One of the most straight forward innovations that is included in the concept of Industry 4.0 is augmented reality, commonly known with the acronym AR. This technology is already available to the public on a device that any of us has daily in his or her pocket: the smartphone. What AR does is simply creating a digital overlay of a physical object using different components of the device in which it is installed such as camera, GPS, accelerometer and an internet connection. This enables you to move around looking through you telephone or ipad and, as the camera of your device focuses on different objects, gather additional information about them or mix physical and digitally created objects.
One easy example is the app Amikasa with which you’ll be able to style your room by framing a specific part of it and dragging and dropping the new piece of furniture in the desired position in the image of the room presented on your screen. The app will then include in the image a digital representation of the piece of furniture you have selected in its real-life dimensions so that you’ll be able to check how it fits in the room.
Since Augmented Reality has the potential to impact our daily lives it has also a big potential in helping us improving the way we work. Microsoft has been one of the first big players investing in this technology and has developed a special set of glasses named Hololens that embed AR technology and that allow users to work hands-free and to receive in real-time a number of information on the surrounding environment and on the objects present in it. This makes it possible for a maintenance operator to look at a component in an equipment and recall on its glasses information on when the part will have to be replaced, how many spare parts are currently present in the warehouse, etc. Augmented reality is also used for providing operators with instructions on how to perform a task. The operator, for example, could start a maintenance procedure with a specific gesture or with a voice command and get the information from the system on the screws to be unbolted, the pieces to be removed, where and what to push and pull, etc. Once the specific task will be completed, the operator will be able to move to next set of instructions either with a gesture and/or with a voice command.
Devices such as the Hololens can either work autonomously or in a client- server mode allowing the users to log-in from the glasses directly and to receive information, tasks and instructions from a central system. They are equipped with a camera that could be used to provide a remote user with a first person view similar to the one the operator on the field has. This could be used in situations in which an operator requires additional information or guidance from a more expert colleague that cannot be physically present. The person providing remote assistance will be able to see exactly what the operator sees and to provide instructions through the audio system integrated in the device.
The implementation of AR technology is becoming more and more present in the manufacturing industry as a means to increase operator efficiency, provide necessary information on a ready-to-be-used basis and substantially improve training processes’ effectiveness.