Industry 4.0 is all about automating the industrial processes for efficiency and scale, where machines are talking to each other for getting things done. Allowing human workers to concentrate better on more complex tasks and innovation.
Before we begin it is important to understand the differences between Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality and what they have to offer to end user. In simple terms, Mixed Reality is Immersive Augmented Reality.
The below image captures the difference between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. Folks wearing Hololens device in the background of the image are experiencing the content in Mixed Reality (being immersive) and the viewer is consuming the same content in a Mobile device (but not immersive).
Mixed Reality presents a huge opportunity for enterprise especially manufacturing and places where pre-visualization of the problem and it’s probable solutions are utmost important. Mixed Reality has a special role to play in the context of Industry 4.0. This is not an exhaustive list but presenting what I can think of while being a part of I4.0 seminar hearing experts speak of the technology in its current state an future.
While the inherent nature of machinery in and processes in Industry 4.0 is that each machine has a digital signature and they can communicate with each other using some standard protocol it also allows the media consumption devices like tablet, phone and lately MR headsets (likes of Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap) to communicate with the devices.
That means on floor technicians and workers are able to get details of the machines they are working on and also the parts of the final product in a manufacturing process.
With mixed reality they are able to get the details overlaid on top of the part they are visually focussing on, making the process contextual and much more relative than having the technician connect which part it belongs to.
Apart from information about the part, MR also provides assistance on using appropriate tools on the parts the technician is working on and shows steps on performing the task at hand. Over a period of time when the technician gets used to the process and tools, the same MR device can help analyze how the technician is performing tasks, which can be fed to AI system for creating better process wizards for the new trainees.
Remote assistance and On-field support
If technicians can get the details of parts of a product during manufacturing it’s also possible to get the same set of information post-deployment by networking the device. This information then helps the on-field support engineer to get the historical data of the product performance in context to the setup and environment. With inline video conferencing facilities and 3d registered annotations, the entire task of getting things done on the go becomes less time consuming and an overall reduction in spends on support.
Reduction in time spent by technician in diagnosing a problem in the data center by factor of just 2% can lead to cost savings amounting to billions
Customer onboarding experience
What’s better than user/technician spending less time to understand product usage for the first time. With Mixed Reality, executives can quickly know about the product without referring to the product manual. This also helps the end customer to understand the product better without any manned help.
DIY Customer and Training
A company can save billions by allowing the end consumer to take care of product setup without employing low-level technicians. This can work very well for products that are complex to set up and need expert manual assistance.
Imagine as a company being able to guide the customer on how to get their water purifier or washing machine working by following simple steps in absence of a printed product manual. This means huge savings in time, effort, and money.
In the context of I4.0 DIY concept takes center stage as the system is actually guiding the user on what to do next by sensing their environment, context, and stage of work.
Digital Twin by definition is a representation of physical and/or biological object in digital format. Capturing different aspects of the object in digital format and the ability to manipulate them to see the effects makes proactive support efficient and can reduce operational costs.
These are just some of the prime use cases I can think of being a layman. Am sure diving deeper into details of actual Manufacturing industry can bring a lot more use cases of Mixed Reality to the forefront.
Kumar Ahir is an independent consultant working in the field of Immersive Technologies and Design. He’s been evangelizing the new Immersive Technologies and Design by actively doing workshops on Design Thinking, Design for AR and VR, Prototyping for Mixed Reality technologies. He aims to create a better Design Ecosystem for Immersive Technologies. He has co-founded 2 companies so far.