Today, no one dares to deny the many benefits of Industry 4.0 devices such as Smart Glasses for all kinds of maintenance activities, process telesupervision, etc.
In industrial environments for many critical assets and resources where their availability for use is important, such as remote maintenance of wind turbine machinery as a virtual assistant between the operating technician (on site) and the remote specialist technician providing online support.
Individual meetings or even meetings between several users with Smart Glasses (in situ) and desktop users (in rooms where industrial control is centralized) are becoming a reality.
They are also beginning to show good results in a multitude of logistics processes such as picking assistants.
Although it is also true that they have to continue to improve their performance because the permanent invasiveness means that they are not yet fully industrializable solutions. Subjecting a person 8h/day (a work shift, with its breaks) to be continuously looking at references and QR’s or listening uninterruptedly to audio-instructions, makes the validation of the workstation more than debatable from the point of view of occupational health.
On the other hand, given the speed at which these devices are evolving, with more and better features and increasingly competitive prices, today I venture to say that it is possible to design solutions validated by HR departments, occupational hazards, etc., where they can be used for a long and uninterrupted period of time at work.
However, it is essential that not only a technology company (expert in Smart Glasses solutions) is present, but also engineering and consulting firms that are fully aware of all these other operational, occupational health, industrial safety, etc. requirements.
For example, and with respect to invasiveness being a determining factor, how many videos of theoretically commercial solutions exist where logistics operators are seen driving stackers or forklifts, circulating through the aisles of warehouses and being guided by Smart Glasses that, through augmented reality, superimpose digital information to take them to the destination point?
To what extent is this safe? Logistic waiters driving machines in spaces where operators coexist, and where, due to this superimposition of visual information in digital format with semi-immersive glasses, can cause the driver to lose track of time and cause accidents at work. Precisely for this reason, large automotive companies, food or logistics operators do not allow the use of these technologies in “movement or circulation” for their logistics personnel.
It would be the same scenario as if we were allowed to drive in a city, using Smart Glasses and abandoning the navigation screens that cars have as standard. The number of accidents that would occur due to all kinds of human absent-mindedness due to the level of immersion and invasion of technology.
Therefore, he affirms that today it is already possible to propose technological solutions with low permanent invasiveness, but designed with functionalities that automatically disable when the operator is in circulation (e.g. through the inertial sensors of the glasses) or that only intervene when the operator consults them (“Siri” or “Alexa” type) or that are only activated when they detect possible incidents that the operator does not identify (“no news, good news” concept).
However, we can already see the close relationship between thinking about a specific application and its industrial approval, with the level of visual immersion of the goggle model: there are manufacturers with Smart Glasses with minimum immersion (hands-free and high performance in audio instructions, flip-up screen, etc., as if the goggle were just another “PPE”). And the software application to be installed on the device must also be considered, as it is not the same thing in terms of visual invasion for the glasses to project 3D objects superimposed on the real visual field than simple “very light” text or 2D labels.
But I would also like to mention that Smart Glasses not only have a huge potential for applications in industrial manufacturing and logistics environments; to name a few other environments: in construction, for petrochemical plants, in power plants, etc. Or applications as different as medical emergencies; that thanks to 5G, it will be possible to make real-time assessments from the place where the patient is treated, with emergency medical personnel (in situ) and the hospital where a priori the patient will be transferred after being stabilized.
In such critical situations, agility and immediacy of response is essential by a decentralized team of multidisciplinary professionals who must act together in a coordinated manner.
And if, on top of that, we consider how this pandemic year has catalyzed many of the digital technologies, we see that one of the most impactful in its widespread use in factories are Smart Glasses and video calls with Teams, Zoom or other platforms.
So as not to penalize the impossibility for external professionals (e.g. industrial maintenance) to go to the factories. Reduce their presence when it is essential (e.g. to make direct repairs) and that the interventions are carried out directly by the company’s maintenance technicians under external remote support.
Or, for example, Virtual Commissioning, with remote commissioning with in-house personnel in the factory and technicians from suppliers who perform these services remotely via Smart Glasses.
