Augmented Reality: Digital Assistance for Maintenance in the Plant Construction Industry

April 17, 2018

The aspirations for and the reality of digital transformation in manufacturing often still diverge widely. At this year’s Hannover Messe, the Fraunhofer IFF will be demonstrating how digital twins can already be used in real manufacturing worlds, for instance, very practically as augmented reality assistance systems for maintenance in the plant construction industry.

© Fraunhofer IFF
Advanced augmented reality applications that use mixed reality glasses to access condition data or repair manuals right on site can be useful tools for maintenance engineers and technicians.

“One thing is particularly important to being able to employ digital twins in routine manufacturing appropriately and results-driven: The right data have to be there at the right time,” says Dr. Nico Zobel from the Fraunhofer IFF in Magdeburg. Among other things, research scientists at the research institute are working on virtual engineering methods that are already applied during engineering to develop a digital twin in order to use it later during a plant’s operation, for instance. At this year’s Hannover Messe, Dr. Nico Zobel, an expert on digital transformation in process manufacturing, will be presenting an augmented reality assistance system for maintenance, which is based on a copy of a plant’s digital data, its digital twin.

“We employ data from every stage of a plant’s life cycle in the digital twin,” explains Dr. Zobel. Frequently, documents, which are important during operation, have been compiled in the development phase. Along with engineering solutions for custom machine manufacturers, the Fraunhofer IFF has also developed solutions for retroactively creating digital twins for existing plants. The upgradability of solutions in tandem with a company’s digital transformation is important to the researchers.

Digital Assistance for Maintenance

“The maintenance assistance system furnishes access to documents and all of a plant’s condition data, sends notifications in the event of malfunctions, and helps with know-how,” according to the engineer. When maintenance is being performed, the technology can be used in augmented reality visualizations and video instructions for staff. Additional uses of digital plant data in a mobile operating assistance system for efficient maintenance that minimizes plant shutdowns will be demonstrated at the Hannover Messe.

“Our mobile assistance system can be used to display a process plant’s current sensor data on a tablet or in the user’s field of view by mixed reality glasses,” says Dr. Zobel, describing the system. “Since many companies disconnect manufacturing from the Internet to protect facilities and data, our solutions can be used both in the cloud and isolated on the local intranet.”

The software uses a document management system to access a plant’s documentation and crosscheck reference and current condition data. The glasses overlay the real plant onto virtual data. An installed pump’s current operating point might be displayed to the wearer taking a look at the plant or the remaining wear allowance might be forecast. When a malfunction occurs, interactive recommendations for action can be retrieved to correct it.

The Fraunhofer IFF will be presenting its mobile assistance system for plant maintenance at Booth C 24 in Hall 17 at the Hannover Messe from April 23 to 27, 2018.