Is Augmented Reality a new plant HMI solution?

Is Augmented Reality a new plant HMI solution?

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

For many years, OEMs and industrial operations have employed touch panel computers with HMI software to provide a local user interface for machines. This provides immediate feedback to workers on the shop floor and also for anyone requiring information about the status of the machine while they are in the immediate area. These types of solutions are relatively inexpensive and do well today.

In the last few years, augmented and assisted reality solutions have started to take hold in manufacturing and industrial organizations. They can be used by technicians to provide immediate feedback on the status of the machine and also remove the need to travel back to the workshop to get information such as manuals, maintenance records and other documentation. By placing a QR code on a piece of equipment, a technician can walk up to the device, scan it with their smart phone or tablet computer, and see everything associated with that piece of equipment. One such example of a practical solution like this is iQagent (www.iqagent.com ).

With the ability to display real-time values hanging in space, associated with a piece of equipment, these AR applications can take on the role of viewing information you would see on a touch panel HMI computer. Furthermore, this lessens the need for putting a touch panel on every single machine out in the process, where instead the operator or technician can carry a single device with them and visualize information anywhere in the plant. It's not currently recommended that you actually do command and control through the AR interface.

This may not be a solution for every single application where you would use an HMI touch panel, and maybe AR is in addition to touch panels, but certainly there are some uses for it that should be considered. One example may be where an OEM wants to provide a maintenance solution to their end-user as well as ability to view real-time status from the machine that they produce. They could employ an AR solution that encapsulates all of the troubleshooting instructions, manuals and user interface feedback to the machine in a simple software application that they can use with their existing mobile hardware. Each machine would go out with a QR code attached and be enabled for the software solution. There are many such plant visualization applications that augmented reality may be a good fit for.