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4 min. read
Shelly Boom
Last update: 22-12-2021

How to benefit from augmented reality in machine manufacturing

Many aerospace and automotive companies have already implemented augmented reality. Manufacturers, on the other hand, lagged behind a little. However, now there are more and more use cases of manufacturers using AR, and in times of travel restrictions, it’s emerging. 

Augmented reality is an upcoming trend in the manufacturing industry. To answer a lot of the manufacturer's questions, we’re now diving deeper into how AR works in manufacturing and what its benefits are for this industry. At the end of this article, you’ll find a use case where a manufacturer uses a HoloLens in combination with an IIoT platform for remote commissioning their machines during travel restrictions.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a technology where computer-generated images are added to a living environment, which allows the user to analyse the real-world situation in more detail. In AR, digital images and graphics intersect with the real world and the person wearing an AR-headset can interact by drag and dropping items. After receiving input from the devices, the AR application recognises the target, processes the image and adds photos, video and audio to create an illusion that engages users in a virtual world.

How augmented reality works in manufacturing

In manufacturing, augmented reality can be used for different purposes, such as remote assistance, identifying unsafe working conditions and measuring a variety of changes. Text, stats and images can be presented as digital aspects in the real world. A machine manufacturer or customer can view a machine or other piece of equipment and see its running temperature, amount of items produced, errors and many other metrics.

AR is an extra layer on top of standard remote access. When the operator puts on an augmented reality headset (such as Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap One), the machine builder or engineer can see exactly what the customer or his colleague sees in real time without being on site and log into the machine via a safe VPN connection to see what’s happening in the machine. 

They can provide targeted feedback and give instructions via text, audio, video or by sharing documents such as a manual. The customer or colleague with the AR headset has their hands free to repair and change things in the machine or even to commission machines. 

Additionally, augmented reality can be perfectly used for training purposes in manufacturing. It brings training onto the plant floor and decreases training time up to 50%. Training modules have to be recorded once and help manufacturers learn how they can complete their tasks using an AR headset. It mainly helps with tasks that are too complex to explain with a text or video.

Schematic set up of Augmented Reality (AR - HoloLens) in combination with remote access for remote assistence Schematic set up of Augmented Reality (AR - HoloLens) in combination with remote access for remote assistence

Differences between virtual, augmented and mixed reality

You might ask yourself what the difference is between virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). VR provides you simulated reality to the exclusion of actual surroundings while AR keeps the real world central and layers computer generated enhancements over it. This makes AR much more useful in the manufacturing industry than VR. 

MR, however, is the most useful, since it brings together VR and AR. It stands out because of its highly interactive aspect with realistic 3D images appearing in the real world. When your headset is on, you can use your own hands to interact with and manipulate both physical and virtual objects through next-generation sensing.

The difference between virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). The difference between virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

The benefits of augmented reality

AR brings several advantages for machine builders, such as the ability to remotely assist customers and to build a stronger relationship with your customers.

No misunderstandings or miscommunications

You don’t have to worry anymore that text and pictures are not correctly interpreted, since people using AR are being trained and guided by virtual overlays of what they have to do on top of reality. Even when they are not technically skilled, they are able to fix machines with assistance via an AR headset.

Faster troubleshooting

With augmented reality, organisations can quickly respond to faults or malfunctions, since they can give instructions to the person at the machine’s site. Since everything is visualised, it’s easier to understand what needs to happen. Simultaneously, they reduce travel time and costs for the engineer that normally had to come over to fix the problem on-site. 

Building a stronger customer relationship

The use of AR can help you build a stronger relationship with your customers since you’re no longer only offering products but you’re also partnering to help solve their problems. The engineer no longer has to travel so it saves a lot of time and more customers can be served in a short time. At the same time, customers get more efficient manufacturing processes.

Use case: Application of augmented reality in machine manufacturing

This use case describes how a Dutch industrial process fluids manufacturer remotely commissions their machines at the customers site using the IXON Cloud and a HoloLens. Usually, their engineer visits the customer for commissioning. Since their customers are all over the world, they have to fly a lot and stay there for one or two weeks for measuring, preparation and cabling. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, machines had to be sent to the customer, because the engineer couldn’t go on-site due to travel restrictions. The manufacturer chose to implement IXON Cloud in combination with a HoloLens, so their employees in the Netherlands can see what the customer is doing, just as if they were on-site. 

Their customer, located in the Middle East, received the machine together with the IXrouter which they connected to the internet for a secure VPN connection to the IXON Cloud. The Siemens PLC and HMI they used were then accessible via the IXON Cloud webportal with HTTP and VNC access. The HoloLens is accessible at its own webportal and only needed an internet connection. Therefore they connected the HoloLens via the IXrouter Wi-Fi hotspot to the internet for a stable video stream.

The manufacturer has one colleague near the customer in the Middle East who is a product manager, not a technician. However, via the HoloLens he was able to do technical work and helped the engineers in the Netherlands to get the job done. The Dutch engineer had access to the PLC and HMI via VPN with TIA portal running on his own PC and used IXON Cloud to see what the product manager was doing on the HMI, and to support him directly by controlling the HMI from his desk. He had vision on everything the product manager was doing via the HoloLens and the webportal software actually allowed him to designate and indicate a part in the machine. 

Step up your game with IIoT and AR

Combining IIoT and remote access with AR technologies will create added value for your customers. They will experience faster troubleshooting and better communication which results in a more efficient production process. On top of that, AR is applicable in the short term and Return on Investment (ROI) will soon be achieved. Augmented reality will undoubtedly revolutionise manufacturing and manufacturers should seriously consider it. 

Implementing augmented reality as new service strategy

So, how are you going to claim added value - and support your customer’s success - with augmented reality? If you need help on defining your strategy and creating value, feel free to consult one of our industry experts without any obligations.

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