Trend piece: AR – a valuable tool in harnessing generational skills in process automation

Process automation technologies continue to evolve and with this constant change and enhancements we are moving one step closer to Industry 5.0.

Whereas Industry 4.0 is about machine and system interconnectivity, the next industrial revolution will bring humans back into the heart of the equation, with both people and machines collaborating to leverage their combined strengths in exciting new ways.

Considering the above, retaining and growing process automation skills have become paramount.  And like many industries, process automation has multiple generations working together, each playing their part in the value chain.

But there’s room for improvement and technologies like augmented reality (AR) can bridge the gap. “Augmented reality is a powerful technology when leveraged appropriately; its uses are endless,” says Hennie Colyn, at Schneider Electric, Direct Sales Executive, Process Automation at Schneider Electric.

“AR can be used to provide digital training – tablets can scan equipment and display step-by-step instructions, along with biometric thumbprinting and photo-taking. The supporting software is cloud-based and will therefore provide regular updates on new skills required for the newest PLCs (programmable logic controllers).”

Hennie Colyn notes that like many other industries, process automation is at risk of losing skills if the generation gap is not overcome soon. “We’re finding skills gaps are the result of generational shifts in the types of occupations being pursued. 

“To attract new talent, contractors are investing in technology and software to help bridge the gap between the needs of the industry and the talents of the new generations. Similarly, technology like AR can also bring older, seasoned workers up to speed and overcome the disconnect between the various generations,” he explains.

Global, non-profit organisation, Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance (AREA) notes

AR presents critical, contextual information, real-time insight, and remote expertise to frontline workers at the point of need, directly in the user’s line of sight on industry-leading mobile devices and hands-free headsets.

“Augmented work instructions, 3D products, video tutorials, schematics, IoT data, and other digital content appear on top of the work environment, directing frontline workers to do the job efficiently and accurately the first time,” says AREA.

Interestingly, AREA also emphasises that with AR senior technicians can be more accessible to less experienced workers. Using an AR-supporting device, junior technicians can instantly share their view of a machine with a remotely located expert who will in turn guide them through task, speeding problem solving.

“Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor software architecture improves operational efficiency with AR, enabling operators to superimpose current data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine, or plant,” explains Colyn.

“Importantly, the software combines contextual and local dynamic information for mobile users, enabling them to experience a fusion of the physical, real-life environment with virtual objects,” he concludes.

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