The augmented reality (AR) market is even more nascent than additive manufacturing (AM), with AR technologies only now being realized for practical deployment. This is due, in part, to rapid advances in mobile computing technology, with depth sensing integrated into smartphones providing greater spatial awareness for AR platforms.
Among the more promising applications for AR in industrial environments is remote support for complex equipment. Consulting startup 3D Alliances has sought to tackle that area through a partnership with fellow Israeli company Fieldbit. 3D Alliances is working with the AR company to develop its existing platform for providing field service technicians with real-time information and guidance to AM technology.
3D Alliances CEO Gil Lavi told 3DPrint.com that the platform will allow 3D printing companies to perform remote field service, including installation, technical training and ongoing technical support for machine operators. While such operations are clearly time-intensive and complex, they have become even more challenging during quarantine associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, with social distancing and sanitary guidelines both limiting installation and maintenance, as well as more arduous when performed at all.
“In the past few weeks, I’ve heard that more than several [original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)] did remote installation of their printers over the phone. Imagine how complicated it is when an industrial 3D printer is involved, and not a desktop one, which is in many cases self-installed. Conducting this process over the phone is very challenging and has risks,” Lavi said. “Usually it’s done physically at the customer site and now it has to be remote in many cases. What I see these days: OEMs are recording videos with instructions of how to use the printer—again training over the phone. This is a limited source of knowledge. The user can’t ask questions and it takes valuable time.”
In addition to the aforementioned challenges associated with remote installation and training, the issue of ongoing technical support is an important one. Some technical problems can only solved by an expert engineer from the OEM, which is not always possible and is particularly challenging at the moment.
The use of AR, then, can aid equipment operators in performing these tasks with remote assistance. Fieldbit’s AR technology is currently available on a variety of platforms, including Android and iOS mobiles devices, as well as smart glasses, such as those from RealWear and Vuzix. Using the Industrial Internet of Things, the technology can be used to obtain real-time feedback from components within a system, guiding installation, indicating what needs to be repaired or educating users about how the system works.
So far, Fieldbit has listed examples for use in industrial 2D printing and manufacturing more generally. With 3D Alliances, the company will see this technology reach AM systems manufacturers, who will be able to deploy remote assistance. Reducing the amount of down time an AM system experiences in turn means the machine can be up and running again, meaning less money wasted with printers sitting idle.
For 3D Alliances, this expands its influence in the AM sector, as it consults with hardware and software 3D printing businesses and aids in the recruitment of new talent. So far, the firm claims its network to include “dozens of 3D startups and over 1,500 active 3D printing/additive manufacturing resellers from 73 countries.” Given the natural alignment of AR and 3D printing in other regards, it’s not surprising to see the two technologies converge here. Really, this partnership is representative of the broader digital thread currently being sewn to stitch together Industry 4.0.
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