The role of augmented reality and virtual reality in machine diagnostics

Aug. 1, 2016
Equipment training, monitoring and maintenance practices are discovering the benefits of AR/VR technology.

Whether they’re for equipment training, monitoring or maintenance practices, augmented-reality and virtual-reality technologies provide more information than meets the eye. This panel of eight industry experts breaks down the illusions and cuts through the hype to provide real-world insights.

What role does augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) play in machine monitoring and diagnostics?

Paula Hollywood, senior analyst, ARC Advisory Group: These technologies are well-suited for simulating a real environment for training and educational purposes. Virtual reality can help to visualize the plant’s appearance where augmented reality helps to understand how systems and components fit together. These technologies are utilized to develop the digital twin or digital models of machines and processes.

These digital twins are immersive, virtual environments that provide a safe situation where plant personnel can familiarize themselves with equipment in normal situations, as well as prepare for abnormal situations. Engineers can evaluate plant performance versus the digital plant model to identify vulnerabilities and test new strategies or alternative work processes. Technicians can practice difficult repairs before undertaking the real thing.

Also read: Can I monitor and program using the same remote-access hardware or software?

Barry Po, Ph.D., senior director, product and business development, NGrain: Augmented-reality technologies are helping technicians get access to critical information on demand, so they will be able to complete their activities faster. Instead of having to look through dozens of technical manuals or volumes of instructions, all of it could be available to a technician, either on a mobile device like a tablet or even a wearable like a pair of smart glasses.

Virtual reality can be very helpful in training scenarios, where new technicians may not always have the benefit of having access to the real equipment when learning how to maintain or operate it.

Tom Edwards, senior applications engineer, Opto 22: Regarding augmented reality (AR), it’s invaluable for a technician to have immediate, on-site access to diagnostic and repair information. AR can literally place that information in the context of the equipment the technician is looking at, and, for example, provide animations or videos that demonstrate troubleshooting a problem step-by-step. One effect of this is that a technician can work on a piece of equipment with little previous experience.
Helge Hornis, Ph.D., technology director—factory automation, Pepperl+Fuchs: I’m not sure about virtual reality, but augmented reality has great potential. Imagine a service technician being connected through AR glasses with a technical expert.

The technical expert can guide the field technician because they see the same thing on a machine. But even without the expert on line, the AR glasses will be able to show data sheets and service manuals. It will be easy to refer to this information at a glance while your hands are free to fix the problems with the machine. I expect these technologies to be a real productivity booster.

Bob Drexel, product manager, process sensors, ifm efector: Overlaying processes and procedures to show workers guidance and direction will have a major impact on speed of troubleshooting and repair. We already see glimpses of this with today's video content availability on YouTube.

There is now no need to understand how to fix a specific device or how to configure. Just find the YouTube video, and you'll have immediate feedback on how to accomplish the task. Merge such types of specialized information with AR, and workers will no longer have to do it the first time or learn the hard way.

Joe Van Dyke, vice president of operations, Azima DLI: Playing back complex time-series data from actual observed scenarios through testing systems can be used to simulate machinery problems and aid in machinery monitoring systems design. It can also test plant personnel response and interactions with other plant systems.
Tim Senkbeil, product line manager, Industrial Connectivity Division, Belden: Augmented reality and virtual reality are the pinnacle of system diagnostics. If a system engineer can take a handheld device and scan a machine and identify the exact location of a fault, the failed component can be replaced immediately. Identifying the failed component is often the most time-consuming part of the troubleshooting process and can take hours. AR/VR reduces that time to minutes.
Brett Burger, principal marketing engineer, National Instruments:I can see a few interesting applications for AR/VR in this space, but the technology is seemingly in the early stages right now. Finding the right asset is one application. Imagine walking around a plant with thousands of motor assets.

VR glasses with location designation could understand where you are in the plant and help to highlight the right asset of interest. Another application would be motor nameplate and maintenance procedure popups on the display as you are looking at various assets. And imagine visual inspection from connected sensors. Just look at a motor and see hotspots or vibration epicenters. Look at a pump and see cavitation.

Homepage image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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