In a new series of articles, we present the 7 essential areas of transformation that play a role in the “Factory of the Future” process charted by Agoria and Sirris. We start with the Digital Factory transformation and focus specifically in that field on digital operator support, or which tools operators can find in a digital toolbox.


Digital Operator Support backs continued growth to Digital Factory

Agoria guides and supports companies in their transformation to the factory of the future. This series of articles will help you gain a better understanding of each of the 7 areas of transformation that play a crucial role in that process. We will explain them to you one by one. 

In this article we delve deeper into the topic of Digital Operator Support. This is an important aspect in the transformation area of the Digital Factory, which will soon be everywhere in industry. In addition to the theory, we will also provide a concrete practical example of an application from Gemsotec.

  • How can an SME handle daily challenges and the respective opportunities in a dynamic and worldwide manufacturing network?
  • How do you handle the assembly of increasingly complex products in smaller batches in the Industry 4.0 era?
  • Digitisation and automation are key principles, but are unachievable without a clear objective and strategy. Have you thought of asking for support from operators with digital tools?

Industry 4.0 is facing a new industrial (r)evolution, a melting pot of traditional industry sectors with new digital technologies. The digital hype sometimes seems to create the – incorrect – impression that the manufacturing industry is irrelevant. A solid industrial foundation is essential for continuous economic growth and welfare. Investment in the manufacturing industry is the key message.

Digitisation and automation appear to be unavoidable. Manufacturers can prepare by gradually investing in and finding the right solutions for the digitisation and automation of their specific business. The broadening variety of digital technologies means that finding the right moment to invest is of major importance for manufacturers. Agoria has launched the DigiCoach initiative to that end. If you have specific digitization and automation challenges concerning production floor activities, Agoria and Siris experts can provide the right answer.

This article focuses on the digital tool options available to support an operator when manufacturing physical products at a factory. For example, a common production floor activity, the assembly of various parts into a single product. The operator requires information on what, where and how to assemble the parts. This requires (technical) preparation and planning.

If the operator does not have digital communications devices on the production floor, he or she will require work instructions and a list of orders on paper. An operator working in a smart assembly cell receives the same information but in digital format. Digital assistive technology ensures the operator has the right information at the right time to complete his or her orders. The status of the assembly can also be monitored. This is an additional advantage because all deviations from the planning are immediately visible.

Working with the digital toolkit

"digital assistant" supports the operator, enabling him or her to perform a more varied set of tasks, which he or she can learn much more quickly. These customised instructions also improve the quality of the manufactured products.

A digital assistant has two primary objectives:

  • To suggest the optimal (machine) settings or parameters to ensure the process step can be performed as efficiently as possible.
  • Access to customised procedures and instructions, taking the operator into account (for example, experience level, language, etc.).

A digital assistant roughly consists of front-end and back-end sections. The back-end section aggregates all required data, for example using an IoT platform such as 'ThingWorx'. The front-end section ensures that the operator sees the right information at the right time and that the information is no longer displayed when the operator no longer needs it. 

When designing a digital assistant, it is important to consider the dashboards (information on the display or on smart glasses or a smart watch, etc.) to be displayed to the operator and how this information is to be displayed.

The range of digital (mobile) devices that can be used to support the operator when performing their task(s) is continuously increasing. The selection of the device mainly depends on the type of tasks performed by the operator (interior or exterior, at a mobile or fixed location, etc.) and the speed at which the information has to change, as well as the compatibility of the 'digital tools' with the specific tasks performed by the operator.

Smart glasses are practical for example when the tasks are performed at eye level, such as taking parts from a small container in a warehouse. A tablet is useful for assembly work on larger and more complex machines. Projection systems are appropriate for assembling small parts on a table (some smart glasses are less practical when performing this work, in that the operator often has to look upwards because the information is displayed best when the operator looks straight ahead). Projection systems are less appropriate for large structures where the operator has to assemble parts underneath.

Front-end section examples:

Instructions on a touchscreen

Read a touchscreen case study. 

The simplest touchscreen option is the display of work instructions in PDF file format on the screen (paper on glass), indicating the issues to be taken into account. This is often combined with other systems to indicate progress (production status) by comparing the planning (from ERP) and the actual production (for example, based on a counter at the end of the production line).  

