Mobile Maintenance with Augmented Reality

Ubimax, November 19, 2019

Digitalization is nothing new in the chemical industry. Particularly mobile maintenance with portable devices is a key topic in chemical companies. Augmented reality applications are one way of reducing errors and the associated consequences.

Read more about the benefits of smart glasses, why AR contributes to more occupational safety, and how AR solutions are implemented in companies.
The German article was published in the cav magazine, which is focusing on relevant topics within the process industry.

Digitalization is nothing new to the chemical industry. A study of the VCI (German Chemical Industry Association) and Deloitte shows that the sector is currently in a phase of upheaval and development. In the German market, over half of medium-sized chemical companies intend to invest heavily in digitizing their business processes over the next few years. The opportunity to collect, evaluate and use operational process data within the company to improve processes is hugely important and supports the development of new business models. This is an inevitable success factor for the added value of the industry.

Optimization due to mobile maintenance
In addition to the control and monitoring of plants, mobile maintenance with portable devices like IT tools is therefore a key topic in chemical companies. The goal is to reduce the risk of errors in ongoing processes to a minimum and thereby avoid downtimes, accidents and complete losses. Data has to be directly usable and needs to be process-oriented, in order to be able to control workflows in real time. Augmented reality (AR) applications are one way of achieving this. The applications run on smart glasses that immediately process the data and function as decentralized miniature data centers. They provide service technicians with context-relevant information right when it is needed.

Benefits of smart glasses and augmented reality applications
For the workers, the use of smart glasses leads to an extension of their physical reality. User and machine form a symbiosis, with the AR application acting as a bridge technology for the human employee. Process data is analyzed directly on the smart glasses, visualized. Thus, constant availability is ensured.

The location-independent data exchange between smart glasses and the company’s ERP system raises the quality of maintenance processes to a new level. Thanks to the AR solution, intermediate results can be documented during the maintenance process. Workers can capture photos and videos and also use speech-to-text functionalities to dictate comments. The instant recording and forwarding reduces the risk of transmission errors and eliminates paper-based processing. This results in a higher data quality leading to less reason for reclamations. The process and worker security increases and the execution time is reduced due to the elimination of manual paper transports – which again is accompanied by economic savings for the company.

Smart glasses offer additional value if problems occur during maintenance processes that cannot be solved by the service technician on site. Thus far, specialized experts had to travel to the site, leading to extra costs and possible system failures. Remote assistance solutions make expert knowledge available from any location by connecting the specialist to the smart glasses via live video. The only requirement is a Wi-Fi connection or a mobile hotspot on a mobile phone. With the integrated camera, the expert in the office can see exactly what the technician sees on site and provide real-time assistance – for example by setting markings in the image or by displaying additional documents, explaining the process. This JITE approach (just-in-time-expertise) ensures that maintenance is completed quickly. The recording of the calls allows the simultaneous documentation of the process, which again ensures quality and knowledge transfer if similar problems arise in the future.

Industrial safety through AR
Occupational safety is one of the factors which can be improved using smart glasses. It is especially important in the chemical industry. By wearing the devices directly on the body, service technicians have both hands free for their actual tasks. This increases the efficiency as there is no need of handling inconvenient IT devices and tools. At the same time, it has a positive effect on the ergonomics of the worker. As a mobile solution, smart glasses also have the function of displaying safety warnings to the user. In particular, the simultaneous evaluation of critical machine data can prevent accidents and thus protect employees from serious injuries. Solution providers like Ubimax also enable the configuration of processes as AR workflows without profound IT knowledge. Thereby, crucial expert knowledge can already be integrated preventively into instructions. The information is projected directly into the field of view of the worker and protects from possible dangers.

##What has to be considered when implementing an AR solution?
In order to successfully implement an AR solution in a company, it is necessary to find the right solution provider. In general, platform solutions that can be deployed along the entire value chain within the company are most suitable. This inhibits a disruption between different systems and leads to a high data security. New technologies always have to be used with caution to ensure sustainable change through digital business processes. The affected employees should be involved as early as possible in the digital transformation process. Otherwise, “digital losers” arise. Their dissatisfaction can have a negative impact on the working atmosphere.
An industry-specific obstacle in chemistry is finding the suitable hardware. Devices must be specially certified to be usable in hazardous areas. Looking at smart glasses, the American manufacturer RealWear offers a fitting model. The HMT-1Z1 is explosion-proof and can be worn with safety glasses and helmets. But not every company identifies smart glasses as the right solution for their requirements. Therefore, it can be advantageous to choose a software solution that works hardware-independent, so it can be deployed on tablets for example, in order to fulfill the needs in the best way.

The chemical industry accredits great importance to digital business models for the future viability of its branch. As part of mobile maintenance, augmented reality applications make industry 4.0 data usable. This is done process-oriented and quickly accessible for the human worker. Thereby, the availability and efficiency of equipment, machines and plants is increased. At the same time, work and working conditions are improved by smart technologies and more resource-efficient, for example through fewer travel expenses and the contribution to a paperless factory.