Three ways augmented humans can revolutionize the manufacturing business
For the past 24 months, the pandemic has brought challenges to our entire society — from institutions to companies, families and individuals. It is remarkable how quickly businesses, administrations and people have adapted to the new ways of human interaction and hybrid working in all its various shapes and forms. As a result, we have seen the rise of collaboration and video solutions with new and increasingly advanced capabilities, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), bots and digital assistants.
There is no doubt that organizations with the highest concentration of knowledge workers have benefitted the most from the new ways of remote working, with all the digital enablers in the background. Employees have embraced new freedoms arising from home and remote working.
But what about organizations with a large frontline or shop floor workforce, like manufacturing?
These companies continue to face significant pressure by supply chain disruptions and other critical events putting their business at risk. They are challenged and impacted by the new hybrid work models for their production environments.
So, what can we do? Is it possible to enable manufacturing businesses to introduce new production methods augmenting and complementing humans using AI and bots?
In the current remote world, human communication is largely limited to sight and sound, restricting subtle indicators like body posture and movement, and all but eliminating environmental conditions like smell and temperature. So why not try and enrich the remote communication experience with sensory models and environmental cues that humans naturally rely upon in face-to-face interaction?
Imagine engaging each other in 3D, visualizing data collaboratively, sharing screens and documents while leveraging 3D models enhanced with 3D surround sound. When expanding those exciting capabilities to frontline and shop floor workers, not only would it bring more joy to daily work, but would also improve workforce safety for employees. In noisy, crowded production environments, such a solution could inject visual and audio alerts into a heads-up display when in close proximity to moving parts of machines or when vehicles are nearby.
Let’s also not forget about the employee perspective. Any intelligence we add, any digital assistance we offer to make their daily work easier will improve experience, boost employee satisfaction and contribute to wellbeing.
Let's explore some ways in which manufacturing environments can benefit from augmenting humans.
Replicating or restoring human senses
- Enabling humans to make up for any disabilities — especially in production environments (accessibility, vision)
- Bringing advanced human senses to the shop floor by re-enabling 3D spatial hearing in a noisy production environment to ensure workforce safety, or enabling 3D visualization capabilities for video observation of a production process.
Supplementing or upgrading human skills
- Enhancing human skills and abilities by boosting performance and productivity (memory, strength, speed) for quality assurance tasks
- Extended AR/VR and mixed reality (XR) capabilities combined with hands-free control for remote maintenance and support, providing enhanced visualization and machine schematics for construction, maintenance and repair procedures
Exceeding: Going beyond human senses
Giving humans bionic or biologically inspired capabilities that exceed their natural abilities, like upgrading human vision with X-ray capabilities to detect material defects or remotely check the thickness of industrial coatings.
Here are a few practical examples of how humans and bots can co-work in manufacturing environments, and how AI can augment humans to achieve better outcomes.
- A reliable companion in chemical production processes
To maintain and increase workforce safety (and maintain social distancing in COVID and post-COVID times), machines can team with humans and extend their reach via remote video observation, upgrade human senses with thermal cameras and report anomalies to human supervisors.
For large production lines, machines interact with other machines to hand over materials or finished goods from one step to the next. To resolve anomalies or adjust the production process, human supervisors can remotely control the robots and co-bots to fix the situation.
- Intelligent alerting and critical event management for supply chains and resource management.
Imagine always being on top of things and mastering critical events and situations like cyberattacks, fires, floods, etc. We can extend state-of-the-art digital assistants and bot technology from the office environment to the shop floor and supply chain. Software agents manage critical events and resource shortages in supply and delivery chains, and manage resource flows to optimize and prevent production outages. In this case, the software agents boost performance and shorten the reaction times of human supervisors in complex supplier and production workflows.
- Telepresence-enabled Remote Expert Services that can take users inside large machines using AR/VR/XRAI-enabled video bots and special IoT devices with X-ray, laser, lidar or temperature scanning capabilities can be used to prevent unnecessary decomposition and repair activities.
Atos Unify provides Remote Expert Services that can also be used for sales and marketing purposes, allowing for remote AR/VR/XR enabled demonstration of large machines and goods.
These examples clearly demonstrate that AI/ML and bots are not just for knowledge workers within an office environment, but can support and augment humans in a variety of different workplaces. There are many use cases for manufacturing and other industries that provide tremendous value for enterprises willing to invest in innovating their business.