Smart glasses

Smart glasses such as Snap, Vuzix, Iristick, ODG R-7, etc. provide access to the right information. Various Belgian companies offer software to display work instructions on smart glasses (Proceedix, Azumuta, SupportSquare, etc.). Some of these smart glasses can also be used as safety glasses in production environments where goggles are required. Smart glasses are usually based on Augmented Reality (the real world is "augmented" by virtual elements, an experience comparable to playing Pokémon Go).   

Left: Advanced smart glasses (ODG R-7); Right: Proceedix software on smart glasses

A Human-Interface Mate

Arkite is a Belgian company offering solutions to project instructions into an assembly cell interactively. The system informs the operator when he or she is performing a task incorrectly.

Links: Assisted assembly at Make Lab - Right: Arkite HIM

Headsets

The Microsoft Mixed Reality HoloLens is a good example of a headset. Mixed Reality merges digital information with real-world physical objects, for example holograms, which can be anchored in a room or a specific location. The information is linked to the room, not to the user. This means people can walk around the projected information, get a closer look or study it from all perspectives. Mixed Reality is an interesting technology that can be useful for various industries. Despite the high quality of the images, the reliability of the devices still needs some work. Many research institutions are using the HoloLens for demonstrations.

Data from ERP systems, CAD and PLM data, work instructions, etc. are aggregated in the back-end section. This will be discussed further in a future article. An (I)IoT platform (such as PTC's ThingWorx) is often used to aggregate and provide data to the front-end section. The same platform also generates a digital shadow or digital twin of the product immediately after the production steps have been completed. 

Digital operator support is one of the components of the Digital Factory transformation that is assessed in the FoF Scan. Do you want to know where your company stands in the transformation process for the factory of the future?
Complete the FoF Scan  questionnaire of ADMA (European ADvanced MAnufacturing Support Centre of which Agoria and Sirris are partners).

GoRound (by Gemsotec) supports operators in mobile inspections

The young Leuven-based company Gemsotec has developed a mobile solution employees can use to conduct inspections, and carry out work instructions and tasks on a smartphone or tablet.

Augmented operations

The GoRound product guides employees step-by-step through an inspection or work instruction using photos and location information. The product strikes a chord not only in the chemical industry, but also in other sectors such as the food industry when it comes to performing quality checks. Gemsotec even has a customer in the Spanish manufacturing industry who uses their technology to inspect their manufactured goods. Furthermore, GoRound also offers opportunities in logistics, e.g. for inspections of vehicles or warehouses.

Pour le développement de GoRound, Gemsotec s'est appuyée sur sa propre expérience et sur de nombreux entretiens au sein du marché, afin d'adapter son produit aux besoins spécifiques de l'industrie. Le produit consiste en une application SaaS modulaire, spécifiquement destinée aux travailleurs qui effectuent un large éventail d'inspections, d’instructions de travail et de tâches et sont confrontés à des procédures complexes dans ce cadre. L’application permet de créer soi-même très facilement des modèles pour les inspections et les instructions de travail et de les enrichir avec des photos et des informations sur le lieu.

In developing GoRound, Gemsotec relied on their own experience and many conversations with stakeholders in the market to tailor their product specifically to the needs of the industry. The product is a modular SaaS application intended specifically for employees who carry out a wide variety of inspections, work instructions and tasks and are confronted with complex procedures. The application enables them to create ever so easily templates for inspections and work instructions and to enrich them with photos and information about the location.

One platform

GoRound is quite different from low coding platforms and horizontal platforms as it addresses all requirements for industrial use in one platform. Low coding platforms and horizontal platforms have been previously developed for a wide range of applications ranging from property descriptions to applications in the welfare sector. Gemsotec focuses specifically on sectors such as chemicals, the food industry and logistics.

In addition to the GoRound application, Gemsotec also offers advice on digitization and builds "smart solutions". They are currently working for the Antwerp Fire Brigade as part of the development of an Intervention App. This application is designed for efficient communication and the provision of smart information relating to an incident. This mobile application includes a chat functionality with a chatbot and a GIS card that displays all relevant information graphically. It has potential not only for other fire brigades, but for other emergency services as well.

 

Are you looking for a partner for a “digital tool?” Then take the next step now and sign up for our DigiCoach initiative. Click here for more information.