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Manual Work Support Throughout System Lifecycle by Exploiting Virtual and Augmented Reality

Final Report Summary - MANUVAR (Manual Work Support Throughout System Lifecycle by Exploiting Virtual and Augmented Reality)

Executive Summary:
Manual work (MW) is a central and expensive component of manufacturing, assembly, testing and maintenance services in Europe. There are many industrial sectors that rely on the knowledge and skills of their manual workers, e.g. spacecraft assembly, maintenance of nuclear reactors, operation of complex machinery, design and manufacturing of highly customized products. In these sectors, MW constitutes the core operations and it cannot be off-shored or automated. According to Eurostat (2008), there are about 19 million people involved in the high knowledge high value MW in Europe, mainly as plant and machine assemblers and operators.

The ManuVAR objective is to provide a systematic technological and methodological system to support high knowledge high value MW throughout the product lifecycle (LC). The ManuVAR approach is based on a product LC management (PLM), and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technology combined with the ergonomics methods. The following four main results have been achieved during the project.

1. Seven most prominent problem areas faced by European industries in the context of high knowledge high value MW: (1) hindered communication throughout the lifecycle; (2) poor interfaces; (3) inflexible design process; (4) inefficient knowledge management; (5) low productivity; (6) lack of supporting technology acceptance; (7) physical and cognitive stress.

2. Five industrial cluster cases including the scenarios, performance criteria for the evaluation of the laboratory trials and factory-floor demonstrations, business analysis, economic impact forecast, training, and technology transfer plans: (1) support of spacecraft assembly; (2) manufacturing design for SMEs; (3) remote support in train maintenance; (4) training for industrial plant maintenance; (5) design and maintenance of heavy machinery.

3. System architecture that is characterized by several features:
• Bi-directional communication throughout system LC (e.g. workers’ feedback to designers, designers’ recommendations to the workers) is accomplished by means of "virtual model” (VM). The VM plays the role of a communication mediator – a single systemic access point to the variety of data, information, models on the system for all users in the LC – which is accessed as an integral system by “virtual experiments”;
• Adaptive VR/AR user interfaces to the complex virtual model that fit all actors in the lifecycle: from workers to engineers and managers. The VR/AR interfaces is implemented by component reconfiguration with the low-delay middleware;
• Four groups of ergonomics methods to cluster the principal ways to improve manual work from the system-cybernetics perspective: workplace design, ergonomics evaluation, instruction delivery, and training;

4. Four reconfigurable application tools, which can be combined together via the VM to solve a given industrial case: (1) contextual instruction delivery: AR, tracking; remote and local versions; (2) ergonomics evaluation: automatic physical and cognitive load analysis, full body motion capture; (3) task analysis and procedure validation: hierarchical task analysis, VR with haptics; (4) motor skill training: VR with haptics, precision teaching theory.
Manual work is an opportunity for Europe because it relies on the knowledge and skills of people rather than on minimizing labor costs. ManuVAR has developed methods and tools to help industries to (1) increase productivity and quality and reduce cost of manual work in the whole LC; (2) facilitate adaptation to product customization and changes; and (3) support efficient knowledge and skill management and bi-directional data and knowledge flows through the LC.
Project Context and Objectives:
Project context: high value, high knowledge manual work can be strength and an opportunity to improve the competitiveness of European industries.

Manual work (MW) is one of the most crucial and expensive components of manufacturing. In the era of globalization, lowering cost associated with manual work stimulates offshoring, global outsourcing and the efflux of the work places from the industrially developed countries to the developing ones. Offshoring and global outsourcing pose problems such as increased lead times and transportation costs, weaker management, lower quality, slower learning and adaptation and have a negative effect on employment in the developed countries. As Europe’s population is ageing, the situation will become more acute in future because of growing need for offshoring.

Manufacturing accounts for only a portion of the total costs associated with the system because the proportion of the manual work is also high at other stages of the system lifecycle (LC) – design, operations, maintenance, recycling.

Automation, along with rationalization and integration, is one of the methods for reducing the manufacturing costs. However, automation is mostly suitable for moderate or large batch sizes. Nowadays, when the growing level of customization and shortening product lifecycle result in smaller batch sizes and more varying products, it is difficult to redeem the investments in automation unless it is extremely flexible. Furthermore, there exist operations inherently difficult to automate, e.g. assembling unique aerospace systems, maintaining highly customized complex equipment, recycling a large variety of car models.

Here, the intelligence and adaptability of human workers make them the most flexible part of the manufacturing process and of the entire system lifecycle. But to utilize this flexibility and to sustain the challenge of global competition, the productivity and cost of manual work in developed countries have to be improved considerably.

Problem formulation: seven most prominent problems related to manual work

Several interview sessions were conducted in the five ManuVAR clusters among senior and middle management and workers. As a result, we identified the seven most prominent problem areas faced by European industries in the context of high knowledge high value MW.
1. Problems with communication throughout the lifecycle.
2. Poor user interfaces.
3. Inflexible design process.
4. Inefficient knowledge management.
5. Low productivity.
6. Lack of the technology acceptance
7. Physical and cognitive stress.

