AR for maintenance, repair and overhaul

MRO is a key component for the safety and reliability of equipment and infrastructure. It concerns sectors as diverse as manufacturing, aeronautics, rail, marine and industrial.

What MRO consists of and why it is important

It is a process that ensures that the equipment and infrastructure are always in perfect condition to perform their function safely and efficiently.
Maintenance, repair and overhaul are three distinct but closely related phases of the MRO process. Maintenance is the prevention phase, in which regular checks are carried out to avoid future problems. Repair, on the other hand, is the phase in which action is taken to solve existing problems. Finally, overhaul is the complete revision phase, where the equipment is disassembled to check all components and replace them if necessary.
MRO is a dynamic process that follows the evolution of increasingly complex equipment and infrastructure. For this reason, it is important to equip those working in the field with the right tools to monitor and guarantee the quality of their performance. In order to do this, it is necessary to integrate the latest technologies into work processes. Among these is augmented reality.

What is Augmented Reality?

Two words: ‘Reality’ indicating the world around us, the space we experience; ‘Augmented’ an adjective indicating that something ‘makes the world around us larger, in size or quantity’. It is digital information that overlaps with physical reality, and it can be viewed through mobile devices or smart glasses, with which we can interact.
The possibility of using augmented reality in the MRO field has several advantages as regards accessing information and managing faults even remotely. The work environment becomes immersive.

How and why does AR help optimize MRO work?

Answering this question before deciding whether a technology is good or not serves to overcome initial scepticism and focus on the opportunity to create value for your company and the people who work in it.

Most technologies, especially when applied to Industry 4.0, need to be tested in order to be able to immediately assess their benefits. In the case of MRO, augmented reality is changing the way companies manage different stages

Let’s think of preventive maintenance.

Augmented reality in preventive maintenance

Most preventive maintenance (PM) of buildings is done on paper, resulting in frustration and increased paperwork. AR optimizes PM processes, especially the productivity of inspectors, and it also improves the quality of inspections.

Moreover, it enables less experienced technicians to solve more complex tasks and reduce training costs. Time, energy and resources are saved by eliminating manual processing steps.
Inspections can be completed in multiple languages – Once completed, the route report is uploaded to the cloud – Data can be accessed by multiple people from any location

Corporations have several data and case studies at their disposal on which to base their trust. We will see them later.

The advantages of AR for MRO

Even a superficial knowledge of AR should give any professional ideas for implementing this technology in a production line.
What are the benefits of AR?

In addition to streamlining inspections by replacing the pen-and-paper checklist with a voice system, augmented reality provides a facilitated work experience.
During maintenance, repair and overhaul, preset Digital Instructions, Workflows or Checklists can be followed directly on the device.

Replacing pen and paper with a voice system improves the ability to perform maintenance routines. Seeing the relevant service information directly on the device and following its step-by-step checklist and work instruction reduces task time.

Apart from this, there’s the possibility of requesting the assistance of remote experts to carry out maintenance, repair and overhaul activities.
The assistance on the field often requires experts to travel to even different sites. Remote collaboration integrating augmented reality makes it possible to provide support on multiple sites wherever the expert may be.

These benefits constitute a kind of on-demand upskilling, which enables workers to perform tasks that may be well beyond their competence. This results in reduced training time and increased first-time problem-solving rates. Information on work processes, such as instructions for operating a machine or replacing a component, appears in real time on smart glasses, tablets or smartphones. In this way, operators can learn more effectively and safely, avoiding errors and accidents.

The challenges

One of the main challenges in upgrading MRO processes by integrating augmented reality lies in the lack of knowledge of the technology and its potential. Furthermore, in many companies, the minimal level of digitization is a limitation.
AR relies heavily on data collection and analysis, and without enough resources sharing and exchanging information, adding AR functionality will not make the plant more efficient.

Augmented reality – which device to choose

The choice of device when working in the field is dictated by certain specific needs. Engineers and technicians can use smart glasses or tablets to view real-time machine data, such as temperature, pressure and speed, and receive information on faults or failures. In this way, problems can be identified and resolved more quickly and efficiently, avoiding downtime and reducing maintenance costs.

Digital instructions, checklists and workflows can be managed and followed on smartphones, tablets and smart glasses. The first two leave the field of vision unobstructed and imply that the device is held during the intervention, even if remote support is required.

Smart glasses allow you to operate hands-free and to move more easily during various activities.

Depending on the different fields of application, there are different models of smart glasses.

For example, Vuzix and Realwear are suitable for field, mission-critical activities.

Equipped with monoculars, they offer the operator an adequate sense of depth and field of vision. The technology of these products is suggested by Health, Safety & Environment (HSE).

In non-mission critical areas, however, binocular smart glasses are more suitable, for example: Microsoft HoloLens which exploits mixed reality.

Case studies

Although AR is still a relatively new technology in the manufacturing sector, there are several examples of its benefits. Many of these are in the area of maintenance, repair and overhaul.

CM Studio: smart glasses and AR for construction site safety

C.M Studio operates in the field of workplace safety. Thanks to the use of smart glasses integrated with AR tools, the company was able to speed up all safety verification activities on the Milan Cathedral construction site. It was possible to put aside notepads and folders, cameras and other bulky equipment and ascertain the veracity of the inspections that were carried out by certifying the place, date and time of the intervention.

Eye4Task for Germany-China remote support

Duecker Robotics, part of the Duecker GMBH Group, is the world’s leading supplier of robotic systems for the corrugated industry. With more than 180 robotic systems installed worldwide, Duecker Robotics has to provide accurate support even to geographically distant partners. Eye4Task software integrated on smart glasses, provided by HeadApp, gave the company the ability to ensure maintenance of its system in China by sending some smart glasses to its technicians on site. In this way, during maintenance operations, those operating in the field were able to receive direct support from specialists present in Germany.

Italbacolor, corrective maintenance of a window manufacturing plant

Italbacolor is a company that specializes in accessories for window frames production and the transformation of aluminium systems for architecture. The company has tested the potential of smart glasses and AR following the block of an asset producing profiles.

The person who was in charge of the intervention was provided with tools to support him in locating the problem quickly and restarting the machine independently or receiving assistance.

Astron Group, Remote Inspection in the TIC sector

Astron Group is a company which operates in the TIC (Testing, Inspection and Certification) market. It deals with certifications of suppliers and lifting equipment, inspections and quality control during the construction of reactors, pumps, valves.
Without the inspection and final certification, for example, a crane cannot be operated because of safety and insurance reasons. Everything comes to a standstill, and consequently there are incalculable losses.

Thanks to the remote inspections during the pandemic, Astron ensured that experts were present as if they were in the field, cutting travel costs and increasing the poles of expertise, with experts connected in real time.
“The possibility of preloading the check-list dynamically, in addition to the remote inspection, cuts down on reporting time. In fact, it becomes a review, which, however, is not the same as writing the report of the audit carried out from the beginning, at every stage. Just as important are the training videos for new employees: the training period provided in our company becomes more effective,” Franz Pastori Regional Manager – Europe & CIS, Key Account Manager Large Clients of Astron Group.
As augmented reality demonstrates in the context of maintenance, repair and overhaul applications, there are pragmatic reasons to overcome mistrust and rely on new technologies.

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