For the last three years, a consortium of six companies and institutions chaired by Siemens has been researching the use of augmented reality (AR) in industry. The aim of the project, known as Glass@Service, was to be able to use intelligent data glasses as personalized information systems by combining them with new types of interactions, such as eye and gesture control, and innovative IT services. The first practical tests in actual production and logistics processes have now been successfully completed.
Digitalization is increasingly making its presence felt in manufacturing. In some areas, primarily when retooling machines and picking orders, employees are often still working with print-outs, printing stocks of labels for marking material, and laboriously recording all the data in the inventory control system at the end of the process.
Investigations have therefore been in place for several years now to assess the extent to which AR could be used in these areas. However, it is only now that the technological components required for this, such as micro-displays, controller electronics, 3D cameras, and sensors, have become sufficiently sophisticated that they can be combined to form an innovative human/machine interface and be integrated into the IT landscape of a manufacturing plant. “Siemens would like to play an active role in shaping this change to the workplace right from the start,” explains Frank-Peter Schiefelbein from Siemens Corporate Technology, the Siemens arm of the Glass@Service project.
The practical tests took place in the Siemens Electronics Factory in Amberg and at the Fürth manufacturing site. The AR system’s software had to be specially adapted to the demands of each site. In logistics, the primary concern is to provide employees with warehouse orientation aids in the form of wearable devices and to identify, mark, and process the products online without error in the inventory control system.
When retooling or maintaining machines, the data glasses can provide invaluable assistance by showing each work step on the display and supporting the employee as he operates the machines. Eye movements are captured with an eye-tracking camera. It is therefore possible to interact with the system through specific control of the line of sight and, for example, to scroll through a data sheet or activate virtual buttons.
The Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin (BAuA – German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP Dresden, and Dioptic GmbH, Ubimax GmbH and Uvex Arbeitsschutz GmbH were also involved in the research project with Siemens. Glass@Service was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.
The possible AR applications in Siemens plants are being followed up through internal projects which should bear productive fruit in the medium term. Further research projects are to follow in the future so that other augmented reality application areas in manufacturing and service can be investigated based on the experiences to date.