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Machine control to user: smart system for mobile devices in manufacturing

23 August 2017

At the EMO Metal Working Trade Fair in Hanover (Germany) from 18 – 23 September in Hall 25, Booth B94, Mitsubishi Electric and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT will be revealing a smart information system which will deliver information tailored to match the requirements of the job in hand, straight from the machine control unit to the machine operator.

This will slash the time required by the operator to make a decision and will permit even unfamiliar tasks to be solved more swiftly and more flexibly. 

Costs rapidly start to mount up in production when a machine unexpectedly comes to a standstill. The onus is then on the machine operator to make the right decision on the spot to get the machine running again. As a rule, the cause of a breakdown can reliably be identified and the optimum solution devised only when all relevant information has been collated to provide the bigger picture. The Fraunhofer IPT and Mitsubishi Electric have collaborated to develop a new system which can gather together all the information of relevance to the machine operator on mobile terminals and present it in processed form: Smart glasses or tablets can thus support the employee directly on the shop floor – in activities ranging from training, through monitoring and eliminating machine malfunctions through to maintenance. The new system works with commercially available smart glasses and tablets running an android operating system and can now integrate these in industrial manufacturing environments. 

From machine to the glasses: Information from machine control presented in words and images 

The smart devices and the Mitsubishi Electric machine control unit communicate directly with one another in the new system. Thus, staff can see in real time when tasks are completed, disturbances occur, when a machine door is not properly shut or when scheduled maintenance work is coming up. The system informs the machine operator directly via pop-up on the terminal and offers help. 

Information on subjects such as how to replace a tool is provided step by step in various formats such as video or text. This allows users to solve the problem promptly themselves, without having to stop one activity in order to locate and look up manuals, operating or test instructions. Companies which implement the system, can thus reduce machine down-times, schedule production orders more accurately and manufacture products more quickly. 

The system supports the machine operator not only in the event of disturbances and repairs, but can also monitor individual machine tool components in real time: The smart devices flash updated motor current levels for various drives and 3D part models are augmented into the real machine environment within the operator´s immediate field of vision. This permits the state of the components to be monitored continuously and at any given point in time. Operators can therefore take action before an impending error occurs or may be informed by the system that a component is sustaining less wear than previously assumed, allowing them to make an informed and independent decision to extend the scheduled period between maintenance operations. 

Helping staff to help themselves: Use mobile devices to help employees to learn and to respond to the lack of appropriately skilled workers 

Education and training materials can also be accessed in a range of formats using the new system. This will allow staff to extend their knowledge directly on the job and to apply their newly acquired expertise directly. New and untrained employees will be able to learn and work independently from their very first day at work. The glasses also empower experienced personnel by helping them to operate highly complex machinery. For the companies concerned, this means that they profit not only through increased productivity; the system can also make a valuable contribution towards addressing bottlenecks in sectors hit by acute shortages of skilled labour. 

Mitsubishi Electric and the Fraunhofer IPT will present the system for the first time at EMO 2017 in Hall 25, Booth B94. Companies interested in this development are welcome to test it using a range of smart devices and to discuss it with experts. 


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