MRO Project Aims to Provide Enhanced, High-Value Machinery Support

Scientists from IBM Haifa–Research, from left, Joel Lanir, Pavel Gurevich and Benjamin Cohen, alongside the Teleadvisor.
Scientists from IBM Haifa–Research, from left, Joel Lanir, Pavel Gurevich and Benjamin Cohen, alongside the Teleadvisor.
Source: IBM

Scientists from IBM recently revealed a mobile maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) prototype designed to help manufacturers and companies that supply and maintain high-value machinery.

The mobile system, using what IBM describes as a combination of augmented reality and robotics, will help field engineers accurately locate equipment, provide them with critical information and receive real-time visual support from remotely located supervising experts.

IBM says once on site, an engineer can use a smart phone and QR codes to locate and identify an asset and receive maintenance instructions. The smart phone uses augmented reality technology to overlay points of interest over a plan of the site, which can include the location of other engineers, first-aid stations and health and safety apparatus.

If assistance is needed, a remote expert can view the on-site engineer's workspace and provide support with real-time video and audio links using a camera and a small projector mounted at the end of a remotely controlled robotic arm. The remote expert also can project a pointer and valuable information such as free-hand sketches, assembly instructions and CAD images directly onto the workspace or a nearby wall.

"The MRO prototype brings together two innovative IBM technologies, developed in our European research labs in Hursley (U.K.) and Haifa (Israel), into a single solution for our clients," said Richard Lanyon-Hogg, IBM's technical director for the industrial sector. "It offers manufacturers the opportunity to lower their costs, provide just-in-time knowledge transfer and reduce the personal risk to engineers working in difficult environments."

IBM cites studies that have shown that remote support is much more efficient if on-site and remote engineers can share a visual representation of the site workspace and the on-site engineer's actions. To date this has been accomplished, and only in part, by on-site engineers using hand-held cameras, mounted head-gear or specialist glasses. IBM believes the new system provides the supervisor with complete visual independence and a more stable video image; on-site engineers can work with greater freedom or, in the case of those with specialist glasses, freed from the tiring need to re-focus their eyes.

The project is the result of a collaboration with the U.K.'s University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC). It is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a network of leading manufacturing research centers backed by the U.K. government.

The new system is intended to exemplify how a new wave of mobile computing can revolutionize how data from existing back-end systems is increasingly placed in the hands of front-line employees.

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