February 2022 | Vol. 27 No. 2
by Chanakya Gupta, Senior Offer Manager, Schneider Electric
For manufacturers planning for the future workforce, these are the best and worst of times. An aging labor force with decades of experience is set to leave, and new hires often have limited experience. This dynamic creates the need for new business processes and technologies to mitigate the increase in manufacturing maintenance times and costs.
Furthermore, manufacturing is evolving toward a batch-of-one process, where manufacturing can be retooled on the fly to make bespoke products, increasing manufacturing complexity. It also means operations and maintenance engineers and technicians will need more training and time to ensure technical readiness.
These cascading headwinds of experience gaps and increased manufacturing complexity are being addressed today with Industry 4.0 and digital transformation programs across the industry. Manufacturers realize gains today by ensuring they are digital at the source, for example, by eliminating paper processes and manual logs. The increased computing power of devices, cloud infrastructure boosting data mobility, and pervasive connectivity across devices on the plant floor also help manufacturers.
Digital Transformation and the Connected Worker
The digital transformation we are experiencing will be incomplete without a truly connected worker experience. Rapidly evolving technology continually enables the connected worker, the human representation of digital transformation.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are maturing fast and are increasingly accessible for both consumer and commercial users.
In the industrial context, these technologies leverage digital representations of equipment and environments and have the potential to accelerate the connected worker journey chiefly by:
- Simulating operations and maintenance procedures—simplify training and maintenance
- Enabling real-time remote support with I-see-what-you-see capability
- Providing contextual information with spatial relevance and reducing information overload
AR/VR solutions integrate diverse information across a plant floor’s engineering and operations value chain, including computer-aided design (CAD) models, controllers and device data, and maintenance and support logs to deliver a seamless operator interaction.
Plant Makes the Case for AR/VR
Schneider Electric has investigated the use of AR/VR since 2009. It has proceeded to develop solutions with demonstrated value at our Lexington Smart Factory, which uses the latest in digital tools, including AR, remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, to drive energy efficiency, sustainability, and overall cost savings. The Lexington, Kentucky, location evaluated the deployment of AR against the following key metrics questions:
- Would this solution reduce maintenance time and cost?
- Would this solution help minimize errors during maintenance?
- Can this solution enable better decision-making on the shop floor?
Schneider deployed the pilot project across 16 critical manufacturing cells, and the plant recorded a 20 percent reduction in the mean time for repairs. The ability to diagnose machines without taking them offline further reduces downtime. The solution provides access to digitized maintenance manuals and machine documentation to eliminate information gaps. With this solution, operators also use digital checklists, which help reduce shift-handover times.
The success of this pilot has prompted the company to deploy the EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor AR solution to more plants in Schneider Electric’s fleet.
Two Benefits of AR/VR Solutions
With the rising adoption of AR/VR solutions in the manufacturing space, there are two clear emergent benefits:
Enhanced operations: Connected solutions provide simplified and faster maintenance and complete access to contextual machine information and improve operator efficiency.
Enhanced training: Immersive solutions capture real-life expertise in scenario-based training, enable remote training to reduce risk, and give users time and location deployment flexibility.
Workforce development is an essential focus for manufacturers and governments. Digital transformation programs and new technologies are enabling the connected worker. AR/VR solutions are fast becoming a must-have to attract a new generation of manufacturing professionals that better relate to immersive environments to engage and perform. Adopting such solutions is poised to grow and deliver enhanced operations and training. ei