Keeping machinery ticking over with mixed reality

Posted on 10 Aug 2022 by The Manufacturer

A multitude of external factors have prompted manufacturers to adopt new ways of working. From enforced lockdowns to the continued focus on reducing carbon emissions, organisations have looked to new technologies to enable remote collaboration and remove the need for senior engineers to physically attend a site.

However, the value that a senior engineer can provide in-person is clear. With the average manufacturer dealing with 800 hours of downtime per year and the average automotive manufacturer losing $22,000 per minute of down-time, the appropriate technology solutions need to be in place to enable a factory floor technician to complete work on a piece of machinery with the same effectiveness as a senior engineer.

Maintenance and repair

The career development of less experienced workers in the maintenance and repair of machinery is ever more pressing due to an average shortfall of ten engineering roles per business in the UK. It remains the case however that sending a senior engineer to oversee a technician’s work on site can impact on efficiency. The challenge is enabling an on-site worker to have all the information they need to deal with a machinery issue, while giving them the tools to rely on more experienced staff should they need it.

The solution is mixed reality technology, where physical reality and digital content comes together to enable communication between both the real-world and virtual objects. There are a variety of features provided by mixed reality that can allow effective maintenance of machinery via remote support.

Maintaining communication with a senior member of staff may be vital for a worker to be able to complete a machinery task effectively, with secure video and audio calling available for them to ask for help in solving a complex problem. Screen sharing can allow for desktop screens to be projected to a technician, enabling complex data to be effectively communicated. Photo capture and the ability to annotate the users field of view means key visual information can be presented, perhaps in the event that they need clarification of what a specific piece of machinery looks like for repair purposes.

Holographic insights

The addition of holographic technology adds a new dimension to the solution and capabilities of the worker while completing an installation, repair or maintenance project. The technology can be trained to recognise a piece of physical equipment and apply relevant task-supporting assets to it, whether that be documents or holograms. The technician can gain access to immersive training manuals, files and PDFs.

Pre-designated assets can be viewed via a head-mounted tool while consuming knowledge from the expert located remotely. This is particularly useful considering that brain naturally works well with visual information. In this format, the technician can consume the data quicker and act on it immediately, ensuring machinery can either be installed or fixed quickly, shortening time-to-action and time-to-insight.

Technicians may also be junior workers, of which many are digital natives. A large number are therefore likely to find the interaction with the technology easy and intuitive. For those that may be a little more resilient to change, the onus is on the enthusiasts within the business to demonstrate the benefits to others within the organisation and encourage its use.

Supporting sustainability

While manufacturers in many parts of the world are no longer facing travel restrictions and isolation rules set in place during the pandemic, reducing the need for senior engineers to travel saves precious time in their working day. This gives them the opportunity to apply their expertise to other pressing matters, enhancing efficiency across the business.

Manufacturers, like many other organisations, are also under increased pressure to ensure more sustainable initiatives, especially as economies around the globe set stringent targets to meet net zero carbon emissions. The UK Government has set out a range of policies and proposals for decarbonising sectors of the economy to meet this target by 2050. Allowing senior engineers to provide support remotely reduces emissions associated with travel alongside a reduction in costs.

The future of machine maintenance

The continued uptime of machinery is likely to be a critical element of a manufacturer’s operations. At the same time, organisations want to ensure efficient processes while removing the unnecessary travel of senior engineers to sites. Training of less experienced technicians is also crucial for their development and provides greater value to the business. Mixed reality can come into its own when a factory needs to install, repair or replace critical machinery to support its operations. With these solutions in place, manufacturers can maintain the perfect balance between machine uptime and adopting digital solutions to ensure efficiency.

To read similar articles to this one, check out our Digital Transformation channel.

About the author

Adam Clay is the Director, UK & Europe, of mixed reality software company that enables organisations to better connect their workforces, Kognitiv Spark, since November 2021. Founded in 2016, Kognitiv Spark is a Microsoft Gold Partner and support a global client base operating in the manufacturing, energy, aerospace, defence, marine, and other industrial sectors.