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Machining Company Introduces Google Glass App to Manufacturing
Google Glass with a black frame for prescription lens
By Mikepanhu (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
MTConnect Glassware App Provides Hands-Free Access to Manufacturing Performance Data
Earlier this year, Juniper Research released a report predicting that annual revenues from mobile augmented reality (AR) services and applications will reach $1.2 billion by 2015, representing a huge jump from the $180 million reported in 2013. The report, Mobile Augmented Reality: Smartphones, Tablets, and Smart Glasses 2013-2018, predicted that games will "continue to deliver the largest revenue stream for the foreseeable future." Reports like these have led Metaio, a research and technology firm that develops augmented reality software, to proclaim, "We are at the dawn of a new technology revolution as the world and the digital realm merge, with AR becoming the user-interface of the future."
We asked Ori Inbar, co-founder and CEO of AugmentedReality.org, what this merging of the physical and digital realms mean for consumers, as well as for some of the untapped sectors, such as manufacturing. Inbar, who participated in the panel discussion "Your Third Eye: Augmented Reality in the Age of Wearables," at CE Week New York in June, said in an e-mailed response that the use of augmented reality represents a whole new way to interact with the physical world, in which "everything becomes clickable—a person, a place, or a thing."
"Instead of being stuck in front of a computer screen using a keyboard and mouse, or even touch-interaction with a mobile device, we will interact with the world in a more natural way, by enhancing our natural senses," he said. "And it will make everything we do more engaging, more productive, and, ultimately, more fun. For enterprises and workers, it means an order of magnitude of higher precision, productivity, and safety."
Metaio (metaio.com), in a statement on its website, describes augmented reality as "a type of computer vision that uses camera technology to recognize real world images, objects, and environments, and superimposes virtual information and data onto reality in real time. It turns your smart device into a lens for adding video, audio, 2-D content, 3-D content, and location-based information to nearly anything."
While forecasting big things for augmented reality, Juniper Research predicts further expansion of AR into enterprise segments. This is in line with what more than a few technology aficionados in industry are saying about the manufacturing sector as being an enormous untapped opportunity for deploying data-rich tools, such as AR and the Smart Manufacturing Platform, which is currently in development (see page 38). Does Inbar see any of the growth momentum in AR spreading from some of the AR strongholds, like location-based services (navigation) and gaming, over into the industrial sector?
"In the past 18 months, we have seen a significant shift from marketing/advertising/games to the enterprise," Inbar said. "Although these areas continue to grow, the big projects and the big bucks are now spent by Fortune 1000 companies who realize AR is the only technology that can improve certain business processes, such as warehouse management, field service, manufacturing, and many more."
Initial prototypes of AR applications that workers are using in manufacturing environments are "showing significantly better results on the plant floor," Inbar added. "Tablets have great use cases in manufacturing, especially for inspections and training, but the true leap forward occurs with wearables and projected AR because most workers need to be hands-free while performing their tasks."
An Early Adopter of Technology
Precision machining is still an in-house specialty of Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO), a Plymouth, Indiana-based company that began in 1955 as a tool and die manufacturer that often machined prototype parts for Caterpillar's Tech Center in East Peoria, Illinois. Although ITAMCO continues to provide prototyping today, the company also offers a full complement of precision machining services for production quantities—everything from vertical and horizontal turning to boring to vertical and horizontal machining centers.
"We're kind of a machine shop that does gear manufacturing," said Joel Neidig, technology manager at ITAMCO, in a phone interview. "We manufacture things all the way up to 4 meters in diameter, to small components that go in small gear drives. We do housings, a full line of prismatic parts, not just gearing; and we do part cleaning, part packaging, and assembly."
Mining remains a big market for ITAMCO, which manufactures large mining wheels and gears for mining shovels. The company also serves the oil and gas, natural gas (hydraulic fracturing), and wind energy markets. The company has more than 11 precision gear grinders, which include hobbers and cubic boron nitride (CBN) grinding wheels. "We've also invested in some brand new gear grinding technology from Germany," said Neidig. "You can dress the wheels right on the machine, and we can machine up to a 4-meter external gear and a 3-meter internal gear, so it's pretty large gearing."
Along with its long-time service to traditional industries, ITAMCO prides itself on its ability to adapt to the markets of the 21st Century. "We're very early adopters of technology," Neidig said. "Sometimes, that's to our detriment, but for the most part, it's a positive experience, and we always like to think that it's better to lead in technology than to fall behind in it."
