Industry 4.0 refers to the increasing digitalization manufacturers are turning to across all industrial sectors to optimize the entire value chain, including after-support services, known as ‘Service 4.0’.
Virtual on-site service
Michael Tappe, global service product manager, Minebea Intec, said its AR technology supports system images or verbal video chat with additional information a service employee can send to a user directly via a smartphone or tablet.
The tool enables a virtual, immediate on-site service no matter where the system with direct access to the company’s services.
“Augmented reality enables information to be shared between the customer’s employees or service technicians on-site and remote technical experts in a simple and efficient manner at any time across countries and time zones,” said Tappe.
“Using this technology, a status analysis of any potential error can be carried out so the appropriate action can be taken quickly.”
Under ‘Service 4.0’, users can access support quickly whenever they need it to ensure the safety, availability and efficiency of production lines.
According to Tappe, only companies who can ensure their systems are ready for operation without any unwanted downtime can stand their ground in competitive markets and assert themselves against the competition.
He added, in the event of unexpected failures, faults must be found and rectified immediately to keep downtime costs to a minimum, ensure the quality of products and reduce the risk of any damage to reputation, e.g. as a result of late or defective deliveries.
However, the problem in this situation is that trained service personnel are not normally immediately available on-site and, depending on the area, system and location, the costs caused by the downtime can quickly spiral out of control.
He said a number of options have emerged thanks to the possibilities offered by Service 4.0 including augmented reality, cognitive computing, robotic automation and smart data.
“From our perspective, the aim of Service 4.0 support technologies and concepts is to ensure the agreed system performance level in terms of throughput, quality and availability in a reliable and sustainable manner, and to avoid unplanned system downtime,” said Tappe.
“In many cases, the failure or deterioration in the performance of system components is evident some time beforehand, e.g. unusual noises coming from engines or abnormal temperature behavior.
“If you respond quickly and can get an expert opinion where needed, then you are usually able to arrange for any replacement equipment required and carry out repair or replacement work in a planned manner.
“We are observing the same trends in our field as in other industrial sectors: the complexity and individuality of modern systems is constantly increasing. For our customer service, it is becoming increasingly challenging to support systems around the world in an efficient manner at all times and to do so at a defined, consistently high level.
“Describing a problem over the phone leaves questions unanswered and can cause misunderstandings and ambiguity – not least also because of potential language barriers. Often, a picture says more than words ever could in this situation.”
miRemote for example, can make hand gestures on the technology, to convey simple, clear visualisation of complex movement sequences.
The expert connected in the Minebea Intec service centre can see exactly what is being recorded by the customer’s smartphone or tablet camera so the expert can help the user on site.
Untrained personnel can also be guided through an operation or repair process using finger pointing without written instructions.
During the work, it is also possible to display important documents or communicate via voice and supplementary text communication if required.
“In certain cases, it may also be useful to record current situations and processes on video and have these recordings assessed by experts at a later point in time if necessary,” added Tappe.
The requirements for using the AR tool are minimal: Minebea Intec uses an app which runs on all common smartphones and tablets currently available with an operating system such as Windows 10 64-bit, Android 5.1 and above or iOS 9.0.
As long as the user has an internet connection and a corresponding service contract with Minebea Intec, the user can access its company support experts.
Tappe said the benefits include being able to contact a Minebea Intec expert directly at any time, no matter where the user is in the world, any deviations from the device specifications can be assessed at an early stage without delays or travel costs and the necessary measures can be taken before a real fault occurs.
The service technician can use gestures to give clear instructions and manage operations verbally to gain a full picture of the current situation on-site.
“This technology enables our customers to reduce the costs of secondary and indirect damage over the entire service life of a system,” added Tappe.
“miRemote closes the gap between preventive service measures and corrective repair activities, forming part of a consistent prevention strategy.
“The decision regarding the extent to which a user wishes to use this service tool will depend largely on a risk assessment of the user’s relevant processes. For instance, the failure of production lines for foodstuffs usually involves significant costs.
“We are always striving to optimize the interfaces of our systems to improve vertical and horizontal communication between the machines and higher control levels.
“The benefits of the increasing digitalization of our products and processes are obvious: simple integration into our customers’ network and processes to ensure the quality and safety of their products in the long term.”