Watching a New Reality
The revolutionary use of augmented reality glasses in ICL’s operation sites provides the workers in the field with remote technical support and the correct and fastest way to fix malfunctions.
In the past few years, virtual reality glasses, with which we can travel to non-existent worlds projected straight onto our field of vision, have been a great source of entertainment for many people. But augmented reality (AR) glasses bring real change to the fields of industry and production, and their use may have significant, far-reaching consequences to large companies and their on-site employees.
While virtual reality glasses completely block out the outside world and project a different, imaginary world onto our eyes, AR glasses are transparent, and let us see the real world, on whose image they project data and relevant information. AR glasses can provide vital information to the person wearing them while they are moving around the operation site (in the real world). The glasses let their wearers take photos and broadcast exactly what they are seeing at that particular moment.
ICL’s Department of Operational Excellence and Innovation is responsible for discovering new and advanced technologies to help ICL and its employees deal with operational challenges and improve performance in the company. The department’s interest lies in four major fields: The Internet of Things, wearable equipment, autonomous operation and machine learning, combining artificial intelligence in the operation of complex tools and machinery.
The department has recently decided to take field teamwork one step further, and test the possible usage of AR glasses in the field, with the goal of making employees’ work easier, safer and more efficient. The department started a collaboration with one of ICL’s major sites – the Dead Sea Works – to run a pilot that would test the possibility of implementing the use of AR glasses in the work, to give employees in the field better access to monitoring screens and provide them with remote support when needed. These days, the department is testing several different systems in order to find the one most suited for ICL in terms of the efficiency of use and the durability of the system in industrial field conditions.
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AR glasses, which include a camera and a microphone, make remote support available to technicians in the field. With a wave of a hand or a motion of a finger – just like using a smartphone – they can browse between monitoring screens to check machinery data or view care and repair manuals. While they’re doing this, their hands stay free to operate tools and machines safely, without having to hold a tablet or smartphone.
Workers in the field can receive immediate and detailed assistance from the technical experts of the machine producer. Instead of trying to explain verbally what the problem is, workers can simply let the experts or technicians see for themselves what’s on their screens – anywhere around the world. With the whole picture clearly in front of them, these experts can then explain to the worker or technician in the field exactly what part needs to be replaced or what can be done to solve the problem. This saves much time and improves the machine run-time, since the machine can be fixed on the spot instead of having to wait idly for technicians to arrive on the site and repair it.
Another possible usage of the glasses is in letting employees view relevant control room monitoring screens as they move around the site between different machines.
Implementing AR glasses on operational sites is not an easy task. The conditions in ICL’s work sites are different than the comfortable, air-conditioned conditions for which most AR systems on the market were developed. Tests have shows that most delicate, sophisticated glasses don’t make it in the heat and dusty conditions of desert sites and other industrial sites where they are needed. However, the possibilities of using AR glasses are still many and varied, with great potential of making work simpler, safer and more efficient. With some vision and imagination, the time is not far when operation and maintenance teams would be able to receive the most relevant information and support they need when and where they work.