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IoT and augmented reality in manufacturing show promise

Manufacturers such as Howden and Volvo are using AR and IoT applications built on PTC ThingWorx and Vuforia technology to optimize operations and improve asset management.

The promise of using IoT and augmented reality for the industrial sector was on prominent display at PTC LiveWorx in June.

Howden Group Ltd., AB Volvo and other manufacturers displayed their use of IoT and augmented reality (AR) at the event. These companies are using the technologies to improve operational efficiencies and asset performance.

Howden and Volvo use IoT-infused AR to optimize and troubleshoot plant floor equipment and other industrial assets. The early use cases focus on providing on-site workers with accessible, real-time instructions and insights into equipment operation and performance. This is meant to help them make adjustments that prevent failures and downtime while also aiding in asset maintenance and fine-tuning of performance.

In a keynote at the event, PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann hailed the confluence of IoT and AR in the industrial space.

We're in an era where "smart connected products meet smart connected people for smart connected processes," he said.

Sales of PTC's AR portfolio of products is growing at an 80% clip, now constituting about 7% of the company's total annual revenue, Heppelmann said. At Rockwell Automation, a PTC partner, AR is now a component in 40% of the automation company's new deals because it fits with the theme of "combining technology innovation with the expertise of people," he said.

In many cases, AR initiatives are the first phase of a broader advanced analytics transformation in the industrial workspace, Heppelmann said.

"In the beginning, customers want analytics, but they don't have the data to run analytics against," he said. "The first step is to 'light up' the factory or production process, get data in a secure way ... and then use AR to visualize and optimize processes."

In other words, as a first step, install IoT sensors to connect data, and then use that data to deliver information -- such as temperature -- via AR at the point that workers need it.

IoT and augmented reality deliver an immersive experience

Howden, a global manufacturer of industrial products such as mine ventilation, waste water treatment and heating and cooling systems, based in Renfrew, U.K., uses PTC's technology in its operations.

Howden combines 3D models of its industrial equipment, IoT data. The data is captured through PTC ThingWorx and stored in Microsoft Azure. AR experiences are then created in PTC's Vuforia Studio to deliver an immersive experience for customers using Microsoft HoloLens, said Maria Wilson, global leader of data driven advantage at Howden, during a presentation. This provides insights into operating conditions and equipment performance that was lacking before, she said.

For example, a worker responsible for running a waste water treatment system needs to know specific information about a pump's operation to ensure that it runs at peak performance. Instead of viewing that data in a separate human-machine interface (HMI) screen, he can view it and other pertinent information in real time in the context of the physical world, said Mike Campbell, PTC's executive vice president of augmented reality products, during an interview after the conference.

Contextualizing the manufacturing environment

AR can ... show where this piece of equipment is located or how to crawl through a space to get to where I need to go.
Joe BarkaiIndustry analyst

Augmented reality experiences can also aid in boosting operational efficiency through early stage training, said Joe Barkai, an industry analyst. For example, AR applications can orient workers to the placement of equipment or to show how to access difficult conditions prior to doing the work on the shop floor, he said in an interview.

"AR can help contextualize the environment -- to show where this piece of equipment is located or how to crawl through a space to get to where I need to go," Barkai said.

The operational and training use cases for IoT and augmented reality are just getting started so it pays to be strategic.

"The worse thing I see happen is customers saying, 'I can get AR and use it in 50 different places,'" Campbell said. "What we encourage customers to do is take a programmatic approach and in a word, focus."

"Get some early wins, generate 'X' dollars in savings and roll it into an investment to tackle the next problem," he said.

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