Autonomous cars are getting all the attention. The autonomous factory will have an even bigger impact on society. Digital factory floors will increase productivity, human error will be removed from the production process, and health and safety records will improve.
Robots are performing repetitive manual tasks in factories. It will not be long before they do more complex control functions. Industrial automation services should prepare for this future today. Augmented reality (AR) is helping manufacturers automate more functions. The following are three ways augmented reality is preparing us for the autonomous factory.
Augmented Reality in Predictive Maintenance
Production downtime is very costly for manufacturing environments. Nonetheless, seventy percent of companies do not know when their equipment is due for maintenance or an upgrade. Augmented reality is bringing unprecedented predictive power to maintenance tasks.
With augmented reality, technicians can open a virtual electrical cabinet, machine, or semiconductor chip, or travel down a pipe or wire. A network of sensors overlay diagnostic information at different points — voltage, thermal load, air and water flow rate, and so on. Big data from the cloud provides benchmark data for the equipment in your current operating environment. Vibration and other diagnostic analysis can be conducted. This same insight provides important predictive information on when a repair will need to be made or when a component should be replaced.
Augmented Reality in Production Process Optimization
On the assembly line, manufacturers are using AR and virtual reality (VR) to create production scenarios in a virtual environment. Complex automation and robotics technology can be prototyped with less time and expense. Historical and forecasted production data fed into the production design can test performance, production bottlenecks, and maintenance issues. In the quality control process, product and compliance standards are overlayed onto the products while they are inspected.
Augmented Reality in Customized Manufacturing
AR, with help from virtual reality, is a valuable tool in a customized manufacturing environment. As custom product parameters and processes change, AR and VR can create new production assemblies with different machines, parts, and processes. Machinery performance and throughput can be monitored and predictive maintenance can be forecast. Meanwhile, order details, equipment and material handling procedures, and assembly instructions overlayed onto the equipment improve productivity.
In this augmented world, the system integrator function becomes a process. Hardware, software, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), and big data information flows can be modeled as a system. The control systems integrator can then focus on automation, automated test equipment, and robotics.
New AR tools and systems are being introduced to make industrial automation programming easier. A large number of startups are working on augmented reality tools for Industry 4.0. These tools will help visualize and create their future place in the autonomous factory.