Augmented Reality in the Chemical Industry

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This is the third blog in a four-part series on digital transformation in the chemical industry, check out the first blog “Chemical Companies Deliver Outstanding Customer Experiences Through Digital Transformation” and the second post “5 Benefits of Digital Transformation in Chemical Manufacturing”.  Next week will be the finale of the series – predictive analytics in chemical manufacturing.

There’s been a lot of hype around technology buzzwords related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0. And a lot of them hold a great deal of promise in delivering true digital transformation of traditional industry and business operations. Today, I hear continual chatter about augmented reality. And while I have seen a few highly produced (translate that as completely staged if you prefer) demos of so called digital twin and augmented reality technology, a lot of what’s being demonstrated today simply fails to deliver on the tangible value that customers need to see to justify investment in new technology. But I assure you, augmented reality is a technology worth investigation and investment. And there are commercially available off-the-shelf solutions that can be implemented almost immediately with little to no custom software development.

While fancy graphics, holographic 3D technology, and wind turbines that text you if they’re on fire may look flashy during pre-recorded demos for press and industry analysts, I fear some vendors may have simply missed the mark when it comes to actually helping their customers run their enterprise more efficiently and profitably. I think the overarching problem is that a lot of augmented reality technology was developed without understanding the use case. In other words, good business justifications do not come from the “cool factor”. Executives build good business justifications on dollars and cents return on investment. The sooner and less painfully the company realizes that return, the better.

So with that said, let’s take a step back and try to understand the real value proposition of augmented reality. I’ll address how and where it’s actually an applicable technology in manufacturing today. More specifically, let’s look at the chemical manufacturing industry. And as we do that let’s be sure to use a practical perspective as opposed to a theoretical approach.

See the benefits augmented reality offers for the chemical industry

Read our whitepaper to discover how augmented reality can help chemical manufacturers develop more agile business models

Building Augmented Reality on Mobile Technology

Asking users to completely modify the operational tasks they’re familiar with overnight is a recipe for failed technology adoption. A key role of technology in the modern, and increasingly millennial workforce is to serve up useful information from many sources into an experience that workers are comfortable with. No matter their generation, workers should be empowered with technology that serves up content in a way that enables them to make the right decision without necessarily having 30 years of experience to validate their decision.

A more fruitful approach to adopting new technology is to start with a foundational technology that people already understand. For example, what about using mobile technology that people already use in their daily routine as a basis for augmented reality?

Rather than trying to transition users and operators to an entirely new way of performing their job duties through augmented reality goggles, start small. Begin by enabling operators in chemical manufacturing plants to perform maintenance rounds using mobile technology, like smartphones and tablets.

Augmented Reality in Chemical Manufacturing

This immediately delivers value in traditional chemical manufacturing applications including:

  • Capturing key operational data in digital form to immediately give the entire organization real-time operations visibility.
  • Driving enterprise wide KPI management by providing all functional units with complete manufacturing situational awareness.
  • Reducing the risk of error prone data entry.
  • Accelerating how quickly operators conduct rounds by providing maintenance personnel with historic trend values directly on their mobile device.
  • Automating task management through digital workflows to accelerate operator rounds while creating a digital audit trail for regulatory compliance.
  • Creating a central digital repository of information for knowledge capture and accelerating new hire training.
  • Providing maintenance technicians with the capability of capturing pictures and videos of assets during normal and abnormal operation.
  • Enabling real time collaboration between reliability and maintenance engineers and operators performing maintenance rounds to increase asset uptime.
  • Connecting stranded assets stuck in an analog world to the world of digital processing, predictive analytics and machine learning.

See the benefits of augmented reality in chemicals

See the benefits chemical manufacturers can achieve using augmented reality in our digital transformation infographic

These are just a few of the value propositions augmented reality through mobile workforce enablement can immediately deliver. This helps justify the business case for new technology adoption. Sometimes it is as simple as block and tackle common sense problem solving.

To learn more about some of the trends taking place in industrial manufacturing and digital transformation including the journey from mobile operator rounds to full blown augmented reality, check out our digital transformation whitepaper and infographic.

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