The manufacturing industry has been through several changes over the years ever since the first industrial revolution. Nowadays, the manufacturing process relies much more on digital solutions, that can upgrade production capabilities to a whole new level.
In this way, Industry 4.0 is all about bringing a tech layer to the manufacturing industry’s shopfloor and this includes the enhancement of the human workers. This enhancing process is called augmentation. An augmented worker is an operator that uses technology to enhance his skills, which can improve their daily physical and cognitive tasks. Not only will this allow operators to do more focused and efficient work, but it will also help them overcome their failures.
There are many augmentation solutions available, however Augmented Reality (AR) provides the most important technological advantage for manufacturers, as it contributes to make humans work better and become more productive. Through AR, workers can see and interact with real-time step-by-step instructions overlaid on the shopfloor’s equipment, that guides them throughout their everyday tasks. Using animations, 3D, video and sound, operators can have a hands-free interaction with the digital instructions, through gesture and voice commands. This solution allows the workforce to do its assignments better, more easily and efficiently.
Augmentation can also help improve operator’s decision-making processes. Through automatic quality checks, workers can be alerted of a probable mistake and how to fix it, therefore reducing the error probability. Operational costs such as time of work, water and energy consumption, as well as waste are dramatically reduced while, at the same time, safety on the shopfloor increases. Overall, the continuous development of the relationship between man and machine, and the digitalization of the production process reduces non-value time on the shopfloor.
Can automation be the solution?
It is important to mention that automation has been an essential tool for the manufacturing industry over the years and recently many manufacturers have started to believe that total automation may seem like a good solution. However, it has been proved that it would not yield the results sought out by factories, take for instance Ellon Musk who openly admitted that Tesla’s excessive automation was a mistake. Human operators have more capacities for certain tasks that machines simply do not have, such as creativity, flexibility and adaptability. Empowering the workers with augmented technology can make factories achieve continuous improvement.
Tests have also been done demonstrating that companies can use Augmented Reality solutions to upskill new employees. By not moving away from the shopfloor, they can learn new skills by visualizing instructions, while training time and costs can be decreased. As a consequence, the time-to-competence – also known as the time allocated to teach a new untrained individual and to turn him into a capable worker, who will perform his functions with confidence – will be reduced as well. With detailed training, operators can execute specific tasks with more care and they can also do another person’s job without causing major costs. This means that line balancing, which concerns equivalating operator and machine time to the production’s rate to match the takt time, is assured.
Employees’ well-being, attention span and efficiency will increase with the benefits these technologies carry. Augmentation will improve human operator’s work, which will translate into a healthier and higher-quality manufacturing performance. Factories must start their augmented reality journey sooner than later, as they will, without a doubt, achieve great results with the tools that Industry 4.0 presents.