The view through ITAMCO's MTConnect + Google Glass, as used in a part tracking application to get updates on processed parts
Photo courtesy of ITAMCO
While ITAMCO's eye on innovation leads the company to explore a number of different areas, their explorations have a common purpose, Neidig said. "We try to approach all the projects, from a one-off prototype to production, and we try to do everything we can, as far as tooling or automation, or business processes, to help facilitate our customers' needs," he said. "We're starting to get into 3D metal printing, so when people are ordering one-off parts, or they want prototypes made at low volumes, which is what we do, it's nice to be able to have that rapid capability, at least to do some proof-of-concept parts."
Neidig sees a bright future for 3D metal printing as improvements are made to the process, but currently, ITAMCO is using it mainly to make sample parts that are tested for tensile strength. The process is useful for testing parts that can be manufactured at high volumes via casting but are problematic to make due to their complexity. "3D printing can be a huge asset for one-off parts," Neidig said. "You don't have to make molds; you don't have to make dies. The machines are only going to get faster; the rate of deposition of material is only going to get faster and more accurate, and it's going to be a lot less waste of time, energy, and material."
Augmenting the View with Hands-free Access to Data
Google Glass, a wearable computer that combines a heads-up display with a camera, microphone, email, and internet connection built into the spectacle frame, is no ordinary pair of glasses. But although the product has received lots of attention for various consumer uses, Joel Neidig saw potential for Google Glass as a tool that could give manufacturers greater insight into their manufacturing operations. So he developed a software app that combines Google Glass's capabilities with the functionality of MTConnect to offer machinists, engineers, and other shop personnel a unique new view into the manufacturing process.
His app, MTConnect + Google Glass, won the $75,000 second prize earlier this year at the MTConnect Challenge 2, a competition for the development of innovative, MTConnect-based software applications that can be easily adopted by manufacturing enterprises, especially lower tier producers, to enhance their manufacturing capabilities.
At a time when it's considered cutting edge to be able to monitor production via an iPhone app, ITAMCO is able to take the capability one step further with hands-free monitoring
The best part about using Google Glass + MTConnect, according to Neidig, is that users get a hands-free view into the manufacturing process, unencumbered by either a tablet or smartphone, while walking the shop floor. While viewing machinery, users can also see relevant data that's parsed from the MTConnect stream and superimposed on the display outside of their line of vision. Users can record a video with the camera, access the Internet on demand for more information, and share data with others via email.
When MTConnect was introduced as a royalty-free, open standard, ITAMCO saw it as an excellent opportunity to lower the cost of connecting what Neidig described as "many different unique machines" in its job shop. Before ITAMCO implemented MTConnect, it had been very expensive for the company to connect all of its different machines—each with proprietary hardware—and enable them to communicate with each other. Six years later, Neidig said, MTConnect is a widely accepted standard. "Even the machine tool builders have accepted it," he added.
"A lot of the connections to the machine tools are free now," Neidig said. "Basically you're paying now for the analytics to get the nice, rich data, but you no longer have to pay high prices to get your machines connected. It's like connecting your computer to your home network; you shouldn't have to pay for that. It should just be free, and that's kind of what MTConnect has brought about."
All of that connection enables ITAMCO to closely monitor the operation of its machines, and then use the data to improve production. But at a time when it's considered cutting edge to be able to monitor production via an iPhone app, ITAMCO is able to take the capability one step further with its MTConnect Glassware app, MTConnect + Glass, which enables hands-free monitoring of part status, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), energy consumption, and energy efficiency. The company is proving out the app internally before bringing it to market.
"We're using it to grab current MTConnect information, like active state of the machine, alarms, spindle speeds, feeds and speeds, axis information, and things like that," Neidig said. He added that OEE is a key metric because machine tools are big capital investments for a machine shop, and gauging their return on investment (ROI) is made easier with spindle data relating to machine utilization. Also available through the app is information on machine power status, feed-rate overrides, and part location, among other data.
"We've had operators test it out," Neidig added. "We've had machinists, we've had engineers, and then managers, all try it out and see how it works. They think it's great."
A Standard for Manufacturing Connectivity
MTConnect is a set of open, royalty-free standards intended to foster greater interoperability and information sharing between manufacturing equipment, devices, and software applications. It does so by publishing data over networks using the Internet Protocol. The MTConnect standard was developed in 2008 to help harness the wealth of available information and data across equipment and devices, a task that was daunting, in large part, due to the disparate nature of multiple software programs. Today, the manufacturing technology community commonly uses MTConnect to connect the shop floor to monitoring applications and to integrate the shop floor with the entire manufacturing enterprise.