Objectives – technology platform and methodological framework to support manual work

The objective of the project is to improve specifically high value high knowledge MW that cannot be automated or offshored. To accomplish this, the project has to develop a platform and methodology in order to
1. Increase productivity and quality and reduce cost of MW in the whole system (product and process) LC;
2. Facilitate adaptation to system customization and changes;
3. Support efficient knowledge and skill management for all actors across the system LC.
Project Results:
1. Seven most prominent problem areas faced by European industries in the context of high knowledge high value manual work (MW): (1) hindered communication throughout the lifecycle (LC); (2) poor interfaces; (3) inflexible design process; (4) inefficient knowledge management; (5) low productivity; (6) lack of supporting technology acceptance; (7) physical and cognitive stress.

2. Five industrial cluster cases including the scenarios, performance criteria for the evaluation of the laboratory trials and factory-floor demonstrations, business analysis, economic impact forecast, training and technology transfer plans:
• Cluster 1: Support of Spacecraft Assembly. Develop and validate critical procedures in virtual reality (VR) that can be used to support integration assembly activities through augmented reality (AR) instructions.
• Cluster 2: Manufacturing design for SMEs. Support workers in assembly line by means of the automatic work load evaluation tool and reduce learning time by means of the operator navigation tool.
• Cluster 3: Remote support in train maintenance. Support the maintenance of complex systems by exploiting the benefits of AR technology and reinforcing the communication between the actors involved in the task.
• Cluster 4: Training for industrial plant maintenance. Training for Metallographic Replica activities using a Virtual Environment (VE) with visual, audio and haptic interaction.
• Cluster 5: Design and maintenance of heavy machinery. Assembly and maintenance design reviews and instructions.

3. System architecture that is characterized by several features:
• Bi-directional communication throughout system lifecycle (e.g. workers’ feedback to designers, designers’ recommendations to the workers) is accomplished by means of "virtual model” (VM). The VM plays the role of a communication mediator – a single systemic access point to the variety of data, information, models on the system for all users in the LC – which is accessed as an integral system by “virtual experiments”;
• Adaptive VR/AR user interfaces to the complex virtual model that fit all actors in the lifecycle: from workers to engineers and managers. The VR/AR interfaces is implemented by component reconfiguration with the low-delay middleware (haptics, tracking, VR/AR visualization, application logic, connection to product LC management (PLM) systems);
• Four groups of ergonomics methods to cluster the principal ways to improve manual work from the system-cybernetics perspective: workplace design, ergonomics evaluation, instruction delivery, and training;
• Knowledge management concept is based on Nonaka’s organizational knowledge creation theory, with each modality of knowledge creation supported: externalization and internalization (adaptive and natural user interfaces with VR/AR), socialization (bi-directional communication and the virtual model), and combination (linking in the virtual model and connection to PLM systems).

4. Four reconfigurable application tools, which can be combined together via the VM to solve a given industrial case, were designed, implemented and evaluated in the laboratory and in the company environment:
• Contextual instruction delivery: AR, tracking; remote and local versions
• Ergonomics evaluation: automatic physical and cognitive load analysis, full body motion capture
• Task analysis and procedure validation: hierarchical task analysis, VR with haptics
• Motor skill training: VR with haptics, precision teaching theory
Potential Impact:
Wider social impact: the ManuVAR project reveals the potential of high value manual work for the European industries. There are common worries about an increasing global completion in terms of labor costs. But shifting the focus from the labor-intensive mass production to the type of work that cannot be offshored could help to ease the global pressures and to concentrate on something that Europe can really do well and should support – high value high knowledge manual work. ManuVAR has developed the technical and methodological basis for such a support as well as the evidence for the industries that this type of manual work, if properly organized and supported, may become their strategic global strength. The Europeans benefit from retaining and developing jobs in Europe and from the fact that there is a concrete mechanism how their knowledge and skills could be turned into the prosperity of the Union.

Business impact: at the beginning of the ManuVAR project, seven most prominent problem areas regarding manual work were identified. During the project, which was guided by these seven problems, the ManuVAR system was designed, implemented, tested in the laboratory conditions and demonstrated on the factory floor. The testimonials of the industry representatives, who were involved in the demonstrations, indicate that the ManuVAR system answers industry needs and has a high commercialization potential.
• “This is exactly what we need to provide efficient communication” – Senior Manager
• “The system is a good advance in communication. It is clear that it eliminates confusion” – Senior Manager
• “With this system you may design a good workstation first time right, which is as important as the design of a new product” – Engineer
• “Engineering and design issues are now discussed just internally among engineers. Using this system you bring operator, engineering and equipment supplier together. That will improve the discussion. Moreover you may immediately adjust the workstation design, based on the discussions” – Engineer
• “The remote maintenance support system will improve user capability for decision-making because you will be helped by people, equipment, optimized software” – Senior Manager
• “Not so many man hours wasted…both by people in the field and back at the office. The application would save us a ton of man hours. We would also improve customer service via the application. Also, the quality of our work would clearly be improved” – Senior Manager
• ”It is an innovative and interesting application that is easy to use” – Trainee Worker
• “I can clearly see the postures on the screen and this gives me the drive to improve the situation” – Production Engineer

Contact details of the coordinator:
Dr. Boris Krassi, senior scientist
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Tekiniikankatu 1
FIN-33720 Tampere FINLAND
Tel: +358 400 772 930
Fax: +358 722 3499
E-mail: boris.krassi@vtt.fi