Manufacturing and Industry 4.0, supported by augmented & virtual reality (Part 2 of 2)

AAE (Grauel) pushes technical boundaries. We provide high tech printing & assembly solutions. We support smart printing and manufacturing with Industry 4.0 technologies and solutions. This series of articles provide background information on how these developments are supported.


This is the second article in the series of articles looking at the introduction of smart printing and manufacturing solutions. In the previous article the manual assembly process was introduced where virtual reality was used to visualize and analyze the process.

In this article a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) will be introduced as the first step in automation. For illustration purposes the virtual presentation (and the key process indicators) of the current process is shown below, see the previous article for the various process steps.  

Manual Assembly


Thinking Ahead, planning the automation
With the current production analyzed, the next step in automation can be defined. If the future demand is not clearly defined or if new product types are expected to be introduced, a scalable and flexible solution may be the best choice. At this stage your automation partner may provide useful feedback based on their experience and technical knowledge to support the strategic approach.

The final automated solution involves fully automated handling and assembly. Schematically the final process can be provided as follows:

Overview fully automated production

In this solution all products are automatically supplied. Parts A & B are ultrasonic (US) welded into a subassembly. The subassembly is not leak tested at this point, but this is expected that this will be required (the manufacturing system should be able to accommodate this). Then products P2, P3, P4 and P5 are added to form the complete product. If the demand is high enough the products are to be printed in house and vision checked. The manufacturing system should be able to accommodate these processes.

Since the future demand is unknown and current production is relatively low, the decision is made to start with a flexible manufacturing system (FMS) and automate only part of the process.

By doing so, a gradual automation upgrade approach can be used. New processes can be added when the market demand increases not requiring the full investment for the complete machine to be made initially. Most FMS systems also allow scaling of the manufacturing line by added new segments also better suited to handle a wide range of product types when compared to hard manufacturing.


Flexible vs Hard Manufacturing
Let’s first take a look at the differences between hard and flexible manufacturing systems. An FMS system is different than hard (fixed) manufacturing systems, where the hard manufacturing system is used to produce large numbers of the same product.

Organizations using hard manufacturing cannot move production easily to another location nor adapt production to accommodate new products. Flexible manufacturing revolves around the key principle of flexibility, allowing the system to react when changes are identified. For industry 4.0 support, the FMS is of interest as this is one of the key enablers (e.g. flexibility).

A typical flexible manufacturing system consists of individual carriers (shuttles) that operate independently. Each shuttle can be programmed to run at a dedicated speed, the speed can also change according to the process steps needed. Flexible manufacturing systems also allow to scale up the production by e.g. adding new shuttles, new manufacturing processes and new tracks and automated feeding systems.

An example of a flexible system (with robots) is shown below. Six individual shuttles are shown that can independently move along the track.

Image of flexible system with robots

But the process of planning and designing a flexible manufacturing system and especially scaling of production is not easy. The manufacturing system is influenced by many different factors, which are, types of operations, number of workstations, automation level, system flexibility, etc.

Planning of the integration (new introduction and scaling of existing manufacturing) is crucial for the success. Your automation partner can support you with the planning and integration (in some cases even suggest product design improvements to support better automation, increasing OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) of the application. Involve your automation partner early in this process as their experience is crucial for the success.


Automating the first step (FMS)
Given the uncertainly of the market forecast and product types to be produced, the decision was made to introduce a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) to the production. Also based on the ROI (Return on Investment), only part of the production is automated with the possibility to add new production modules later.

Looking at the first step in automation, the process can be provided schematically:

Scematic of New Production

This is the first step in the automation process where the final assembly process is described in the previous paragraph. The current manufacturing decision should allow for fully automated manufacturing.

In this step, parts P1 and P2 are placed on the FMS by Operator (1). Parts P3, P4 and P5 are placed by operator (2) on the FMS. An automated assembly unit is present to create the final product. The product is then offloaded either as an accept or reject.


Using Augmented & Virtual Reality to introduce automation
To provide a good understanding of the automation solution and the impact on the current situation, both virtual reality and augmented reality provide excellent means.

The FMS system can be projected onto the production area using augmented reality to better understand the “interaction” between the new application and current production environment. For illustration purposes an image of a tablet showing the system in the production environment is shown below.

Tablet with augmented reality application, showing the proposed system

The augmented reality presentation can be enhanced by software functionality where the various operations of the proposed machine can be activated.

The virtual / augmented presentation can be used to show access points for operators and the position of the outtake products (e.g. for interfacing with the logistics process). With the virtual machine in place, the position of operator (1) can be evaluated as well as the position of the products.

Operator Location 1

Also, for operator (2) the location and work environment can be reviewed with the system virtually available.

Operator Location 2

Using a Virtual Reality headset for the full experience
The machine presentation can be enhanced when projected onto a virtual reality headset. With the headset, the person can experience an almost real-world experience to understand the “interaction” and operation of the machine.

This allows the staff to review (for example) the ergonomics and operation in a very early stage. This virtual representation can also be used for training and instruction purposes. Using virtual reality in combination with a headset allows the staff to experience the assembly position as an almost real-world experience.

A virtual presentation of the operator (1) position, through a headset is shown below. While being fully immerged in the virtual world, a comprehensive understanding of the proposal can be reviewed.

With added movement and interactions and almost real-life experience can be generated.  Virtual reality offers great possibilities for machine design and evaluation.

Virtual representation of the operator locations

‘Manufacturing and Industry 4.0, supported by augmented & virtual reality’
By Ivo Brouwer – Business Developer Production Automation at AAE b.v.

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