5G Gemba walks: The next big thing for factory insights
Gemba walks, a term of Japanese origin, are daily tours that factory managers perform on a factory floor to gain knowledge in work processes and to engage directly with employees. Gemba walks are rather dynamic, and managers can freely move and interact with the environment.
In this blog post, we present 5G Gemba walks, our prototype that brings connectivity and data visualization to smart factories. We answer the question: how can you enhance the factory manager’s walk on the factory floor and enable industries to benefit from AR technology and digitization to improve productivity?
The main concept is illustrated in Figure 1. With 5G connected AR glasses, factory managers can get up to date and receive context-relevant overlays of the factory’s digital data during the walk. Factory managers can also make an AR audio and video call from the glasses they’re wearing to immediately reach out and share information with experts inside and outside the factory.
Why 5G and AR in factories?
Today, digital twins are driving the transformation of physical factories, where every single object is digitally represented. Backend systems are rich with data such as resource planning, analytics, and shop floor performance sheets. As smart factories evolve to Industry 4.0, much more digital data is produced. Such data is enabling the speed-up of factory production, early detection of anomalies and faster troubleshooting.
AR technology fits well with the digitization journey of industries, as it allows the simplification of digital data in form of overlays which are presented to the user on top of the real world. The data overlays match well with human cognition as people excel at making conclusions for visual expressions.
5G plays a central role in smart factories for a seamless Gemba walk experience on the factory floor as a factory manager walks through the different workflows. 5G brings connectivity, accurate localization of the machines and fast access to data. The deployment of 5G networks inside the factory provides reliable wireless coverage and secure low-latency communication from edge clouds to the AR device. In a nutshell, 5G-connected AR glasses drive key insights of the digital data to the factory manager’s AR glasses while providing a handsfree experience.
The 5G Gemba walk storyline
The Gemba walk starts with Bob, a factory manager, wearing his AR glasses and walking around the factory floor to review and learn how each workflow is contributing to the production process. This is schematically shown in Figure 2. As Bob approaches a machine, key indicators, such as the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) of the machine is displayed on his AR glasses. Bob can additionally browse detailed data sheets of the machine. For example, performance sheets are delivered, when requested, in real-time from the backend system over the deployed 5G network and rendered on Bob’s AR glasses. The user interface is customizable and can be adapted to a specific use case or application.
Bob can also initiate an audio and video call within the AR glasses towards Alice, the remote expert who is responsible for the machine. Bob can select the right contact from a personalized list of contacts associated with the machine. Pressing a video call button from the AR application opens a conversational and data communication channel in a web browser window, as shown in Figure 3.
During the call, Alice can see the real machine and answer Bob’s questions. Bob can switch back to the factory data visualization view after finishing the call with Alice.
The 5G Gemba walk future journey
The AR landscape is dominated today by untethered devices as HoloLens and MagicLeap, which operate in a standalone mode and are expensive for mass markets. In addition, these devices come with proprietary operating systems resulting in interoperability concerns, a steep learning curve for application developers and limited reusability of software components.
AR device technology, however, is evolving into lighter smart glasses that benefit from mobile phone connectivity as depicted in Figure 4. In particular, the transition from standalone devices to the smartphone chip set ecosystem with power and computational offloading to the smartphone chip set and introducing mobility is important. Nreal glasses are one example of smartphone-tethered glasses that are launching in 2020. These glasses are cheaper and use standard ecosystems, making application development faster and more scalable.
5G Gemba walks present an opportunity for smart factories to leverage mobile and AR technologies for understanding and increasing the efficiency of the production workflows. This opens up possibilities beyond today’s first wave of training to support AR use cases.
Including AR data visualization in the production process is just a first step to exploiting the value of digitalization in Industry 4.0. Mobile network operators can see 5G Gemba walks as a new use case for industries enabled by a growing smartphone-driven AR glasses business.
Several research questions remain open, including the automatic creation and presentation of data overlays. Typically, overlays are specific to a development environment such as Unity or Unreal. To offer scalable applications, common tools are needed. Furthermore, including the AR visualization in industrial contexts and user experience aspects need to be further studied.
In addition, the processing capabilities of AR devices are limited, revealing opportunities for edge cloud processing and mobile network interactions. Ericsson Research is contributing to standardization bodies, such as 3GPP, to define functional architectures and formats to build an end-to-end ecosystem for 5G-centric AR glasses. This will drive AR use cases, such as Gemba walks, to scale.
Read our blog post What are cobots and how will they impact the future of manufacturing?
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