Display, overlay, immerse – How automation is benefiting from augmented and virtual reality

No discussion of Industrie 4.0 is complete without reference to the concepts of augmented reality (AR), mixed reality und virtual reality (VR). These topics, driven by the gaming industry, also open up new industrial applications. The fields of application are highly diverse.

Employees can operate in environments that do not even exist yet or display information in reality. This makes rare expert knowledge more easily accessible and complicated technologies more transparent. The benefit lies in the ability to plan processes more efficiently or document damage and malfunctions in detail and rectify them remotely. Simulation is one of the key factors in technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, cloud technology and the Internet of Things.

Simply display the next work step

The collection of data from a system that is already running forms the basis for the use of augmented reality. Live images or videos are augmented or overlaid with additional computer-generated information or virtual objects. Assembly technicians can display their next work step directly in their field of vision; in the case of more complex tasks, help is displayed in the form of additional information. It is also possible to highlight or label individual parts in an automated system that require maintenance or repair. An on-site mechanic can thus receive work instructions from an experienced expert at a remote location. This enhances service efficiency in terms of speed and costs.

These initial cloud-based software components could eventually turn into complete platforms that control production processes in a flexible manner, optimize them autonomously and adapt them to external influences – throughout the entire digital value chain. A realistic next development step featuring the use of augmented reality on the way to the factory of the future is the integration of an existing system into the cloud. It is possible to implement the new concepts and gain experience with an existing, fully-automated and networked production cell in order to adapt to the new market conditions by exploiting the possibilities of continuous optimization and flexibilization.

Mixed reality as next major trend

Technologies such as smartphones and tablets have established themselves to an impressive extent within the space of a few years. From clunky, expensive devices, they have developed to become multifunctional assistants in our everyday lives. Following the triumphant advance of smartphones and tablets as computing interfaces, mixed reality applications are set to become the next major trend for human-machine interfaces. Particularly in an industrial setting, smart services based on mixed reality are of great interest. Faster, lower-cost prototyping, product demonstration and better staff training are just a few interesting examples. From an IoT perspective, applications that combine recorded machine and system data from the IoT platform with data available on site, such as sound and image information, are of particular interest. Especially in the field of remote servicing, augmented reality opens up new possibilities for smart services in combination with data glasses and smartphones/tablets.

Virtual planning before the cornerstone is laid

Automated systems are based on complex processes. AR and VR make it easier to immerse into the system, to understand it in detail and explain it to others. Systems that are not accessible can be viewed using the information stored in the cloud, even during ongoing operation. In logistics, for example, there are planning processes that are so complex that VR is extremely useful here. The ability to plan a production system or warehouse with the aid of virtual reality before the cornerstone has even been laid offers enormous potential, both internally for companies and also for the customer.

In the virtual world, all elements, from the robots to the conveyor systems and racks, and even the exact width of aisles, are precisely mapped as they would subsequently appear in the real world. This makes the entire planning process more efficient. AR and VR offer highly promising possibilities for the factory of the future and considerably extend the range of possible options.

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