Machine downtime comes at a heavy cost. Recent Senseye research found that manufacturing and industrial firms are taking a near US$1trn a year financial hit because of unplanned downtime, losing 3.3mn hours of production time a year to machine failures.
Among the biggest problems with downtime in an industrial context is that it directly impacts productivity. It’s a serious problem across almost every industrial production sector. For energy or advanced manufacturing, where outages are higher stakes, every minute of downtime is extremely costly and so keeping it to a minimum is a priority. However, it is a major issue, even in areas like commodity products manufacturing, where the focus is more on production volumes rather than margin. Whenever a business like this suffers an hour of downtime, losses can run into the millions.
The people perspective and the impact of technology
Financially, reducing downtime is an attractive operational goal but cutting the volume and length of outages also has huge benefits from the human point of view - and people can be an important part of the solution. The key lies in technology that empowers workers to proactively monitor systems and solutions to ensure they remain up and running, and also to quickly remediate the situation by rapidly addressing downtime and fixing outages.
Whenever there are complex, troubleshooting scenarios, the challenge is to bring to the on-site worker, all the information required to enable them to deal with the situation efficiently. That’s where technology has a key role to play, helping to augment cognitive capabilities and support workers in delivering in dynamic environments. As part of this technology, mixed reality-based worker support in which physical reality and digital content combine to enable interaction with, and among, real-world and virtual objects, can be helpful in many situations.
It allows remote workers to establish a secure video and audio call with older industry experts, when they need help solving a complex problem. The expert can see what the remote worker sees and use holographic assets to support the task, all while keeping the user heads-up and hands-free. It is a major advantage to be able to use a head-mounted tool while simultaneously consuming knowledge from a remotely located expert. The brain naturally works well with visual information. So if technology can present information in a visual format the worker can often consume and act on it straightaway, thereby shortening both time-to-action and time-to-insight.
Beyond that, the technology also helps with retention. If an engineer consumes knowledge through 3D visual representations at the same time as they are doing the work, they retain it better. Many experts concur learning by doing is better than learning by watching – not least for cognitive retention.
Working across multiple sectors, from manufacturing to energy
There are many examples where a mixed reality approach has been used to fix a downtime problem. We had one customer who wanted to rectify a problem with a bagging system installation which had gone wrong, resulting in downtime. To address the problem, the customer ran a mixed reality session and connected up with a remotely-based expert, who almost instantly identified the source of the issue and fixed it.
Another example was where a nuclear plant in Canada experienced a steam turbine downtime. As the experts were unable to travel because of COVID-19, through the use of mixed reality technology, workers at the plant were able to access their help remotely. By leveraging their insight, they were able to rapidly rectify the problem; save days of downtime and achieve enormous savings as a result.
Rapidly-growing awareness of mixed reality technology
Today, there is a fast-growing understanding of the benefits of mixed reality solutions in scenarios where there is downtime or potential downtime. Some companies are still challenged around how best to operationalise it and which types of applications to use to ‘move the needle’ get their workers on board.
Yet, such compelling benefits mean the technology will become a core part of the overall approach to solving the downtime problem. As it evolves into devices, it will become better performing and more comfortable. Usage will increase beyond critical troubleshooting situations and will support normal operations. One day, it is likely to be part of the day-to-day work in plants and people will wear it full time.