training and the options of accessing information on demand or getting expert help immediately when needed increase safety. Overall, AR/VR technology empowers workers to directly improve plant performance, uptime, reliability, and safety.
Smart Deployment Needed
Bob Fei, president and CEO, Life Cycle Engineering, Charleston, SC, LCE.com
I see enormous potential for VR and AR (when deployed smartly) to boost human productivity in key phases of the asset life cycle. When engineers and technical resources are more productive, asset productivity will increase, driving improved business performance, measured in financial metrics such as return on assets.
A powerful tool when used for engineering, planning, and design, VR allows virtual walkthroughs of new facilities and production lines, driving early decisions that optimize the overall design, procure, and build phases of the capital project. Similarly, maintenance planners can use VR to virtually walk through their job plans to ensure thorough preparation.
Smart deployment of AR boosts daily productivity of operators and maintainers. By accessing plans, instructions, drawings, and videos in an AR heads-up display, valuable time can be saved by having those resources literally right in front of your eyes. Scanning bar codes can trigger EAM transactions such as material consumption or work-order status updates, all while keeping the worker’s head up and hands free, resulting in a safer and more productive work environment. AR can also boost productivity with the worker’s ability to “reach back” to the job planner, reliability engineer, or OEM for expert over-the-shoulder, real-time coaching.
Peter Richmond, business development director, AVEVA, Warrington, UK, aveva.com
We have already seen augmented/virtual reality become firmly embedded within training activities as a way to better simulate operational situations. This change has resulted in improved training effectiveness. Now we see AR/VR playing an important role in asset management and operator rounds. Repair diagnostics can now be performed with greater precision and effectiveness by providing real-time access to support materials and imagery. A wealth of product and service-manual information is available for instant access from any location.
Further, the ability to “call a friend” has been added. Technicians encountering an obstacle or a question can readily access subject-matter experts, who can be summoned through an augmented-reality interface. These resources can then share what the operator is seeing and provide real-time assistance, helping to accelerate repair cycles.
Frank Langro, director Pneumatic Automation, Festo Corp., Islandia, NY, festo.com
Whether it’s mobile phones, televisions, or car models, companies are bringing new products to the market at ever-shorter intervals. Product development has to adapt to these short innovation cycles and production facilities have to be adapted or redesigned faster.
Starting up production lines is a time-consuming and expensive process for plant operators. A virtual startup reduces those costs considerably. The prerequisite for this is that the virtual version match the real installation in every detail. Such a depiction requires comprehensive modeling of the individual components installed in the machine. This includes geometric CAD data and kinematic models.
When all of the geometric, kinematic, and physical models of the individual parts are combined, the result is a complete virtual depiction with very realistic properties. That means that it is possible, even at an early stage in the planning, to work out how high the cycle rates will be during production. Considerations are then made as to whether this cycle rate is sufficient or the speed has to be increased.
By carrying out the virtual startup, initial process-sequence optimizations can be made before constructing the real facility. Even the control software can be developed alongside this process during the early design stages. This results in economic benefits because the startup time is reduced. It also increases the level of safety, as various test cases can be experienced virtually to examine errors in the motion sequence or the programming and their effects. EP