Like most things in life, if something disruptive happens regularly, we have fixes or work arounds to keep the wheels turning. Training, experience and familiarity are important assets for any organisation providing they were not budgeted out of existence. But if they have been, will the answer come from the mixed reality continuum?
In processes using modern manufacturing automation, much of the equipment is fast, efficient, and reliable so failures are often unexpected. If you haven’t programmed a VSD or PLC for some time, or you come across something unusual, it can take much longer to recover when things go wrong. Where did it come from? Are spares available, and if so from where? Moreover, because the PLC is not working, does not mean there is something wrong with the PLC. Visualisation tools offer a way forward.
Digitisation is more than the connection of equipment. A big part will be the use of the data in the form of visualisation. According to a white paper from Schneider Electric, the use of mobile human machine interface technologies such as smart phones, tablets and wearable devices, combined with IP access to data and information (analytics and augmented reality) will transform the way operators work. Portable wireless devices will expand their capabilities and technologies such as dynamic QR codes will improve the operator experience and render the augmented operator more productive
Alternative reality (AR) has several practical applications for manufacturers and designers, some of which are already available. AR allows users to check and change 3D virtual models of new products without the expense of producing real prototypes. For maintenance, an AR App will help operators diagnose a machine problem by providing visual guidance in real time. Augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) are now promoted as the way ahead, but what are they, and are they different?
Augmented Reality (AR)
Most people expect AR to be the technology they will meet in their workplace. It will use a portable HMI like a smartphone, tablet or smart glasses. Relevant information sent to the screen appears as an overlay or is projected onto a tiny screen in from of the user’s eye. It will enable the user or operator to view a piece of hardware, and have images or information overlaid on the screen. AR is suitable for a wide range of applications from servicing, repair and to assist complex assemblies.
Many manufacturers are considering how to integrate AR into their production and engineering processes. Complicated piece-part assemblies are one example, where hundreds of components combine to make a single unit. Precise selection and sequencing of components is essential, and the use of AR helps aid operator to avoid costly mistakes.
In another application, Mitsubishi Electric has developed a maintenance support technology using AR. Their smart glasses use a 3D model generated by scanning objects with a wearable AR camera. Using the image then provides check procedures against the scanned product. As the operator progresses through the inspection, they can enter the results verbally. The system will also prompt the operator to re-enter any ambiguous or incomplete data.
Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality is different from AR in that it immerses the user in a computer-generated visual environment. VR requires the user to wear goggles that isolate their vision from the real world. Currently these are often used for gaming and simulations, allowing the user to ‘move around’ in the digital environment. However, there is potential for combining AR and VR in a mixed reality environment.
In industry, virtual reality training applications can close the gap between retiring experienced workforces in capital intensive industries. VR can also helps adoption by today’s computer and gaming accomplished generation, who are the source of the future workforce. It is also a powerful training tool for improving response management to safety related issues that are impossible to replicate in real life.
Mixed Reality (MR)
In mixed reality the two earlier forms combine, with images from the real world overlaid with AR information using some form of HMI.
The Virtual Reality Continuum
The virtuality reality continuum is a continuous scale ranging between the completely virtual, a virtuality, and the completely real, reality. The virtuality-reality continuum encompasses all possible variations and compositions of real and virtual objects. The concept was first introduced in 1994 by Paul Milgram.
In the mixed reality world, the HMI enables virtual objects to overlay and interact with real world situations. However, they need a high level of integration to perform these specific functions. Elements such as the physical environment, data sources, graphical interfaces, product specifications and artificial intelligence all need to work together. This usually needs a connection with the broader upstream and downstream processes across the entire manufacturing value chain.
Achieving this requires complex programming, making open and inclusive vendor-developed technology architectures important enablers when deploying large scale AR applications. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure for Industry and Augmented operator platforms deliver expertise across both OT and IT for delivering adoption. It consists of integrating three layers ̶ connected products, edge control, and analytics, to facilitate applications such as AR through connectivity and mobility, cloud analytics, and cybersecurity.
From the user’s perspective, they will have access to major problem solving tools across a wide range of specialisms for improving productivity and performance.