Medium-sized production plants are currently confronted with several challenges. A steadily growing cost pressure meets an increasing complexity in production, the quality requirements of the customers are increasing significantly and innovative competitors are already in the starting blocks on the international market. Added to the list of challenges is the acute shortage of skilled workers. There is a shortage of fitters, technicians, and machinists everywhere. The labour market has long been unable to meet the demand.
To ensure that companies remain competitive in such a tense environment, decision-makers are increasingly resorting to digitalisation. Information can be provided more quickly, repetitive tasks automated and errors in the production process reduced with digital assistants complementing manufacturing and service. In this article, you will learn which digital assistance systems can also support your production – and what needs to be considered during the introduction.
What are the possibilities of digital assistants in the field of manufacturing?
In its "Practical Guide for Assistance Systems in Production" the Augsburg Competence Centre distinguishes between three digital assistance systems:
- Perception assistance systems
These digital assistants support the information intake of employees and focus on the
5 human senses. The systems range from parts lists to complex information systems that provide the employee with individual work instructions or customised advice.
- Decision support systems
These digital systems are used to support the cognitive abilities of employees. Above all, they are intended to help solve complex problems. The intelligent software solutions prioritise work tasks or prepare data-driven decisions.
- Execution assistance systems
Execution assistance systems support employees carrying out their tasks. The systems can mechanically support motion sequences or optimise ergonomic work design.
How do you choose the appropriate digital assistant?
Before a digital "helper" joins the production, the actual need in production must be identified. What current challenges does the company have to overcome – and how can digital technology help? Should mountains of paper be eliminated – or do the employees need instructions directly at the machine? Once the area of application has been identified, it is advisable to define the requirements for the assistant in the form of target specifications. The more detailed the company's demands on the digital assistants are specified here, the more targeted the selection of the appropriate technology can be. According to the definition, the central question will be whether to buy existing technology or to develop the assistants in-house. Existing systems are available more quickly and are usually less expensive – but do not always fulfil all requirements. The integration of the assistants into the existing IT architecture must not be forgotten during the implementation phase. Once a partner has been found for the implementation and the project goes into development, preparations should be made around the roll-out in production. We recommend first introducing the new assistants in a limited part of the production as part of a pilot project – and then gradually expanding them.
Possible applications in practice
Digital assistance systems are used in a wide variety of tasks in production. The most interesting fields of application include:
Digital process descriptions: Products are becoming more and more diverse and machines more and more complex. Employees must therefore be provided with more and more comprehensive information on current orders and processes. Intelligent links allow documentation and information to be standardised across departments. Instructions can thus be automatically expanded with photos, graphics, or documents in a software-based manner and always provide the employee at the machine with an up-to-date overview.
Augmented Reality: In the service area, fitters and technicians are supported by smart glasses. Information and work instructions are played directly into the person's field of vision in real time.
Augmented Reality II: In an already successfully implemented project, people with disabilities are digitally supported in the field of control cabinet construction. Construction plans are projected directly onto a mounting plate using a projector. The workers take a component, scan a printed QR code and see directly where the component is to be mounted.
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