Augmented reality lets experts problem solve at a distance

Tom Austin-Morgan

PTC's Vuforia Chalk allows on-site technicians to receive guidance from remote experts
PTC's Vuforia Chalk allows on-site technicians to receive guidance from remote experts

In the world of manufacturing, Covid-19 has greatly accelerated the adoption of digital transformation initiatives.

When lockdowns and travel bans made remote collaboration a pressing business need, Henkel began using PTC’s augmented reality-powered, realtime remote assistance platform, Vuforia Chalk. The aim was to enable communication between Henkel’s field technicians in more than 30 of its laundry and homecare production plants worldwide, its R&D departments, and external experts, such as the manufacturers of the production machinery. 

Vuforia Chalk enables problem-solving guidance, support and expertise to be accessed by factory operations and service teams. Combining advanced augmented reality (AR) collaboration tools with realtime video communications, it connects field technicians with experts so they can see and discuss the situation at hand. 

The technicians and the experts can make digital annotations on a live, shared view of a real-world environment that accurately ‘sticks’ to 3D physical objects in the real world, allowing the expert to easily guide the technician through a process, step by step, greatly reducing the potential for mistakes and miscommunication. It also saves time, travel costs, and paves the way for a new type of virtual collaboration.

Knowledge shared

Stefan Goeris, process consulting manufacturing digital business executive at Henkel, said: “For us, the exchange between employees is essential. Vuforia Chalk has enabled us to promote virtual collaboration between employees on the production floor and employees working remotely. Despite the current situation, sharing of expertise has not been sacrificed and we can continue to drive knowledge sharing. 

“The tool has proven its value, especially during the peak phases of the lockdown,” he added. “And because Chalk is available on mobile devices, tablets, desktops and hands-free devices, we could make it widely available throughout the business without investing in extra equipment.”

Working through pandemic

Because of this, Henkel – which produces, among other things, household and hygiene products at its laundry and homecare plants – has been able to continue its business during the pandemic.

“We want to ensure that production remains up and running even in these difficult times,” explained Jaume Carreras, project manager of the Henkel digital transformation team. “Vuforia Chalk has provided us with an efficient alternative to physical meetings at the plants in times of border closures and travel restrictions. 

“We can obtain the expertise of employees from different locations internally and contact external service providers in an uncomplicated manner. The direct exchange and immediate feedback made possible via the remote assistance tool ensure efficient virtual collaboration. This fits very well into our long-term, strategic digital transformation plans.”

Productivity boosted 

Vuforia Chalk is now being implemented in other divisions within Henkel and is not just being used by line workers and machine operators but managers and engineers as well. Henkel says it will continue to utilise it after the pandemic as it has improved internal collaboration, knowledge transfer, workforce productivity and efficiency.

Currently, Chalk is used primarily with smartphones and tablets, but Henkel is contemplating making RealWear headsets available throughout its plants. This would make working with AR even easier because the operator’s hands would be free. 

“Even outside of the pandemic,” said Goeris, “Chalk will remain an important tool that simplifies communication, saves costs, increases productivity and efficiency and improves safety and compliance.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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