But this article is titled “Smart Glasses, beyond remote support”, therefore, I want to explain a potential application that we at RLE IBERIA have been devising and developing for months.
Just as Virtual Commissioning is starting to become a reality in the most modern factories in terms of adopting 4.0 technologies, we have baptized it as RMV-REMOTE MANUFACTURING VALIDATION and a first solution called SCL-Smart CheckList….
It focuses on a reality that has been consolidated for years in all types of industrial factories, which acquire facilities, machines, tooling or production means (e.g. molds or dies) from suppliers located all over the world; large specialist workshops that are very cost-competitive and that, given the global world in which we find ourselves, there are geographical clusters such as mold makers in Portugal or die makers in China that concentrate a large part of the purchases of molds and dies for the automotive industry.
It is obvious that the competitiveness of these suppliers lies in their level of specialization, materializing in super-tight prices (e.g. compared to competitors here) and meeting the requirements (quality, delivery times, etc.) that their customers demand in their specific projects (we are not referring to catalog equipment purchases but turnkey projects).
Given these investments, at pandemic time we all know that trips abroad to monitor, or follow up or validate e.g. a mold at the supplier’s facility in China were cancelled.
But pre- and post-pandemic, there were already a number of clear shortcomings due to the considerable distances between customer and subcontracted workshop, regardless of the fact that the prices compensated working with this supplier and not with a closer one. Since we are referring to project orders involving months of manufacturing, need to progressively supervise the ordered machine, etc.
First of all, the costs of travel (the travel itself, per diem and accommodation) for the entire monitoring and validation team at these distances (between the customer and the workshop in China, for example) meant that the number of trips and the team of people had to be minimized.
But, secondly, while you have the team displaced e.g. 1 week in the workshop/supplier in China, these people cannot attend in the same way their day to day life in the factory, as they are obviously not here.
As a result, the monitoring and progressive validations of the mold or die ordered from your supplier are the minimum necessary on site. And the consequence, no matter how many checklists and engineering documents are sent to be fulfilled by the workshop, is that once the machine or tooling arrives at your plant, for example, all kinds of incidents arise that require “extra work” that were not contemplated, hiring nearby workshops (because obviously the die, for example, is not going to return to the workshop in China).
The solution developed by RLE IBERIA, RMV-REMOTE MANUFACTURING VALIDATION, specifically the SCL-Smart CheckList product, makes it completely possible that despite the physical distances between the customer and the workshop contracted for the manufacture of your machine or tooling, for example, you can carry out a daily and continuous monitoring to validate the manufacture and assembly step by step of your machine, without the need to go to the workshop, but having the same guarantees as if you were there (access to the technician in the workshop), you can carry out a daily and continuous follow-up to validate the manufacturing and assembly of your machine step by step, without the need to go to the workshop but having the same guarantees as if you were there (access to what the technician on site is doing and seeing on your machine, recording everything you require to carry out a follow-up of the project, etc.).
In short, “eliminating” the distance factor in the progressive monitoring and validation of your tooling that is manufactured in your contracted workshops. Setting up videoconferences of your entire engineering team from the factory with your supplier in Turkey, as one more meeting in the day’s agenda. Automatically obtaining scheduled checklists recording all those steps in which the supplier must provide you with traceability of their work performed. Calling unplanned video calls in case of incidents that you have identified, to correct and make decisions in consensus.
In short, thanks to the SCL solution and SMART GLASSES you will have AGILITY and GUARANTEES in your engineering projects involving third party manufacturing. Eliminating OVERLOADS due to EXTRA WORK to be done that were not detected in the manufacturing phase, prior to the assembly of all components.
But it is also an ideal solution for those local workshops which, in a global world, have international or national customers, but at certain distances, where these distances penalize competitiveness
To be able to offer, for example, a toolmaker here, to his customers the possibility of monitoring and partial validation of the manufacturing of their orders without having to travel, simply by connecting to a web portal where the toolmaker with his glasses on can show the customer the manufacturing status of his die, is to offer a differential value, thus “eliminating” the distance factor and obviously reducing costs in the project.