AR is the gateway to Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is such a broad term that the barrier to enter seems very high for small and mid-sized industrial companies. Augmented Reality (AR) is the easy approach with a fast return on investment.

Industry 4.0 is like nirvana for automation geeks. It’s a state we’ll reach, once digitalization makes production and supply chain blend together to serve a higher purpose. Allowing the customer to order unique products, the robots to adjust themselves, and the factory to produce all goods locally – with no additional costs for producing one unit rather than a thousand.

That state requires that an almost indefinite number of technological elements all play to the same tune, and where data is exchanged freely in the horizontal supply chains as well as vertically within the companies.

“With that in mind, it is almost self-explanatory that especially small and mid-sized manufacturing companies has a hard time figuring out where to invest in order to get going,” says Chief Strategic Advisor in Virsabi, Jens Lauritsen, who will be speaking at the conference Industry 4.0: The Intelligent Industry of the Future.

Here, he’ll be talking about how AR and VR facilitates cooperation between companies in the industrial company of the future.

Data where you need it

Boston Consulting Group has defined nine technologies that makes up Industry 4.0. Augmented Reality is one of them, and for several good reasons.

“Interchange of data is an important key to success within Industry 4.0. Until we reach that technological nirvana where humans are no longer needed in the production process, people need access to those data. With AR, you have your data right there with you on the production floor where you need it,” Lauritsen says.

Remote collaboration exploded

AR gives you immediate benefits, especially in regard to service and maintenance of equipment. With an AR headset like HoloLens, the employee in the production environment can get for instance production data or ste-by-step guidance for maintenance tasks in a digital layer on top of the reality. Or share their field of vision with an expert anywhere in the world, who can talk to them and draw in the virtual layer, all while the employee has his or her hands free to perform the task.

“This type of relatively simple remote collaboration with AR more or less exploded during COVID-19. Besides the savings on travel, many companies have had their eyes opened to other benefits like having more experts at a FAT (Factory Acceptance Test). In stead of sending two persons to the other side of the globe to do everything, they can now how five or six experts joining the same meeting and have every part controlled by the subject matter expert,” Jens Lauritsen says.

Jens Lauritsen, Chief Product Officer in Virsabi

Immediate returns

Remote collaboration like this is an easy way to start using the technology, and the returns on the investment are almost immediate. In most cases, the price of the headset and the initiating consulting fee is more than saved once the first plane tickets are replaced with a Teams meeting.

But even bigger benefits will show once you start connecting AR with the other technological elements of Industry 4.0. Elements like Big Data, Cloud Services, Industrial Internet of Things, and Digital Twins.

“Once all equipment is connected to the internet, data is analyzed and stored in the cloud, and you have a digital twin of your product, there is no limit to the amount of information you can get in the headset. Let me give you a simple example within service and maintenance – if you have data stored in the cloud about the most usual flaws on a piece of equipment sampled from all over the world, the headset can guide you to perform the right task the first time. And perhaps even test it first on the digital twin that you can view in the digital layer right next to the real machine. Reaching that state is not a future vision – that is all possible today,” says Jens Lauritsen.

New ideas keep arising

In fact, it is only our imagination that sets the limits for what’s possible to present in AR. And actually that too is one of the reasons why the barrier to start using AR and letting it be the gateway to Industry 4.0 is so low.

“Because remote collaboration in AR is so easy, the headsets are put to work immediately. And usually we see that once people start using the technology, someone starts getting ideas as to who it can be used to simplify other tasks within the same company. That is also the reason why we almost always start our collaboration with new companies with a big ideation workshop, because they always bring out tons of good ideas,” he says.

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