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Siemens experts and local service engineers can use augmented reality to work hand-in-hand on gas turbine maintenance even when they’re ten thousand kilometers apart. Virtual technology can make maintenance even more efficient and effective, and improve uptime.
by Niels Anner
The service engineer’s field of view is dominated by cables, metal piping, and insulation. Suddenly individual parts separate from the gas turbine and float before his smartglasses as 3D diagrams. Descriptions and manuals for individually colored components are overlaid on this augmented reality. Data from the cloud expand the service engineer’s reality with information designed to make the work easier and quicker. An expert thousands of kilometers away sees the view from the smartglasses in real time on his monitor, and uses finger gestures projected onto the image to guide the service engineer.
Some aspects of this scene are still science fiction. “But we’re in a phase of development, and things can happen very fast,” says Almir Avdovic, Strategy and R&D Portfolio Manager at the Remote Diagnostic Center at Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery in Finspång, Sweden. He’s bringing together a range of digitization projects revolving around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and their application in the service business. Siemens is using this portfolio to further strengthen its innovation leadership in gas turbines. “We want our service to reach new dimensions, and AR will play a major role,” says Avdovic. “We’ve already done live tests with customers sites demonstrating improvements in communication and efficiency.” Siemens experts in Finspång, for example, guide local service engineers in Canada using finger gestures and virtual arrows in their augmented reality. “Long distances between our experts and our customers’ sites no longer matter with AR,” explains Avdovic.
We’ve already done live tests at customer sites demonstrating improvements in communication and efficiency.
AR is developing at an astounding pace. Applications using virtual reality first became popular in computer gaming. But the trend is now also helping drive innovation in manufacturing. With its combination of real images and virtual supplementary information, AR is a dream come true for the energy sector which, according to a study by market research company ABI Research, will account for more than 40 percent of the revenues generated with smartglasses five years from now.
The energy industry relies on stable production to assure a secure supply of power to industrial equipment and entire societies. AR can be used to substantially improve uptime and periods of reduced output; it helps make technical support more efficient, while at the same time improving quality. Thanks to AR, Siemens experts are never more than a click away, even if the gas turbine is in a hard-to-reach desert location or there are restrictions on travel. “Even via satellite we can build up a sufficiently good connection,” says Avdovic. In the event of a disruption or outage, local Siemens staff with appropriate authorization can get to work immediately with the help of smartglasses, supported by experts at the service center contributing their know-how and visualizing complex processes.
Avdovic explains that it’s possible to give more qualified technical support than before. And the risk of delayed maintenance activity when dealing with complex, expensive energy generation equipment can be avoided. Siemens can deploy its experts on a more targeted basis at short notice, and if desired it’s even possible for more than one expert to work on a problem at the same time, either by teleconference or together in the same room. This way specific technical knowledge can be called up to address various
In its work with AR, Siemens is backing a trend that will accelerate further in the years to come. In a broad-based survey conducted by global non-profit organization the Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance, companies operating in aerospace, vehicles, life sciences, and industrial manufacturing in particular said that AR was high on their agenda. According to the study, 80 percent of the organizations polled plan to implement smartglasses technology within three years; 64 percent view AR as an important factor in efforts to reduce or eliminate downtime, and 68 percent recognize the potential of speeding up complex tasks with the help of precise directions.
Almir Avdovic might talk in terms of science fiction, but he has a clear idea of how AR will revolutionize the service business as a component of digitization at Siemens – for example used in conjunction with remote monitoring, an area that has been expanding for years. As part of its proactive maintenance, Siemens already analyzes a comprehensive range of data from its customers’ gas turbines to identify operational disturbances and wear early on.
During a maintenace activity a service engineer will be able to have his smartglasses project data into his field of vision – and the cameras in his smartglasses will also be capable of carrying out data measurements.
In the future these data could be projected onto a service engineer’s field of view during a maintenance activity. By the same token, cameras in his smartglasses will be capable of carrying out data measurements. Another function relates to an aspect of safety: sensors in the turbine will be able to feed temperature information into the network which can be accessed by the smartglasses. This way it will be possible to warn the service engineer in real time if they are getting close to a dangerously hot component.
The boundaries will dissolve, thanks to another area where Siemens is one of the world leaders: additive manufacturing, where gas turbine components are printed in 3D. In the future Siemens will be able to manufacture spare parts locally all over the world, and will be able to do it precisely when they’re needed, on demand. Thanks to AR and smartglasses, it will be possible to find out from the cloud, for example, where a specific spare part can be produced nearby. This way too, AR will significantly reduce the time between the moment a problem arises and the solution.
Niels Anner is a correspondent in Copenhagen.
Picture credits: Lasse Burell
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