In explaining how MTConnect + Glass works, Neidig said that installing MTConnect on all of its equipment was the first step.
"Without MTConnect, we wouldn't really be able to get to all these different machine tools because we'd have to have a special connection to each one," said Neidig. "We wrote an API (application programming interface) that does image recognition. And so you would be able to take a picture with the Google Glass of the machine tool, send it up to our cloud based application, and then it would send back a put request, and it would say 'This machine is running at this utilization,' and it would be all MTConnect data coming back. So it knows the machine is active, and it would tell you whatever you wanted to know about the machine, if, for example, you're requesting a spindle speed—'What's the spindle running at right now?'—or asking if the machine is alarmed."
The view through the app when used to monitor equipment utilization and energy consumption
Photo courtesy of ITAMCO
How did the idea for the MTConnect + Glass app get started? Not only were ITAMCO's machines connected through MTConnect, but its machinists were already wearing safety glasses on the shop floor. So when Google Glass came out, it seemed like a good marriage, according to Neidig, who saw possibilities in using the camera to record setups and share information. He also liked the idea of connecting data to the app so that users could receive workflow information and part information through MTConnect.
"It was a hands-free look into the equipment," Neidig said. "I always had my hands free because I didn't have to have my smartphone, and then fumble with it, to get the information. As a machinist, you could get right up to the machine with your hands free, but still be able to record and do different things. You could grab pertinent data without it interfering with your line of vision."
Neidig said that MTConnect + Google Glass brings a personal perspective to manufacturing by not overwhelming users with a ton of irrelevant data. Instead, it can help users retrieve only the data that's most important to them.
"A lot of times, you walk up to a part, or you walk up to a machine, and it looks very complicated—lots of components and systems happening at once," Neidig said. "The controls are very nice and you can do a lot with them, but sometimes they seem a little overwhelming, especially if you get into the 5-axis kind of controls. So being able to just bring a few data items right to the person's vision and seeing, 'OK, so here are the things that are most important to me about this machine,' is a kind of personal perspective. You can wade through all the data that may not be pertinent, or you can bring in those three data items or two data items that are important to that user."
The MTConnect + Google Glass app enables shop personnel to record "a lot of different things that wouldn't necessarily have been captured throughout the manufacturing process," Neidig said. "Usually, guys don't record their setups. To figure out how they did it the last time, that's a good bit of information to be able to record, just for the user himself. When he comes back and does something again, he can repeat it very seamlessly by just watching the video."
Neidig said that collaboration and hands-free use are the biggest benefits of the app. "You could have an operator in one plant, an engineer in another, and they could collaborate back and forth," he said. "If you have a smartphone, you could definitely do that, but you're still using your hands; you don't have that hands-free ability to do that."
Another major benefit is the ability to repair what Neidig called "the broken chain of collaboration" resulting from the information silos that many companies hold. "You want to get all that data out there, so that people can make informed decisions and be data driven," he said.
As ITAMCO brings the app to market, Neidig said that the company is attuned to what customers want. He knows that customization and the ability to add more data are high on their wish lists. "That's why we developed it with MTConnect, too, so it has that ability to expand," he noted. "MTConnect's extensible, so you can add any data items you want, and that's kind of where we see it, as being customizable to the user's perspective."
In the meantime, the MTConnect Glassware app is helping ITAMCO become a "smart manufacturer."
"Every day's a battle, but we're trying to be technology and data driven; that's our big goal," Neidig said.
"I think it's just a seamless collaboration that the device brings, and the whole back end architecture, so that you're going to one place to grab the data. You're not re-entering the data, looking for it multiple different ways, and having to go to multiple different systems; you're just grabbing it one time, reading it, and then making quick decisions based on that data that's readily available."
ITAMCO currently uses a cloud-based platform—ShopVizTM, from TechSolve—for data analytics (www.ShopViz.org). ShopViz is a web-based system for small- and medium-size manufacturers that enables 24/7 monitoring for one or more machines. Based on the MTConnect platform, the technology offers a means of tracking machine performance in real time and can be customized to fit a company's data needs and IT requirements, according to the ShopViz website.
"Right now, we've just been telling people we've probably increased our utilization by like 10 percent, so that's one way to quantify what we've been able to do by getting that information and acting upon it," said Neidig.
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